Tuesday 20 December 2016

Single-flour ginger cookies from an heirloom GF recipe

I have previously mentioned the wealth of historically-GF recipes that stemmed from wheat rationing during the first World War. Though these recipes were widespread just a century ago, few of them survived the 20th century's changes to our food system and eating habits. And, like early versions of many recipes, quite a few of these formulas were not quite perfect - the rationing only lasted a couple of years, and changes in wheat production and distribution led to our GF flours falling sharply in popularity shortly after the war. (While there are vast numbers of traditionally-GF recipes that were popular for decades or centuries preceding this time, the GF formulas in vogue during rationing were primarily all-new, all-modern approaches designed to use only techniques and ratios similar to those used with wheat, so these new formulas just didn't have time to get the kinks worked out.) But! With these recipes now being in the public domain, it's easy to find potential gems worthy of attention and fine-tuning!  

The original, unspiced version with maple.
One such gem: Buckwheat Cookies. Three versions of a buckwheat cookie recipe appeared in the periodical American Cookery in 1917-1918; Maple Buckwheat Cookies, using maple syrup in place of (also rationed) sugar was given in October 1918, and Buckwheat Cookies made with plain sugar appeared two months later in December. The earliest prototypical version, using no leavening or salt, was printed in April 1917, as part of an article containing some insights on working with buckwheat flour. All three versions instruct to simply roll out and cut the dough. For this to work with the maple version, the syrup needs to be boiled until quite thick. I decided this seemed too fussy - too much guesswork about just how much boiling - so for my first trial, I made a hybrid version using mostly sugar with a little maple, following the instructions for mixing and beating the eggs. Still, rolling and cutting was not really an option with this thick sticky batter, even after chilling.

The magazine's photo of the maple recipe proves it must be possible in theory. There are, however, a number of variables at play - most notably, the fact that eggs have gotten larger in the intervening decades, and the inevitable impreciseness of volume measurements for flour. Several test batches later, I still hadn't gotten it to be worth the trouble of rolling and cutting. (You'll see some successfully cut cookies in my pictures, but it was just too fussy and messy compared to simply pressing flat balls of dough.) But in the meantime, each successive batch became tastier, so I decided to give up on the rolling part and just make round cookies. 
I will share my interpretation of the original recipes some other time, but for now - because it's Christmas - I'm sharing a delightfully spiced gingerbread spin on this cookie! Now, I have tweaked the recipe quite a bit by this point - for this version, instead of my original combination of sugar and syrup, I've used sugar and buckwheat honey to complement the buckwheat flour. Also, to combat the overly-sticky/battery nature of earlier trials, I have reduced the quantity of liquid by replacing the egg with a smaller quantity of my favorite egg substitute: bean broth, AKA the stuff from a can of chickpeas (if you've never heard of this, I have a very in-depth post in the works covering all the particulars of this ingredient and why it's way more than merely an egg sub; in the meantime, you can look up "aquafaba" as some people call it). 
I really like using an egg substitute like this because I'm not limited to the size of pre-existing eggs, making recipes both endlessly adjustable and extremely scalable! (Much nicer and simpler than ending up with those little jars containing 1/4 or 1/3 of an egg populating the fridge. ...What, surely I'm not the only one who's done this in the name of science?!) I've also simplified the mixing procedure a bit compared to the original, as with no actual egg, there is no need to develop the egg protein structure by beating. And of course, this conveniently makes the recipe all ready to go to accommodate those with egg sensitive or vegan dietary needs. Yay, cookies for all!

Makes about 20-24 small cookies - scale up or down as desired!

56 g natural palm-coconut shortening or butter, room temperature
140 g buckwheat flour (I tested with Arrowhead Mills, as it is widely available and certified GF)
74 g sugar
30 g buckwheat honey (you may also use molasses, beet syrup, or maple syrup for fully vegan)
40 g bean broth, room temperature (see note above)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
ginger and cinnamon and other spices (i.e. allspice, cardamom, cloves) or mixed spice / pumkin pie spice / etc to taste (use at least 1/2 tsp total)
optional: currants/raisins and/or candied citrus peel

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a bowl. In the bowl of a mixer or other bowl, cream together the shortening or butter and the sugar, then mix in the honey. Beat in some of the bean broth, then part of the dry mix, then the rest of each and mix until uniform. Chill the dough for a couple of hours (optional, but makes it easier to handle and improves texture). Roll the dough in small balls, press flat on a parchment-lined sheet, and if desired, decorate with currants and/or candied peel. Bake at 350ºF/175ºC until lightly browned at the edges (exact time will vary based on the size of your cookies - about 11-15 minutes).

More GF Christmas cookies and cookie tips:
The above recipe can be iced for a more festive cookie. The round one in this picture is an earlier version of this recipe made with beet syrup instead of honey; these are iced with a vegan royal icing made from the same bean broth used in the cookies! 

"Magic cookie bars" or "Seven layer bars" are conventionally made with graham cracker crumbs - you can use GF cookie crumbs, but you can also easily make a from-scratch crust, such as this one, for a simple, economical, and slightly different treat (this is how I always make them now)! A couple hints:
- You do not need to pre-bake the crust when using it for these cookies. 
- Instead of the mixture of oats and oat flour the crust recipe calls for, you may also use all oat flour in the cookie crust.

Assorted cookies from last Christmas, made with various mixes
Spritz cookie recipe from last Christmas