Module Five: Gluten Free Cookies

Gluten Free Pastry School Heading with images of gluten free chocolate chip cookies, pecan diamonds, chocolate cut out cookies, cookie skillet and butter sable cookies

Theory

Cookies. Now this is an exciting module for many reasons. First being that a ‘Cookie’ is such a broad definition. For example, cookies come in all shapes and sizes. There’s the classic drop cookie we all now and love, chocolate chip. Tuiles are a delicate wafer cookie that is made using a thin batter. Italian Biscotti looks more like a small loaf of bread before it gets baked, sliced, then baked again, creating a crunchy cookie that’s perfect for dipping in coffee. The second reason I find the subject of cookies so exciting is how versatile they are. Once you have a base recipe for a cookie, you can start adding inclusions to really make something unique and all your own.

This module will give you a base understanding of the different types of cookies in the pastry world, the various preparation methods, what role each base ingredients plays, leavening agents for cookies, and other tips and tricks for baking gluten free cookies.

Cookies

Adapting Cookies to be Gluten Free

Cookies can be a tough one to adapt to gluten free simply because the percentage of flour that makes up a traditional cookie recipe is high. Like bread and pastry, cookies are nearly fifty percent flour. This means that when it comes to making gluten free cookies, the lack of gluten needs to be addressed. In most recipes, you can find the right balance of xanthan gum which will help make gluten free cookie dough easier to handle, roll and shape. Most gluten free cookie doughs will be very soft when they are first mixed. This isn’t a problem because with a few hours in the fridge, gluten free cookie dough becomes more solid (the fat solidifies) and it will resemble traditional cookie dough. As a pastry chef I became accustomed to chilling all my cookie doughs in the fridge before shaping and baking as this is an industry standard for good reason. It not only improves the flavour of the dough, it also creates a more pleasant texture.

Types of Cookies

Infographic showing different types of gluten free Cookies

Drop Cookies

These cookies are made from a soft dough that is firm enough to hold its shape. It is then ‘dropped’ onto a baking sheet. Depending on the thickness of the dough and the inclusions (fruit, nuts, chocolate, etc) the cookie dough can be pipped, scooped and spooned into mounds before baking.

Types of Drop Cookies Include: Chocolate Chip Cookies, Peanut Butter Cookies, Ginger Molasses Cookies, Chocolate Crinkle Cookies and Oatmeal Cookies.

Bar/Sheet Cookies

Bar or Sheet Cookies are baked in sheet pans or square cake pans which are then cut into various shapes or squares and portioned out after baking.

Types of Bar or Sheet Cookie Include: Brownies, Date Squares, Lemon Bars, Rice Cereal Treats, Blondies, Millionaire Shortbread Bars, and Nanaimo Bars.

Rolled and Cut Out Cookies

This type of cookie dough is usually chilled in the fridge, then it’s rolled out and cut into desired shapes before baking. These cookies are often decorated before or after baking with fruit, nuts, chocolate, royal icing or frosting.

Types of Rolled or Cut Out Cookies Include: Shortbread, Gingerbread Cookies, Sugar Cookies, Chocolate Sugar Cookies, Viennese Cookies and Linzer Cookies.

Molded Cookies

Molded cookies are shaped using your hands. The cookie dough can also be stamped or pressed into a cast mold to create their traditional shapes.

Molded Cookies Include: Rugelache and Speculaas Cookies

Bagged/Pipped Cookies

These cookies are made from a loose batter that is placed in a piping bag and piped into shapes on a baking sheet.

Bagged or Pipped Cookies Include: Macarons, Spritz Cookies and Danish Butter Cookies.

Stencilled Cookies

Stencil cookies are made using a very thin batter that is spread onto a silicon mat on a baking sheet. The cookie bake into a wafer thin cookie that is used for decoration or a delicate cookie. Often the cookies are molded into shapes while still warm.

Stencilled Cookies Include: Almond Lace Tuiles and Cannoli Cookies.

Honourable Mention:

Twice Baked Cookies is made from a dough that is shaped into a log or loaf. The loaf is baked, cooled, sliced, then baked again. The end result is a crisp cookie called Biscotti.

Gluten Free Cookie Mixing Methods

Most cookie recipes use the Creaming Method. This is when the sugar and fat (usually butter) are mixed together until smooth. Then the eggs are incorporated and once homogenous, the dry ingredients are added.

Depending on how much you want your cookies to rise and spread will determine how much air you incorporate during the creaming process. For example, if you are after cookies that hold their shape with little to no spread, you will cream the sugar and fat only until it’s smooth. For cookies that need leavening, the sugar and butter will be creamed until light and fluffy.

Infographic showing four gluten free cookie mixing methods

There are three other cookie mixing methods – Egg Foam (sponge), One Stage, and Biscuit:

Egg Foam or Sponge

This method essentially involves making a French or Italian meringue, then gently folding in the dry ingredients without deflating the batter.

Cookie example: French Macarons

One Stage

This method honestly isn’t used much when making cookies buts its still worth mentioning. This method only works if the fat in the recipe is liquid such as melted butter or oil. First all the dry ingredients are whisked together and then all the wet ingredients are added directly to the bowl with the dry ingredients and whisked until homogenous.

Cookie example: Peanut Butter Cookies

Biscuit

This method is similar to the biscuit method when making gluten free pastry. Cold butter is cut into the dry ingredients until it has the appearance of cornmeal.

Cookie example: Shortbread or Cookie Bars

Base Ingredients and Their Functions

When I was in pastry school, I felt like my understanding of the principals of baking really sunk in when we started developing our own cookie recipes. Learning how to make cookies is, in my opinion, the best way to learn about baking fundamentals. This is because each ingredient added to our cookie recipes has a very specific function. These functions can then change depending on quantity, temperature, and mixing method. Once you fully understand the science behind baking the perfect cookie, nothing will be able to stop you.

Sugar

The type of sugar you choose to use in a cookie recipe will not only effect the flavour of the cookie, but also the texture and shape. For example, the most sugar you have in a recipe, the more the cookie will spread when baked. The five sugars listed below are the most common sugars used when making cookies.

Icing Sugar (also known as powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar)

Icing sugar is finely ground granulated sugar that has added cornstarch. The cornstarch is necessary as it keeps the sugar from clumping together.

Caster or Berry Sugar (superfine sugar)

Superfine sugar is granulated sugar that has been ground into very small crystals. This sugar dissolves much faster than granulated sugar.

Granulated Sugar

This might be the sugar that most people are familiar with. Granulated sugar is pure refined sucrose from either sugarcane or sugar beets.

Light and Dark Brown Sugar

Light and dark brown sugar are simply granulated sugars that has had the molasses added. These two sugars are essentially the same but with varying levels of molasses. Light brown sugar has less molasses, giving it a milder flavour.

Molasses

Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar making process. As the sugarcane or sugar beets are crushed, they release juice. The sugar juice is then boiled several times to produce a different type of molasses each time. The first boil creates light molasses, the second creates dark molasses, and the third creates blackstrap molasses.

Fats

Butter

Butter is most often used in cookie recipes not only because it is needed for the creaming method but also because it has a rich flavour and helps with the overall structure of the cookie. Using the best quality butter you can get your hands on it always recommended. a butter fat percentage of 82% or higher is best because it will have a lower proportion of water that could potentially make your cookies dry.

Oil

Vegetable oils are produced by pressing a high-oil content food such as olives, corn, nuts, avocados or soybeans. Vegetable oil is generally the best choice when baking as it has a very neutral flavour.

Flours and Starches

Gluten Free Flour

Gluten free flours, whether you are using a pre-made blend or your own combination, this will provide the main structure and texture of the cookie recipe.

Starch

Adding additional starch to a cookie recipe such as corn starch, potato starch, or even white rice flour and icing sugar are considered starches will effect the texture and final shape of the cookie. Generally all starches will work the same in a cookie recipe and should be used sparingly depending on the desired outcome. They are great for creating cookies that hold their shape when baked. But keep in mind that starches can quickly suck up all the moisture, creating a dry, crumbly cookie.

Cocoa Powder (Dutch Process vs Cocoa Powder)

Cocoa powder is an unsweetened cocoa product that’s produced during the chocolate making process. When the cocoa butter is removed from the cocoa beans, the beans are then ground into a fine powder.

The difference between cocoa powder and Dutch process cocoa powder is that the Dutch process cocoa powder has been treated with an alkali to reduce the overall acidity. This creates a darker powder with a milder flavour.

This is important to keep in mind because the acidity level of the cocoa powder you are using will effect the leavening agents used in a recipe. For example, baking soda needs an acid to activate its leavening powder. So using regular cocoa powder would be best as the high PH level would activate the baking soda. If you used Dutch process baking powder, you would likely need to use baking powder, which already has an acid added and only requires moisture and heat to activate.

Leavening Agents

Eggs

Depending on whether you use the egg white or yolks will determine the final texture and shape of a cookie. Using only egg yolks will add extra richness to the cookie dough making it extra moist and chewier. While using the whole egg or the egg whites will help the cookies rise and puff up, creating a cakier cookie.

Chemical Leaveners

Choosing a chemical leavener for a cookie recipe really comes down to what you want the cookie to do while it’s baking. Baking soda will provide a little lift but mostly it’s going to push the cookie outwards, creating spread and a crispy cookie. Baking powder will push the cookie upwards, creating a fluffier, thicker cookie

Infographic show baking soda as a chemical leavened for gluten free cookies

Baking Soda 

Baking Soda is pure soda bicarbonate. It needs liquid and acid (such as citrus, vinegar, buttermilk, honey, or chocolate) to begin creating carbon dioxide allowing the baked good to rise. Once the reaction has started it will immediately begin creating bubbles and air but will dissipate quickly. Baking soda is very strong so you don’t need much of it and it needs to react and create carbon dioxide. Using too much baking soda and not enough acid will leave a soapy taste in your baked goods.

Infographic showing chemical leavener baking powder in gluten free cookies

Baking Powder 

Baking Powder is a combination of baking soda (soda bicarbonate), dry acids or acid salts, and starch, usually cream of tartar (acid) and corn flour (starch).Most Baking powder is packaged as double active, meaning it produces carbon dioxide (lift) as soon as liquid is added, and then it reacts again when heat is introduced.

Temperature

Temperature matters when making and baking cookies. Not only the temperature of the oven, but the temperature of the ingredients as well as chilling the dough will effect the final cookie.

Oven Temperature

One important factor impacting the spread and texture of a cookie in oven temperature. For example, if you took the same cookie recipe but baked one cookie at a temperature of 325F/150C for 20 minutes. You would get a cookie that is thin and crispy. this is because the dough has more time to spread and the moisture in the cookie slowly evaporates. On the other hand, if you took that same cookie and baked it at a temperature of 425F/215C for 8 minutes. You would get a cookie that is thicker and gooey in the middle. This is because the cookie dough will begin to set immediately before it has time to spread.

Room Temperature Ingredients

Room temperature ingredients are the key to a smooth, velvety dough and batter. Essentially when the ingredients, such as butter and eggs are room temperature they are able to incorporate together more easily, resulting in smooth mixture.

Specifically when it comes to making cookies, having room temperature butter is essential. By creaming soft butter and sugar, the mixture creates and traps air. The air is what helps to create a thick cookie that expands as it bakes.

Soft vs Melted Butter

Depending on whether you use soft (room temperature) butter or melted butter will determine the density of the final cookie dough. Using melted butter will create a dough that is much heavier than one that is made with soft butter. This is because the melted butter will struggle to incorporate air during the creaming process. Resulting in a cookie that is more dense and chewy.

Infographic on how temperature of butter effects cookies

Soft Butter = Cookie that is light and tender

Infographic on how temperature of butter effects cookies

Melted Butter = Cookie that is dense and chewy

Cookie Characteristics

When baking and perfecting cookies it’s key to understand how to achieve specific characteristics such as crispy, chewy, or soft. Below is a quick ‘Cheat Sheet’ to help you get started on your cookie development.

Crispy Cookies

Crisp cookies are low in moisture. This means that they will require a recipe that:

  • Has less liquid
  • High ratio of fat and sugar
  • Baked at a lower temperature
  • Baked longer

Soft Cookies

Soft cookies are high in moisture. This means that they will require a recipe that:

  • Has a higher percentage of liquid
  • Uses less sugar and fat
  • Oil instead of butter as the fat content
  • Baked at a higher temperature for a short amount of time

Chewy Cookies

Like Soft Cookies, Chewy cookies are also high in moisture. This means that they will require a recipe that:

  • Has a higher percentage of liquid
  • High ratio of sugar
  • Lower ratio of fat
  • Adding egg yolks
  • Xanthan Gum to make up for the lost gluten. Gluten development in traditional cookie recipes helps to achieve a chewy cookie

Below you will find links to the gluten free cookie recipes that use several of the discussed baking principals and methods.  The best way to learn is by getting yourself in the kitchen and to start getting hands-on experience. 

Gluten Free Cookie recipes:

  1. Ultimate Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
  2. Gluten Free Sable Butter Cookies
  3. Gluten Free Chocolate Cut Out Cookies
  4. Gluten Free Pecan Diamonds   


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