Article and photos by Lisa Crockett
December is a cookie month, and I have lots of favorites. For years, my standby has been a to-die-for sugar cookie with lovely flavor and enough texture to hold even intricate holiday shapes (you can find that amazing recipe in The Castle Pines Connection archives from the February 2013 issue). I love other classics too – peanut butter blossoms, gingerbread boys, even those sticky-sweet cornflake and marshmallow wreaths decorated with cinnamon candy find their way to my holiday table every year to be devoured with pleasure. Most years, I also try to add something new to my cookie repertoire, so this year I went on the hunt for a cookie I could gift to a friend who can’t eat gluten. I was pleased to find a new, decadent favorite that met her dietary restrictions without being the least bit boring or bland. Better yet, this is a cookie that “keeps” for several days, so if one of my gift tins sits undelivered for a day or two, it’s no problem.
Like many gluten-free recipes, the main ingredient in these beauties is almond flour, which is a common flour substitute. Almond flour is a pretty heavy ingredient, but in this recipe, it simply makes the final product chewy and soft, with a texture that is somewhere between a cookie and a piece of candy. The almond flavor of the flour is augmented with a bit of almond flavoring to give it a festive zing. These cookies are best after they are completely cooled, which allows the almond flavor to deepen and develop. They tend to get even better with age, so a day or two after they come out of the oven is the optimum time to put them on the buffet or tuck them into a gift basket.
The basic recipe for these cookies produces a final product that looks very much like a classic Russian tea cake (often called a snowball around this time of year), white and rolled in powdered sugar. To give these cookies more of a Christmas vibe, I mixed up a variation on the original that incorporates ground, freeze-dried raspberries, which sounds like a headache, but is actually quite simple. Freeze-dried berries are found at most grocery or discount stores and can be crushed into a coarse powder in minutes.
A batch of original flavor and a batch of raspberry flavor makes for a great red and white motif on a platter that is festive and delicious – a nice break from traditional peppermint. The raspberries will deepen to a maroon shade as the cookies bake, so if you’re going for a look that is a bit more vibrant, go ahead and add a drop or two of red food coloring to punch up the hue of the raspberry cookies. You can always feel free to add green food coloring to the plain version if that’s the look you’re going for. I personally like my goodies in a more natural state, though, and these cookies are mouthwatering with or without chemical enhancements.
I recommend making these cookies pretty small since the nut flour is rich and dense but make plenty, since you’re likely to find that people want seconds and even thirds of this treat. Put these on a platter for a party, put them on a plate for Santa, or put them right into your mouth. These are the perfect thing for a home cook who has been very, very good this year. Happy holidays!