This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Perfect Gluten-Free, Gum-Free Sugar Cookies (a.k.a. Cut-Out Cookies)

This is adapted from my Grandma Harris's recipe, which was a staple in our household every Christmas.  The kids would get to decorate the shapes any way we liked and we always burned a batch for dad (who still insists that he likes them better that way).

In my lack of advance planning, I found out that I don't actually own any cookie cutters.  I'm not sure how that happened!  It's possible that they were lost in the move, and I haven't attempted a gluten-free, gum-free adaptation for cut-outs since we came to Atlanta.  So these are boring old squares, waiting for yummy frosting!


1 1/2 cups superfine white rice flour
1 1/2 cups tapioca starch (plus extra for rolling)
1 cup confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup softened butter (2 sticks)
2 large eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

For sugar cookies, you will also need 1/2 cup granulated sugar. For frosted cut-out cookies, you will need buttercream frosting (recipe at end of this post).


Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Cut in butter with a pasty cutter, pair of knives, or large fork until it is crumbly.
Add wet ingredients, mix well until smooth dough
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour
After it is finished cooling, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

For Cut-Out Cookies:

Dust a countertop and rolling pin with tapioca starch
Roll dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness
Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes
Place on ungreased cookie sheets at least 1/2 inch apart
Repeat until all the dough is used up

For Sugar Cookies:

Put a layer of granulated sugar in a bowl
Roll dough into 1 inch balls
Roll each ball in granulated sugar
Place on ungreased cookie sheet
Use a fork to press dough down in one direction, then again crossways to form a # pattern

For Both:

Bake at 350F for 8-12 minutes (less for softer cookies, more for crisper). Switch sheets after 5 minutes to keep them baking evenly. Baking time will depend on your oven. 

The resulting cookies will still be pale on top, but will be starting to brown around the bottom edges.  They will be more pale than you would expect from the same cookie made with wheat flour, so don't bake them too long and scorch the bottoms.

Let cool for five minutes, then slide a spatula under each to make sure they don't stick to the cookie sheet.  Let cool completely before frosting or handling too much.

Buttercream Frosting:

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup shortening
4 cups confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk or cream

Optional: Frosting coloring, sold in tiny jars in baking supply and craft stores. 

*for chocolate: 1/4-1/2 cup cocoa powder, to taste

 This is easiest in an electric mixer, but you can successfully make frosting by simply whipping it with a fork.  It will be much fluffier and easier to make in a mixer though.

Mix the softened butter and shortening
Mix in sugar 1/2 cup at a time, waiting until it is all incorporated before adding the next 1/2 cup 
       *tip: slow the mixer down when adding the sugar, or it will explode all over the kitchen
Mix in cocoa powder a tablespoon at a time until it tastes right for you
Mix in vanilla and cream
whip for one minute to fluff
Separate into batches for each color and mix in coloring*

*Use a toothpick to add coloring paste:  dip it into the paste, then run it through the frosting, using a fresh toothpick each time so that you don't contaminate the color.  A TINY amount goes a long way, but it will instantly stain anything else it touches (like counters, clothes, and skin).  You can use regular food coloring for pastel tints.

Frost the cookies at room temperature, but the leftover frosting lasts a week in the refrigerator or nearly forever in the freezer.  Let it return to room temperature before using again. 

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