My daughter’s birthday is March 7. I have come to think about her birth—so many years ago, now—as the first hopeful sign of Spring to come. The day she was born the sun was shining, but I remember it being cold outside (Could it have been snowing?). When the nurses wrapped her up for us to take home, I remember an extra blanket, and a sudden fear ran though my head that we would not be able to keep her warm and safe. We were SO YOUNG. I’m sure the hospital staff waved us off wondering if we would survive at all. But like Spring, we are all still here. So there is a great deal of gratitude and cake spread around each year on Heather’s special day.
Of course, children, however much they are cherished, come with challenges, yes? Many, to be honest. I toss the word “teenager” out there just to make a point. Some challenges are years in the making and in the solving (or at least coming to livable terms). Others suddenly present themselves and promise never to totally go away: I refer here to my daughter’s intolerance for gluten that she discovered a few years ago and the proverbial birthday cake dilemma that has followed.
Over the years I’ve gotten really good at about three or four basic gluten-free cakes, rotating them for each special occasion that demands such a confection. So, when we were nearing March this year, I suggested an Orange Sunshine Cake for her Birthday—hadn’t had that one in a while. She sort of wrinkled her nose (still gets me every time) and said politely: “Why don’t you bake a new cake.” Sigh.
Ok, I can see a certain level of boredom with my limited cake clutch, but there’s always a struggle to find some new way to turn what I consider “less than ideal” ingredients into a spectacular birthday cake. “Does it have to be a cake,” I asked. “What about a new cookie?” I was trying to increase my chances for success. “Sure, a cookie would be fine….as long as we can have homemade ice cream, too,” she smiled. Sigh.
So this is how I came to turn over a new leaf on traditional birthday cake. This little leaf cookie has lots of buttery flavor, a lovely sandy texture and just a hint of green macha tea—perfect for Spring, and—what can I say—pretty darn good! Even Don—suspicious of anything labeled gluten free—ate more than his share.
Now, it’s true that to get a really good gluten-free cookie takes a bit of doing, but not as much as you might think. You will need to give the cookie dough a couple of chill times, so read through the recipe to make sure you allow for these. Other tips follow the recipe, so let’s get started.
- Two cups gluten-free flour mixture (I chose Bob’s Red Mill Organic All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour, which substitutes one for one with regular flour—just add the recommended amount of xanthan gum for your recipe. Measurements are on the flour package.)
- One-half cup almond flour (Bob’s Red Mill now makes a natural almond flour that I prefer to the blanched.)
- One-quarter teaspoon baking powder
- One-quarter teaspoon salt
- One-half teaspoon xanthan gum
- One teaspoon Macha Green Tea (You want high-quality tea for this recipe. I suggest Republic of Tea Organic.)
- Two tablespoons lemon zest
- Two sticks unsalted butter, softened
- Two-thirds cup evaporated cane juice
- One large egg, room temperature
- One-quarter cup heavy cream, room temperature
- One teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- One cup ground pistachios (You want to use your food processor here and have a light touch. Pulse instead of process until you have a consistent ground texture, similar to the almond meal you are using.)
- One-quarter cup evaporated cane juice
- One-quarter teaspoon Matcha Green Tea
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, baking powder, salt, xanthan gum, teaspoon of green tea powder and lemon zest. Set aside.
- Whisk the egg with the cream. Set aside.
- In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy, about one minute, until the butter becomes lighter in color. Gradually add the evaporated cane juice and beat until very light and fluffy. Add the egg/cream mixture and continue to beat until combined. Add the vanilla and beat until everything is smooth.
- With the mixer on low speed, add in the flour mixture, spoonful by spoonful, scraping the sides of the bowl, as necessary. Once you have a smooth, fairly stiff dough, turn it out on waxed paper or parchment paper and divide in half. The dough is super sticky. Wrap each half in parchment paper or waxed paper and chill well. Make sure the dough is sealed in the paper so it does not dry out. The dough can be made a day in advance, which is what I did, and this helps manage it later. If you are making cookies all in one day, allow at least an initial four-hour chill.
- When you are ready to begin shaping your cookies, prepare your pistachios in the food processor. Once they are nearly where you want them, add the sugar and matcha green tea powder. Pulse until everything is incorporated. Put the nut/sugar coating in a wide, flat bowl. Set aside.
- Next, prepare baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper. Note that even well-chilled, this dough can be sticky. Parchment paper is a must.
- Remove half the dough from the refrigerator at a time. Begin by rolling one-inch balls in your hands; then, roll the ball into a cylinder shape. Roll the cylinder in the sugar-nut mixture in order to “flour” your cookie for easier shaping. From there, you can shape your leaves any way you wish and finish them with another gentle roll in the sugar-nut mixture to get a good coating. Note that cookies can be any shape you want—or can be something entirely different from leaves. They must, however, be nearly the same size and thickness in order to bake evenly.
- Place each leaf one inch apart on your prepared baking sheets. As you complete each sheet, put it back in the refrigerator to wait. Once all the cookies are shaped and on baking sheets, place one sheet in the freezer for at least 10 minutes while your oven preheats. The purpose of this is to set the cookie so that it does not lose its pretty shape while baking. I tried it without the pre-freeze and was not as happy.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. As your cookie sheet goes into the oven from the freezer, transfer the next refrigerated sheet to the freezer to get a rhythm going. You will probably have three or four sheets in all, which move pretty fast.
- Bake your leaves for 12-15 minutes, depending on their size and shape and the heat of your particular oven. My sweet spot was 13 minutes. Rotate your baking sheet halfway through. You are looking for cookies with a light sandy color, not dark brown. It is important not to overbake.
- Once baked, let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for two minutes before transferring to cooling racks. Cool completely before enjoying
Here is how the prep and cook times break down: Prep includes organizing ingredients, making the dough and coating, shaping and chilling the dough. Does not include the initial chilling. Cook time assumes three sheets of cookies baked for 15 minutes each. Cookies are not super sweet but are very rich.
Perfection is Overrated. At least that’s how I think Mother Nature sees it. A walk in the woods will show you clearly that while leaves may all be from maples, sycamores or oaks, each leaf has their own personality, as should your cookies! Spend your perfection energy on size and thickness, which should be uniform from cookie to cookie, but just let your creativity shape your leaves. Or maybe you are making daisies, or tulips, or just eggs—we are close to Easter, after all. Have fun!
Yep, this GF dough is super sticky. But chilling it well and giving it an initial roll in the sugar-nut mixture goes a LONG way to making it manageable. Further, unlike conventional cookie dough, GF dough really doesn’t care how much you handle it because no gluten develops and cookies stay tender. So if don’t like the shape of that leaf you just made—roll it over! No worries.
Not Sweet Tea
I purposefully kept these cookies on the low side of sweet. They are sandy, buttery and crumbly—the perfect tea cookie. But if you’d like yours slightly sweeter, try increasing the sugar in the dough to a full cup.
Love that Matcha
Yes, it is earthy and just screams Spring. But matcha green tea has a strong flavor—at least, the good quality ones do. So, if you are thinking you’d like a stronger tea flavor, that’s great, but I suggest you go about it cautiously. A little goes a very long way.
Planning a cookie tray or a spring cake for the upcoming seasonal holidays? Got you covered with Raspberry Thumbprints (gluten free), my often-asked-for MEGA cookies, last year’s Super Seed Cookies, my friend Susan’s Spectacular Carrot Cake and my favorite spring confection Strawberry Lemonade Pound Cake.