I’ve been baking up a storm this CNY season, but even as I make the usual pineapple tarts and cashew nut cookies, I wanted the diabetics in my family (the 2 eldest folks in my family) to be able to partake in the cookies during breakfast and tea (CNY is all about the cookies in my family), so I came up with the sugar-free butter cookies. Looking back (now that I’m back in Singapore), I should definitely increase my repertoire of sugar-free or healthy cookies to a greater number, because the single jar that I brought back was readily consumed by my grandma and uncle, and it was the fastest cookie to disappear. I’m sure if I can make the cookies taste almost the same as the original, people won’t be able to tell the difference! The only thing holding me back for now is that exorbitant prices of the sugar substitutes :/
Anyway, these gluten-free cookies were very very well-received by the family, even with the rest of the family who didn’t need to eat gluten free. I didn’t know exactly what foods my cousin couldn’t eat, because a year ago, I was ignorant about these things, so I just made it gluten free. I actually found out later that he was on a GFCF and nut-free diet, which means that I shouldn’t have added the almonds into the mix. Luckily, he’s not allergic to them, so it’s okay in small quantities. With my increased awareness of foods and baking, I’m definitely making something more interesting for him next year – I’m thinking of not only making it gluten-free and casein-free, but going all the way and making it vegan by doing an egg-free and butter-free version. That should be pretty interesting :]
For those of you who might be thinking, what the heck is this gluten-free thing and how does it affect me? I can eat anything! Well, I can too, but this didn’t stop me from exploring. A gluten-free diet is basically a diet on which no gluten can be consumed – it may be for health reasons (eliminating wheat and enriched carbohydrates) or it may be simply because your body cannot process gluten (coeliacs). This was perhaps a lesser known phenomenon in Singapore and in Asia, but there has been increasing awareness of this disease because of the greater number of people being inflicted (or diagnosed) with coeliac disease. So what is gluten? Gluten is basically a protein found in wheat – it’s the thing that makes bread rises and makes it so elastic and yummy. Thankfully for those in Asia, our staple food, rice is gluten-free. There are many other grains and seeds which are gluten free, such as millet and buckwheat, and other root starches like tapioca and arrowroot – these are the typical flours used in gluten-free baking. Sometimes, a binder or glue is required to mimic the action of gluten, and this is where xanthan or guar gum gums comes in. It’s a gum derived from trees, and it acts as a ‘glue’ for the flours to ‘stick’ together. This gum might sound exotic, but trust me, it’s not – it’s a stabilizer commonly used in many processed food products – if you check your food label, it goes by the name E415.
So even though I’m perfectly healthy, I have been reading a lot about a gluten-free diet, because I think that by eliminating wheat flours in our diet, we are actually introducing a great variety of flours and new ingredients that we normally will not encounter. I still make cookies and cakes with white enriched flour, but this also goes hand-in-hand with my bread made of rye and spelt, my rice which has millet mixed into in, my granola which has flaxseed and quinoa and all sorts of other seeds and grains. All these serve to introduce interesting and healthful ingredients into my family’s diets. This post is getting rather long, so I’ll stop my long spiel for now. Be warned that this is but the first of many posts on such a topic – I do believe that more Singaporeans are looking into a healthier lifestyle (with all those organic food stores and 十谷米 products on the rise), and this is but one way of incorporating healthy living into our daily lives.
Adapted from one of my mother’s recipes entitled Oriental Cookies (source unknown)
Makes about 60 star-shaped cookies
60g unsalted butter
⅛ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder (gluten free)
⅛ tsp baking soda
½ tsp orange zest (half an orange)
1 tsp poppy seeds (or sesame seeds)
50g icing sugar, sifted
100g gluten-free flour mix*
½ tsp xanthan gum
*I used a homemade mixture of the following flours:
20g tapioca flour (or tapioca starch)
20g almond flour (or ground almonds)
10g millet flour
15g sorghum flour
10g glutinous rice flour
10g rice flour
5g buckwheat flour
- Sift the various flours together. Then, sift the flours together with the xanthan gum, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.
- Cream butter with icing sugar and salt, until pale and fluffy. Then, beat in the orange zest and poppy seeds.
- Beat in the egg white until it is well-incorporated. Beat for about a minute at medium speed.
- Add in the sifted flour mix and beat until all traces of flour is gone. You can beat the mixture for slightly longer because the lack of gluten in the flour means there is no fear of tough cookies! :]
- Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1cm, and you can either use cookie cutters or cut rectangular shapes. You may also roll the cookies into balls and flatten them. The cookies will be crispier if they are flatter.
- Bake at 180°C for about 15-20 minutes, or until the cookies turn a light golden brown. Cool on a rack until totally cool to touch before storing in air-tight containers.
- Note: Poppy seeds are banned in Singapore, but there is a variety of blue poppy seeds available in Malaysian supermarkets that you may use. Alternatively, you can use black sesame seeds or totally omit poppy seeds if you want. The poppy seeds merely add an extra crunch to the cookies, and for course are aesthetically interesting for kids to eat. In addition, if making for someone who needs to eat gluten-free, make sure that your baking powder is certified gluten free, or make your own. This is because baking powder is usually combined with wheat or some other products which contain gluten, so please please be aware of this! It could be deadly if you use normal baking powder for someone who is seriously allergic to gluten!
- Taste: I love how the various flours used add to the complexity of the taste of each cookie. For instance, the buckwheat flour gives it a grassy nutty flavor, which is why I used a small portion of it. The almond flour, which I deliberately ground rather coarsely, gave it the nuttiness and crunch. Millet and sorghum both provide sweetness to the cookie dough, and you can also add gluten-free oat flour for more sweetness!
- Texture: In my mom’s recipe book, she also adds that you can add a maximum of 30g chopped nuts (almonds or walnuts) for extra nuttiness and crunch.
- Serving size: This recipe is a halved version of the original, and depending on how large your cookie shapes are, you should get about 50 cookies or more. I had enough cookies to fill 2 8x11inch trays.
- Modifications: The original cookie recipe does not include the orange zest and poppy seeds, but I decided to add them in, because I thought the fragrance of oranges would be apt for a CNY cookie, with all those mandarins and tangerines around.
- Storage: These cookies store extremely well in an air-tight container, for 2 weeks or more.
- Would I make this again?: Definitely! Not only were they well-received by the family, it got a thumbs up by my friends who tried it as well. I personally think it’s a nice cookie to eat, and most people didn’t even know it was a gluten free cookie until I told them :]
The first two parts of my “Healthy CNY Cookies” series were Pseudo-pineapple tarts (which were apple tarts in disguise) and sugar-free butter cookies. This post rounds up this short series, but it’s definitely not the last healthy cookie recipe I’m going to attempt. I’ve been reading up a lot on ‘alternative’ baking (for want of a better word) and it’s high time I changed that into real experiments, so stay tuned!
PS: These photos are taken on my granite dining table back home, and I was playing around with my indoor flash. I definitely have much to learn about indoor flash!