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Posts Tagged ‘cookies’

Mocha Chocolate Chips, copyright 2013, gfcelebration.com, All rights reserved

Who would have thought a cookie recipe could turn out to be such a challenge? If you bake with gluten, cookies are one of the easiest recipes to make. Even when baking gluten free, classic drop cookies, like chocolate chip, are fairly simple to create. A basic combination of flour, butter, sugar and eggs. In other words, not particularly difficult. When baking in general, the ratios of liquid to flour, and the proportions of butter and eggs  are usually what determines the success of a recipe. This becomes even more important when creating a gluten free recipe. As a rule, most gluten free flours are not able to absorb high amounts of fat in the same way that gluten flours can. As a result, we were a little worried when first looking over this recipe and seeing that it called for 2 cups of butter in relation to 2 cups of flour. As always, when testing an unfamiliar recipe, we only make half a batch in order to limit the possible wasting of ingredients. Making this recipe, we were especially happy we followed this rule.

Mocha Chocolate Chips, copyright 2013 gfcelebration.com. All rights reserved.

Since the rules of TWD encourage everyone that participates to generally follow the recipes as laid out in Baking with Julia, we followed these guidelines by only substituting the regular flour for gluten free, and the sugar for sucanat. So far so good. Sometimes this approach works, and other times it leads to a big disaster. Our first attempt at this recipe was no exception, as you can see from the following photo.

Mocha Chocolate Chips,copyright 2013 gfcelebration.com. All rights reserved.

What a mess. Everything about the recipe seemed fine right up until it was time to bake. The dough was chilled for the required amount of time, and then dropped by the tablespoonful onto sil-pat lined baking sheets. After ten minutes in the oven, the butter was clearly the winner. It went everywhere. We almost gave up the idea of making this recipe again after ending up with such greasy, wafer thin “cookies.” To be honest, they really didn’t resemble cookies at all. Is it the elusive special Parisian butter, or the Parisian air that makes the recipe in the book work? Who knows? It certainly didn’t work for us.

Mocha Chocolate Chips, copyright 2013, gfcelebration.com, All rights reserved

After we were done cleaning up the first fiasco, we decided right away to cut the butter in half, and increase the amount of flour by 1/8 cup. Originally, we used a flour blend made up of more tapioca than brown rice. However, thinking this may have been part of the problem, with the second batch, we flipped the ratio and used more brown rice flour, with a much smaller addition of tapioca and sweet rice. We also subbed out baking powder for baking soda, which ended up resulting in fluffier cookies than perhaps the original creator of the recipe intended.

Mocha Chocolate Chips, copyright 2013 gfcelebration.com. All rights reserved.

With this second batch, the end result was at least something resembling a cookie. We loved it. It tasted great, we even liked the texture, but we altered the recipe so much, that it no longer completely resembled the original. In order to stay closer to the original recipe, we still feel it would have to be tweaked a little further. But not by us. We usually don’t favor recipes that call for excessive amounts of fat or sugar. I think at the end, we all have a favorite “go to” recipe for chocolate chip cookies. This one, sadly enough, just did not become ours.

This week’s host is Peggy of Galettista. She has done an absolutely beautiful job with these cookies, and also gives the precise recipe on her site. Do check out all of the other TWD participants’ creations by going to the Tuesdays with Dorie website.

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Gluten Free Gingerbread, copyright 2012, gfcelebration.com All rights reserved

Gingerbread, for so many of us, is synonymous with the Christmas holidays. There are certainly many different types of recipes available, but this particular one is one of our family’s favorites, and has been converted into gluten free, using Oma’s special recipe. Gingerbread was Oma’s specialty around Christmas and I have many fond memories of her in her tiny kitchen, lovingly preparing this delicacy, made just once a year. If she invited one of us to help her, that was truly special. It is not a ginger cake, but a true traditional German-style gingerbread. While baking, it will fill your house with the beautiful scent of its combination of spices – ginger, anise, cloves and cinnamon.  In the olden days, this type of gingerbread was made using peculiar ingredients, such as “Hirschhornsalz,” “potash” and “natron.”  Some of these ingredients supposedly provided softness to the dough, and, no doubt, insured  greater longevity of the end product. After researching these ingredients, that  makes sense, especially considering the Ancient Egyptians used some of them  for embalming purposes. Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?!? Naturally, we would never use any of these more questionable ingredients in our recipes. If you insist on their inclusion, you may do so at your own risk. However, they are simply unnecessary, and we don’t know why anyone would even want to.

Gluten Free Gingerbread, copyright 2012, gfcelebration.com, All rights reserved

This gingerbread is delicious and is very easy to make. Provided you have the following ingredients on hand, you can enjoy your first taste in a couple of hours. 

Gluten Free Gingerbread, copyright 2012, gfcelebration.com, All rights reserved

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 stick of organic butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup coconut sugar, or sucanat
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground anise
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4-1/2 cups gluten free flour, consisting of 2 cups brown rice flour, 1-1/2 cups tapioca flour, 1 cup sweet rice flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. guar gum
  • 1 tsp.  ground psyllium seeds
  • 2-1/2 tsp. gluten free baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. Himalaya salt
  • 3 Tbsp. coconut milk
  • parchment paper, enough to line at least two baking sheets
  • your favorite cookie cutters, such as gingerbread men and women, trees, stars, hearts, etc.

Topping Ingredients:

White chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts (optional)

White Topping:

  • 1 cup organic powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Dark Topping:

  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp. peppermint extract

Measure out all the dry ingredients (flour, guar gum, baking powder, baking soda and psyllium seeds) and blend well in a bowl. Set aside.  In a large bowl, cream the butter, adding the sugar, vanilla extract, eggs, honey and spices, a little at a time. Blend well. Add the flour, about a cup at a time, to this batter, until you have a kneadable dough. Shape the dough into a thick log, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Remove the gingerbread dough from the refrigerator. Cut the log into three equal pieces. Leave out one third to roll out, and return the rest of the dough into the refrigerator, well wrapped.

Line at least two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Gluten Free Gingerbread, copyright 2012, gfcelebration.com, All rights reserved

Dust a baking board with a little sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to not less than 1/4-inch thickness. If you accidentally roll them out thinner, you will ultimately be making ginger snaps, instead of gingerbread cookies. Still very good, but a slightly different result.

Select your cookie cutters and cut out the gingerbread, placing them about one inch apart on the cookie sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes. Watch this process carefully. We live at high altitude and they tend to bake very quickly. If you are at sea level, you may require an additional 2-5 minutes. Place the baked cookies on a cooling rack and let cool completely.

Keep shaping any left over dough into a ball and roll out again. Remember to sprinkle a small amount of sweet rice on the board, before rolling out another batch of dough. Repeat this process as often as necessary. When the first batch of dough is nearly used up, add another third of the dough to it from the refrigerator. If you choose large shaped cookie cutters, naturally you will go through this process very quickly, and likewise it will take a little longer with smaller size cutters.

Let all the cookies cool completely before decorating, or frosting.

Gluten Free Gingerbread, copyright 2012, gfcelebration.com, All rights reserved

For the white frosting, simply blend the powdered sugar with the lemon juice. Then either spread even layers of it on the cookies, or place it in a pastry bag and decorate them to your heart’s content.

For the dark frosting, melt the chocolate chips, in a double boiler, adding the peppermint extract to the melted chocolate, combining the two ingredients very well. Again, either spread even layers of it on your choice of cookies, or use a pastry bag with the addition of a fine tip, for decorating.

Top them with your choice of white chocolate chips, dried fruit, or nuts (optional).

Gluten Free Gingerbread, copyright 2012, gfcelebration.com, All rights reserved

This gingerbread will fill your house with the beautiful scent of ginger, cinnamon and cloves and stores well in a cookie tin, for several days.

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Having now successfully used the Trader Joe’s gluten free oats many times in our favorite granola recipe, still without any gluten reaction (yeah!) we wondered what other recipes we could try. For once we did not slave away developing our own masterpiece, but went the easy route instead, and simply tried the recipe on the back of the bag. Of course the idea was doubly appealing because the cookies include the super addition of chocolate chips instead of raisins, and who doesn’t like that?

For the recipe you will need:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 cup evaporated cane juice ( the original recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups, but we don’t like to use that much sugar, and honestly, it isn’t needed in this recipe.)
  • 3 cups Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Rolled Oats
  • 6 oz chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup peanut butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

Line two baking sheets with either silicone mats, or parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, whip together the sugar and butter with a hand mixer until creamy. Add the eggs, vanilla and baking soda, mixing on medium speed until incorporated, then add the peanut butter. Lastly, stir in the oats, along with the chocolate chips and sunflower seeds.

Drop the equivalent of  large heaping teaspoons of dough, on to the prepared baking sheets, about two inches apart. You can lightly flatten the dough with the back of a spoon or fork, for larger thinner cookies, otherwise they tend to come out slightly smaller and more uneven.

At our elevation (6,800 ft.) the cookies baked for 13 minutes. Adapt the baking time according to your elevation, which maybe slightly shorter or longer; sea level will most likely take longer. The cookies should be a light golden brown when done. Leave them on the baking sheets for five minutes before removing them to a cooling rack. They will become much more crisp as they cool.

These cookies are light and crunchy, and make a wonderful snack for the kids when they come home from school, perhaps served with some coconut milk? Of course, they are equally appreciated by kids of all ages.  ;-)

Have any of you tried this recipe? How did you like it? We always love to hear from you.

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We are back to a full posting schedule, having devoted most of January to the finalization of our upcoming book, followed by a short trip out to California the beginning of this month. Time just flies, especially when there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to fit in all that is necessary for this big book  project.  We needed to recharge our batteries, recenter and refocus on what we really love to do – sharing what we have learned with all of you, our friends and family. That’s why we chose to include one of our favorite Valentine’s Day recipes (which will be in our new book) with all of you.

In researching the origins of Valentine’s Day, we found only very few connections to the modern day observance of this holiday.

Many of us observe Saint Valentine’s Day,  generally just referred  to as Valentine’s Day, on February 14 through the exchange of cards, flowers, chocolate and other sweets, but don’t give it a second thought as to where this tradition may have started.

It appears that Valentine’s Day was first recognized and established as a holiday by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD, but was later deleted from the General Roman Calendar of Saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.

According to that tradition, February 14 was observed honoring two Christian martyrs, both named Valentine, i.e. Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. The Legenda Aurea tells us that Saint Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emporor Claudius II. Legend has it that Emperor Claudius II secretly admired  Valentine and attempted to convert him to Roman paganism in order to spare his life. He failed to do so which led to Valentine’s execution.

So far, where is the love? I could not detect any references to love, or even a remote hint at  romanticism. Legenda Aurea possibly forges a connection with today’s Valentine’s Day observations by telling us about Valentine’s  secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young men serving  in Roman Emperor Claudius II’s army. The Emperor had ordered young man to remain single, believing that married men did not make good soldiers. Once discovered, Valentine was arrested and jailed.

Valentine’s Day only gained notoriety  with Geoffrey Chaucer’s Love Birds in Parlement de  Foules (1382). Chaucer wrote:

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make”

(“For this was St. Valentine’s Day,

when every bird comes there to choose his mate”)

The poem was written to honor the first anniversary of King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. A treaty providing for a marriage was  signed on May 2, 1381. Upon their marriage eight months later they had both just turned 15 years old. Mere children! ;-)

Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules is set in a fictional context, based on a supposed old tradition. Scholars deny the existence of any historical traditions and they only acknowledge sentimental customs posing as historical facts.  Because of this, the idea that Valentine’s Day customs perpetuated those of  the Roman Lupercalia has been generally accepted.

Lupercalia was a very ancient pre-Roman pastoral festival, generally celebrated February 13-15, to avert evil spirits and purify the city, promoting health and fertility.

The more modern concept of Valentine’s Day is even mentioned by Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5
 Interesting how history gets manipulated, and has been carved into a modern interpretation, devoid of its more than disturbing beginnings. The modern day celebrations have evolved into the exchange of valentine’s day cards, chocolate, roses, or jewelry.

Valentine’s Day Tree, by Johntex

When growing up in Europe, I was mostly unfamiliar with this holiday, at least it was not commonly celebrated in my community the way it is now customary for most. I guess, over the years, as has been the norm with so many other holidays,  we have over-commercialized just about every celebration. Even the fine art of exchanging painstakingly selected, or created, beautiful cards, has evolved into sending  quick e-mails, or animated e-cards. Mind you I prefer e-mail communication, like most of you, I’m sure, but still fondly remember handcrafting beautiful cards together with my daughter throughout her childhood. Searching for just the perfect quote, to capture the essence of that moment. Many times we would exchange special treats with our neighbors and friends.

When I first came to this country, many new found friends would ask me to bake those “special European desserts” I had introduced them to and that they had now grown fond of.  Little did I know then about the hidden problems with gluten. But without the limitations that gluten presented, this site would not exist and we would never have endeavored to share what we have learned with all of you.
 In our earlier posts, we already shared some of our Valentine’s Day recipes with you, but wanted to add this  newly adapted Valentine’s Day Cookie recipe. It also represents a small sample of what is to come in our new book. Perhaps it will inspire you to go in your kitchen and pull out those baking utensils and ingredients so you can share it with your loved ones for Valentine’s Day.
This recipe makes about 2 dozen cookies.
Ingredients:
2 cups gluten free flour, consisting of:
1 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
1 tsp. guar gum
1/3 cup sucanat, or evaporated cane juice
pinch of Himalaya salt
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
1 stick + 2 Tbsp. organic butter
a little extra sweet rice flour for rolling out the dough
(heart-shaped cookie cutters)
Topping :
jar of organic triple berry jam
(raspberry, blackberry, strawberry)
1 cup organic powdered sugar
It is easiest to prepare this recipe in a food processor. Add all ingredients, except for the topping, to the processor and blend until the flour is completely integrated into the dough. When complete it will form into a smooth ball. Remove from processor. If it feels just a little sticky, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. This will make it easier to roll out later on.
Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C.
Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper, or silicone mats.
Dust a baking board with a little sweet rice flour. Roll out the chilled dough to 1/4-inch thickness, and cut out with the heart shaped cookie cutters. Half the cookies will be a full-sized cookie shape, the other half will have a smaller heart cut out in the center.

Place the cookies on the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 10 minutes. The baked cookies will be light in color, not browned. Let cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes before removing them to a cooling rack with a spatula.

Allow the cookies to cool completely before decorating them.

Dust the heart shaped cookies, with the center cut out, with powdered sugar. These will become the top part of the finished cookie.

Top the solid heart shape cookie with the triple berry jam, spreading it evenly. You can use your own favorite jam, we loved this one for its exquisite flavor and the color presentation. Place the powdered sugar coated heart shape on top of the jam covered heart cookie to create  your Valentine’s Day cookie.

 Enjoy with your favorite cup of tea or coffee, serve to your guests any time of year, or give as gifts for Valentine’s Day, wrapped in pretty little gift boxes.
Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.
Rumi

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You have probably been wondering about our absence from the blogging world over these past couple of weeks. As always,  we have been testing out new recipes to include in today’s and upcoming posts, and exploring new possibilities for our website. Do check back with us often for new and exciting changes to come.

We also wanted to spend time with my sister, who came over from Germany to visit. A little sightseeing and just plain and simple one-on-one visiting and spending time together took precedence.  The time spent was special to all of us, especially, since we don’t get to do this very often.

Just prior to her visit, a very special little dog named Suki stole our hearts and entered our home. We found her (or she found us)  at our local animal shelter, where , on occasion, we volunteer our time to visit and interact with the animals. You can see some photos of her in our flickr  page  (sidebar).

Back to our test kitchen results –  I was looking to create something new, that did not involve a lot of sugar, chocolate or frosting, and perhaps included the use of a”savory” herb in a dessert. Originally, I had planned on using lavender blossoms in the recipe, but due to the seasonal unavailability of it, chose to go with rosemary instead.

Koehler Images

I’ve learned that rosemary is native to the Mediterranean area. The botanical name is “Rosmarinus Officinalis,” and is derived from the old Latin “dew of the sea,” referring to its pale blue dew-like flowers

Flowering Rosemary, by Juni

and also due to the fact that it is often grown near the sea.  It is a woody, perennial herb, a member of the mint family “Lamiaceae.” The use of this aromatic herb dates back to 500 B.C. when it was used as both a culinary and medicinal herb by the ancient Greeks and Romans. These ancient cultures valued its use for improving memory and rejuvenating the spirits.  In fact, scientists at the University of Cincinnati attribute the scent of rosemary as an effective memory stimulant.  So how about placing a nice potted rosemary plant on your desk, or where the kids do their homework.  Let us know, how that works out. It is an attractive, beautifully scented plant and would make a great addition in anyone’s kitchen window.

Rosemary Plant

On an interesting side note, in the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies – the bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary, and from this association with weddings, rosemary evolved into a love charm. Newlywed couples would plant a branch of rosemary on their wedding day. If the branch grew it was a good omen for the union and family.

Even Shakespeare mentioned rosemary in Hamlet, iv.5, where Ophelia says: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

If you would like to read more about rosemary’s purported health benefits you can check out a couple of websites. One is the Univ. of Maryland Medical Center, another one of great interest is a British site, The Healthier Life.

The recipe requires only a few simple ingredients and is very easy to make. I do recommend the use of a food processor, however.

Rosemary Shortbread

2 sticks (8 oz.) of organic butter

1 organic, high omega-3 egg

1/4 cup organic powdered sugar

1-1/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 tsp. Himalaya salt

1-1/2 cups brown rice flour

1/2 cup tapioca flour

1/2 cup sweet rice flour

1 tsp. guar gum

parchment paper, or silicone pads to line cookie sheets

Small amount of extra rice flour for dusting the board

Cut the butter into small cubes and add to food processor together with the sugar and salt.

Prep.1 for Shortbread

Finely chop the rosemary (leaves only) and add to the ingredients in the processor.

Fresh Rosemary Sprig and Leaves

Finely Chopped Rosemary

Prep. 2 of Shortbread

Process until all ingredients are well blended. Then add the egg and the flour and continue to process until the dough forms a smooth well formed mass. Remove from processor, wrap with plastic wrap and store in your refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Shortbread Dough

Wrapped Shortbread Dough

While the dough is setting, preheat your oven to 300°F.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, dust a baking board with a small amount of rice flour. Cut the dough in half and role out on the prepped board to about 1/3-inch thickness. Use any favorite cookie cutter, we used a standard round one, cut the shortbread and place on a lined cookie sheet.

Prepped Shortbread Cookies on Silicone Pad-lined Cookie Sheet

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. The cookies will look very light, not even light brown. Remove and place on a cooling rack.

Baked Shortbread on Cooling Rack

Continue to roll out the remaining dough and repeat the steps as shown until all the dough is used up.

However, tempting it may be, do let the shortbread cookies cool completely before eating, because the texture is best the next day.  Shortbread can be made a couple of days ahead and only improves in taste and texture. I’ve found that the rosemary actually complements the shortbread and adds a new aromatic flair to an old favorite. This shortbread is not overly sweet, yet very tasty and your kitchen will be filled with the wonderful aroma of rosemary. Enjoy with your favorite cup of tea or coffee, and let us know what you think, by commenting below.

Rosemary Shortbread

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There is something so undeniably christmasy about gingerbread. Right along with the smells of fresh evergreens, and the delightful aroma of warm sugar cookies, the instantly recognizable combination of ginger, cinnamon and cloves immediately signals that we are smack in the middle of the holiday season. At this time of year gingerbread is everywhere, not only in delicious cookie confections and intricately constructed pieces of architecture, but in scenting candles, coffees, and even slightly more unique items like lip balm and shampoo. Why? I think because gingerbread, outside of being a common part of many people’s holiday celebrations, is the sort of thing that has the ability to evoke a host of memories just by its smell alone. Christmases past and present, celebrations spent with family, and that snowy afternoon you spent baking and cooking with grandma as a small child. Everyone has their own special memory that comes to mind.

Old Fashioned Gingerbread Mold by sevela p.

For us, nearly every year leading up to the holidays has included making gingerbread in some form (usually gingerbread people), to share with friends and neighbors. Even after discovering that we were gluten intolerant, those recipes were just slowly converted to gluten free ones. In fact, shortly after perfecting recipes for gluten free gingerbread, we had a lot of fun making elaborately dressed gluten free ginger bread people, and a beautiful gingerbread house, recipes for all of which can be found in our book.

When I was small, I remember always being enamored with the delicately iced gingerbread houses that you so often see in store window displays around the holiday season with their perfect icing snow, and sugar pane windows, mainly because sugar, certainly white sugar, was not something ever consumed in our house. I could never actually imagine eating any piece of the gingerbread houses I would see, instead looking at them with absolute amazement, like a magical dwelling inhabited by unseen residents that would possibly come alive when I wasn’t looking, with lights shining from the windows, and delicate smoke curling out of the tiny chimney.

Gingerbread House by dean michaud

When I was eight, I remember going into the Nutcracker Tea Room in Issaquah WA with my parents, a place that was a family favorite for special occasions. I’m sure that some of you reading this from the Seattle area must remember this wonderful place, which I know has since closed several years ago. I know the Nutcracker was a local favorite for many people, with its beautiful garden filled with flowers and roses in the summer, a touch of European elegance created through white table cloths, real china, wonderful food and pastries, and two large wooden nutcrackers that would preside over the entrance from the high street.

Anyway, we went there for tea near Christmas when I was eight, only to walk through the door and discover, to my absolute delight, a large, incredibly beautiful gingerbread house, sitting in all its glory on a side table. It had two stories, special chocolate candy shingles, sugar pane windows, gum drop lights, and a fence all made out of candy canes. No doubt seeing my intense interest, I was quickly informed by the owner  that this amazing creation was in fact part of a raffle for all the kids in the area; all that was necessary was my parents permission, and a filled out slip of paper with my name, and our address and phone number. Permission quickly obtained, we filled out our entry and dropped it into the brightly colored box that served to hold the raffle entries. Even though I was somewhat in awe of the gingerbread house, as I’m sure any little child would have been, looking at it from across the room over and over as we had tea, after submitting our entry, I eventually forgot about it. Nearly a week later, when an unexpected phone call came, I was completely thrilled to learn, amazingly, that we had actually won. Wonder of all wonders, the amazing gingerbread house was actually ours to keep. I probably grinned like the Cheshire Cat, a smile stretching from ear to ear as we picked up the gingerbread house and brought it home, to sit for the rest of the holiday season and be admired by everyone that came to our house. That gingerbread house, unlike most, was never eaten. I am sure my memory of an amazing Christmas does not stand alone. What are some of your favorite memories of gingerbread creations? We would love to hear them in the comments below.

Gingerbread Men

Beyond being simply a family favorite, a holiday dessert beloved by children and adults alike, gingerbread actually has a long and fascinating history, stretching all the way back to the early Greek and Roman empires. Their gingerbread was probably something more resembling the German Lebkuchen, a sweet and spicy cake preserved with honey.

The word “gingerbread,” itself is a variation of the Old French word, “gingebras,” again derived from the Latin word for ginger “zingebar.” In Medieval Europe, if you would have asked for gingerbread, most likely you would have simply been given pieces of dried ginger root, the name only later coming to be associated with sweet cakes and cookies. Originally, ginger itself was only added to breads and pastries not only for its spicy flavor, but for its preservative ability to make things last longer, in a time when something like the refrigerators that we all take for granted, would have only been a dream.

“and I had but one penny in the world, thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread.” (William Shakespeare, Loves, Labors, Lost)

As its fame spread, gingerbread quickly became such a popular addition to nearly every local market and town fair during the Middle Ages in Europe, that they quite often became known as “gingerbread fairs,” and the cookies and cakes sold there as “fairings,” especially in England. Then, gingerbread was not only sold around the Winter holidays as it is today, instead every holiday and season had its own shapes; buttons and flowers for the Spring, animals and birds for the Autumn. If you are interested to learn more, click here.

Even though most of us are familiar with the traditional gingerbread cakes, cookies, and houses, many types of gingerbread exist throughout the world.

In England to this day, though the more common varieties do exist, gingerbread is most often a rich dark spice cake containing treacle (a thickened molasses), and a variety of spices, as well as sometimes more unusual additions like mustard, pepper, raisins, nuts, and dried apple.

Ginger Cake by pchemp

It is usually baked in a loaf shape, or a square like brownies, and often eaten as part of the Guy Fawkes and Bonfire night festivities, on top of being part of a traditional Christmas. This type of gingerbread is usually something that we would call “ginger cake” in the U.S, different from traditional gingerbread cookies, but similar to a French dessert known as “Pain d’epices”, a ginger cake which is slightly lighter, owing to the fact that it uses honey as the main sweetener instead of treacle.

Lebkuchen by zerohund

Probably the most famous country with a long history of making gingerbread is Germany. Lebkuchen, is a traditional soft gingerbread baked around the holidays, sweetened with honey, and flavored with spices like ginger, cloves allspice and anise seed. It was a cookie most resembling Lebkuchen that can be traced all the way back to the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman empires. At a time when sugar was extremely rare and very costly, honey was the primary way of sweetening any food. Considered to be a gift from the gods, honey cakes were sometimes worn as talismans for protection against evil. Though the soft varieties of Lebkuchen are well known, another common version is often made into iced hearts which are inscribed with special sayings, and given to friends and loved ones. This same variety of gingerbread was also popularized thanks largely in part to the story of Hansel and Gretel, and the Witches cottage made entirely out of candy that they discovered.

Will you be mine? Lebkuchen sold at a Winter fair in Germany by 4028mdk09

Throughout the world, the German city of Nürnburg, has become known as something of the unofficial gingerbread capital. Where in most other cities, artisan guilds formed during the middle ages for sculptors, painters, and weavers, in Nürnburg, an entire artists guild of master bakers formed, that dedicated itself to the perfection and creation of gingerbread.

A Master Gingerbread Baker at Work

To this day, gingerbread can only be called “Nürnburg Lebkuchen” if it does in fact originate within the city, otherwise it is simply in the style of, and has to state as much.

Hansel and Gretel Discover the Gingerbread Cottage

It is once again in great part to the Grimm’s brothers story of Hansel and Gretel that gingerbread houses have become popular. Though I am sure people created small buildings out of gingerbread for many years, it does not seem to be until after the fairy tale was published, and became wildly popular, that gingerbread houses just like the witches cottage, became well known. Now for many people, Christmas time would not be the same without them. Actually, in a true statement of life imitating art, a Swedish company created a life size gingerbread house inside the Stockholm main train station.

Art Imitating Life with Gingerbread by LA2

Inside the Gingerbread House by LA2

Personally, upon seeing the pictures, I am surprised that no one was tempted to break off a piece! Although I guess that would be hard to explain when part of the roof came crashing in, simply because you were hungry. Whoops!  ;)

Am I Not the Most Dashing Gingerbread Cookie?

Gingerbread cookies in the shape of people have an entirely unique history. Thought to be traced to Queen Elizabeth the I of England,  the making of gingerbread people was not really documented until her reign. As the story goes, she first requested ginger cookies to be made in the likeness of very important guests and foreign dignitaries, and served at banquet.

In modern popular culture, the sight of gingerbread  has somehow managed to sneak in all over the place. Of course, the famous children’s story of “The Gingerbread Man,” about a smart gingerbread cookie who runs so fast that he outwits everyone who tries to eat him, only to be tricked and eaten by a fox, is well known. It is upon this that the cute character of “Gingy” from the movie Shrek and all its sequels, is based. To see a funny clip of Gingy in action, click here.

One of the most famous gingerbread houses on display in the U.S. is most likely the one expertly created every year by the chefs at the White House.

White House Gingerbread House, by obamafoodorama

Usually an exact replica of the White House itself, the spectacular gingerbread creation can weigh up to several hundred pounds. For an interesting look at just what goes into creating this every year, click here.

What part will gingerbread play in your holiday celebrations this year? Is there a particular variety that is your favorite? Is it decorating gingerbread people, or creating an elaborate structure covered in icing snow? We would love to hear your stories and comments below.

Happy Holidays!

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We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant.

You can’t just accept it, and leave it in the cupboard,

or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it.

You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.

John Lennon

In honor of Valentine’s Day,  here is a wonderful cookie recipe that works without fail. You will need to get the following ingredients.

  • 2-1/2 sticks (250g) softened butter
  • 1 cup (200g) sucanat
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • Grated rind of one organic lemon
  • 3-3/4 cups (500g) gluten free flour, consisting of:
  • 3/4 cups (100g) brown rice flour
  • 1-1/2 cups (200g) sorghum flour
  • 1-1/2 cups (200g) tapioca flour
  • 3 tsp. xanthan gum, or 1-1/2 tsp. guar gum
  • Your favorite heart-shaped cookie cutters. Ideally, you should have a larger and a smaller size.
  • Organic Powdered Sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
  • Your favorite berry jam (marmelade)

 This recipe makes about 20 finished cookies, or about 40 single layer cookies.

This recipe turns out the best (and is certainly easier to prepare) with a food processor. Add the butter, sucanat, eggs, vanilla extract, salt and rind of lemon to the processor and blend well. Then, little by little, add the flour combination. The end result should be a smooth and pliable ball of dough.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper. Dust a baking board with a little rice flour, cut the prepared dough in half, and roll out one half to just under 1/4-inch thick.  Use the larger size heart shaped cookie cutter, cut out and place on the baking sheet. Use the same size again, but this time, cut out the center of the cookie with the smaller size heart shapped cookie cutter. Alternate back and forth, like this until you have used up the dough. The smaller heart-shaped cut outs can be used to create little tiny cookies, or just be incorporated back into the dough. Kids love the little hearts! We have also used a different cutter, to show you some other options. See the pictures below:

Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for about 9 minutes. Watch them carefully, they should not brown, but remain a nice light golden color. Remove the baked cookies and let them cool on a wire rack.

Fill a little powdered sugar into a fine sieve and dust the tops of the cookies (the ones with the centers cut out).

Spread a thin layer of your favorite berry jam onto the bottom layer of the cookies.

As a final step, place the sugar dusted tops onto the jam covered bottom layers to create a “sandwich.”  Here is the end result!

These cookies are very light in texture, buttery and sweet with a hint of vanilla. Everything you could want in a Valentine’s Day dessert. And the best and most exciting part, they are GLUTEN FREE!  ENJOY!

We have discovered another great site, that aims to create the world’s largest interactive free cooking encyclopedia and library. You can check it out by clicking the Foodista link below. Let us know what you think!

Heart Cookies

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