Wheat free Christmas Cookies
l’ll never forget my first Christmas in the Kohler household. Germans take this holiday waaaaay more seriously than South Africans. The epic Christmas tree, the candle lighting, the obligatory carol singing, and the unbelievable food on Christmas Eve were humbling and beautiful, but the thing about German Christmas that blew my mind was the biscuits. The mothers of the family (and often the dads too), get their kids baking weeks before Christmas, and stockpile enough biscuits to feed a small army. There are tins of biscuits on every surface in my Mother-in-law’s house in the days before Christmas, each one packed with homemade creations from recipes that have circulated around the family for generations. A few days before Christmas, we all gather to share out the biscuits between families and special friends. Everyone leaves with an enviable haul that no commercial bakery could hold a candle to. The weeks following Christmas are a delicious celebration of what a family can do if it works together.
It's such a rich and beautiful tradition, but there’s a downside to all that goodness. I suffer from IBS, and wheat causes terrible gas, bloating and cramping for me. All those wonderful biscuits leave my gut wrecked for weeks after Christmas. I don’t want to withdraw from such a wonderful process, and so I decided to adapt to it instead. I have learned a few tricks about how to make delicious wheat free biscuits, so my contribution this year will be made up of a selection of biscuits I can tolerate. I will no doubt still enjoy the odd wheat biscuit made by my wonderful family, but I will have options that can temper how much I let this season affect my health. To me, that is what a healthy lifestyle is all about: not excluding yourself from the wonderful traditions that hold our cultures and families together, but creating options and making conscious choices that allow you to continue to thrive within them.
Here are some of the top tricks I use to convert almost any biscuit recipe to wheat free and moderately healthy:
- Substitute wheat flour for ⅔ ground almonds + ⅓ coconut flour (or just straight almond flour). I grind whole almonds in my slow juicer, but a food processor works as well. Rice and other alternative flours work too, but for me, almond flour is the tastiest and healthiest option. The nuts add a delicious wholesome flavour that reduces the need for sweetness.
- Use beaten egg whites, psyllium husk powder, arrowroot powder or tapioca flour as a binder if necessary. You have to experiment to find the recipes that work for you.
- Replace sugar with stevia, honey or maple syrup for a lower carb biscuit. The flavour of honey and maple syrup mean you can use less while still creating a yummy biscuit. Xylitol or other granulated sugar substitutes work, but can cause a gut reaction which defeats the point. For some recipes, sugar is a necessary evil, but you can usually halve or quarter the recommended amount.
- Use melted dark Chocolate instead of sugary icing. It tastes better anyway…
- Use cacao nibs, cranberries or dates instead of chocolate chips. These also reduce the need for sweetness
Wheat Free 'Sugar' Cookies
3/4 cup butter, ghee, or coconut oil, softened
½ teaspoon liquid stevia OR 1 tablespoon honey (adjust to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups almond flour (or around 3 cups of whole almonds milled in a food processor)
1/2 cup coconut flour
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter (or coconut oil), and sweetener. Add the eggs, vanilla and almond extract, and mix until incorporated.
In a separate bowl, combine the baking soda, salt, almond flour, and coconut flour. Add the flour mixture to the creamed ingredients 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Form the dough into a ball with your hands and place on a piece of wax wrap. If you used coconut oil, it can be very oily at this point. You have to adapt your expectations of 'dough' a little. Flatten into a disc and cover with wax wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line 2 trays with baking paper. Sprinkle a clean, flat surface with coconut flour and roll the dough out until it is 1/4 thick. You may need to roll it between 2 sheets of baking paper. Cut out the cookies using your choice of cutters. Using a spatula, carefully transfer the cut cookies to the baking sheets (they are more delicate due to the lack of gluten to glue them together). If the dough gets too warm while you work with it you may need to chill it again.
Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes, until lightly golden. These cookies need to bake a little longer than typical sugar cookies. Decorate with dark chocolate or your choice of icing as you wish.