|Italian Knot Cookies and Pie Crust Thumbprints (a happy mistake)|
Every year I feel like I take on a new challenge in my gluten-free kitchen. This holiday season it was Italian knot cookies. Just the smell of these brings back memories of being in Aunt Mary's kitchen in Long Island or getting cookies from one of the many bakeries we used to frequent. I had never made regular knot cookies let alone gluten-free ones so I wasn't sure what to expect. I just knew I had to try. See the recipe below; it worked! By the way, I've decided my next challenge will be making a gf cannoli shell so stay tuned.
One of the things I like to tell my students and clients when it comes to gluten-free baking is to be adventurous. You have to be willing to try recipes with new ingredients. In my cookbook, I use the analogy of learning how to cook gluten-free with being immersed in a new language:
"When you switch to a gluten-free diet, you may think you will never have that comfy 'warm kitchen' feeling again. That’s not the case. I explain it to people like language and being immersed. If someone dropped you off in a foreign country and you did not know how to speak, it would be rough in the beginning but you would eventually learn. Instead of saying “hello”, you might say “hola”, “ciao” or 'guten tag'. Instead of flour, there are alternatives like brown rice flour, millet flour, cornstarch, and potato starch. You can do this!"
Many people say to me "I could never be gluten-free; I would not want to give up the foods I love." The reply to this is you don't have to. You can still enjoy food that tastes great. Yes, you may have to get into the kitchen and be willing to experiment. Gluten-free food can be just as good. The other day a friend stopped by and tried one of these knot cookies. I would tell you what she said when she tasted the cookie but it's a family blog. ;-)
Back to gluten-free cooking. Some people don't have a choice about being gluten-free. They have to be gluten-free. 100%. No less. For them, they have to figure this out. I'm here to say if you have to be gluten-free, you can do this.
Living with celiac disease is difficult because of the potential for cross contamination from gluten-containing foods (especially at restaurants and the homes of friends, even those with the best intentions). Even foods you don't think about like vanilla and baking powder can have gluten just from how or where they are produced. Also gluten can be present on baking equipment like measuring cups and bowls. Actually, this discussion was not supposed to be an education in gluten-free. What I really want to get across is some people have to be gluten-free; others choose it. Either way, you can still enjoy food. If you have "gluten-filled" recipes, you must be willing to experiment. I find it's usually not as hard as I think it might be. The first step is...trying.
So all of this just for a recipe? Yes because this is how I feel every day about foods I haven't tried to convert yet. What if it doesn't work? What if it's not good? What if it falls apart or doesn't taste right? That's why I only recipe test when I have time and when the finished product is not intended for a special occasion. It took 2 times with this recipe, getting the right balance of flavor and texture I was looking for but even the first batch is something I would be happy to serve. The second batch was pretty amazing!
Enjoy and let yourself be free in the kitchen. I truly hope you find your kitchen to be warm again, and filled with delicious food!
Gluten-Free Italian Knot Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen
2 ¼ cups Amy’s Gluten-Free Flour Blend (or a blend without xanthan gum; if your blend has xanthan gum, omit the gum below)
1 tablespoon baking powder (yes a tablespoon)
Rounded ½ teaspoon xanthan gum
¼ teaspoon sea or kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter or vegetable shortening, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten
1 teaspoon anise extract (if you don’t like anise, you can substitute with lemon juice or vanilla extract)
1 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla extract
3-4 tablespoons potato or tapioca starch for rolling
1 cup or more confectioner’s sugar
½ teaspoon anise extract or fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla
2-3 teaspoons milk or milk substitute
Colored sprinkles or non-pareils
2. In a small to medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a stand mixer or large bowl with an electric hand-held mixer, cream softened butter or shortening and sugar for about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and mix another 30 seconds.
4. Add eggs, anise, and vanilla, mixing well. Scrape down the sides and mix another minute.
5. Add flour mixture. Mix until well blended. Mix on medium for 10 seconds. Dough should be slightly sticky.
6. Break off small, walnut sized pieces of dough and roll on the counter or between your hands to make a log about 3” long (I roll it right on the silicone baking mat). If the dough is sticky, use some potato or tapioca starch. Tie the log into a single knot so that one end is pointing up and the other end is under the cookie. Place about 12 cookies on each baking tray.
7. Bake 10-14 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through. Cookies should be just brown on top and firm.
8. Remove from the oven and cool about 3-5 minutes on the tray so the the cookies firm up. Transfer to a wire rack.
9. Once cookies are mostly cooled, make the icing. Place 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar, anise extract or lemon juice, and vanilla in a small bowl. Start by adding 1 teaspoon of milk. Add more milk or sugar until the consistency is like a medium paste that can be poured but is not too drippy. Add more sugar if it's too thin. Either brush the icing onto the cookies or dip them into the icing, allowing excess to drip off. Place them back on the wire rack and immediately add the sprinkles before the icing dries. Leave out for at least 2 hours so that icing is completely dry. Cookies should be stored covered at room temperature.