Christmas in my family has always been filled with cookies. Relatives drive or fly in from across the country for an epic dinner of homemade ravioli, followed by trays and trays of raspberry and apricot kolaches, chocolate pinwheel swirls, cut-out sugar cookies, gingerbread men, caramel bars, cheese blintz, flourless peanut butter and crisscross butter cookies—more than two dozen kinds. But after my son was born and he began to exhibit allergic reactions from nearly everything he ate, things became more difficult.
Now that he’s a gluten-free, dairy-free preschooler, he wants to eat what everyone else can have, and he has come home from school crying when he can’t. I’ve tried my best to find similar products to make things a little easier. But it’s still hard, and the treats are never exactly the same.
A few weeks ago, my son began asking to make cut-out sugar cookies. “Sparkle, sprinkle, yum, yums,” he says, just like the ones in a favorite holiday book, Santa’s Workshop, a lift-a-flap board book by Cottage Door Press in which Mrs. Claus is making some of her favorite cookies in the kitchen.
This holiday season, I set out to make awesome gluten-free, dairy-free cut-out sugar cookies that taste as good as they look.
I knew I needed some help. I sought the advice of Ali Graeme, the owner of Sweet Ali’s Gluten Free Bakery in Hinsdale, Illinois, who started her shop after her son was diagnosed with celiac. She kindly shared her recipe to help me and others.
- 3⅛ cups Sweet Ali’s Flour Mix (Note: Sweet Ali’s Flour Mix is a proprietary blend made from brown rice flour, potato starch, white rice flour, tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, and xanthan gum. I purchased a 2-pound bag in the store for $10.26 (with tax), but Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour can be used as a substitute.)
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, or a dairy-free substitute like Earth Balance Dairy And Soy Free Buttery Sticks
- ¾ cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 egg (extra large)
- 1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. (Lightly grease the sheet before placing the parchment to prevent sticking.)
Measure out your flour by spooning the gluten-free flour into a measuring cup. Unlike all-purpose flour, it’s important not to scoop the flour out of the bag with the measuring cup, because it will become compacted and make the recipe too heavy.
In a large bowl, combine the gluten-free flour and salt. (To get an exact measurement, scrape the top of the teaspoon with the back of a knife to flatten the top and remove any excess salt and “level it out.” It should be flat like a board, not a snow mound.)
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar, beating them until they form a paste. Then add the egg. Beat until combined, then add the vanilla.
Add the flour mixture to the stand mixer bowl, working slowly so you don’t cause a mushroom cloud of flour. Combine the mixture well, for about 3 minutes, until the dough resembles one big, lumpy ball.
Place the dough (still in the mixing bowl) in the fridge and chill for 15 minutes. You can also cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out.
Once the dough is chilled, prep your surface area: Sprinkle powdered sugar (instead of flour) on the table to prevent sticking. Then take a section of dough, about a quarter of what you have, and begin rolling it out. Place the rest in the fridge while you work.
Gluten-free, dairy-free dough is less forgiving than other types. It tends to get warmer faster, and since gluten is a protein that helps bind things together, this dough can crumble more easily, too. So take quick, light-yet-firm strokes with the rolling pin and try not to add too much pressure. Think of the dough blob like a clock, rolling outward from the center toward each number.
Roll the dough until it’s about ¼” to ½” thick. This is thicker than you’d roll out “regular” sugar cookie dough, which helps prevent breakage.
Cut shapes out of the dough and re-roll the scraps to cut out more shapes as you go. When the first section of dough is used up, grab the next one from the fridge and repeat the rolling and cut-out steps.
Use a thin, flat metal turner to carefully lift the cookies onto the cookie sheet, not a thicker one with slots that could cause the dough to break. Decorate with all the sprinkles you please. Bake the cookies for 7-9 minutes until they turn just a hint of light brown and allow to cool before serving.
As we worked on our cookies, my son decided he needed to make a snake with the extra dough, in an attempt to scare me. We laughed as Pentatonix belted out holiday tunes in the background.
The first batch was a success, and we began to decorate another tray. We had found a holiday treat that fit him just right.
“More sprinkles,” my son said gleefully, as he pulled out every color imaginable to color bomb Christmas trees, stars, and gingerbread men and women surrounded by snowmen and present-shaped cookies. “This is the best day ever.”