Have you ever had Yule Cookies? They’re a cookie consisting of two round cookies pressed onto each other, between them a heart of wild berry jam. They hail from Sweden, if I’m not mistaken. In Germany, we have something similar called “Spitzbuben”, but for some reason I was never a fan, I only ate them when all other cookies had already disappeared. But, now that I’m gluten-free, I kind of crave them.
Christmas baking has a huge tradition here in Germany. As early as late October people will begin with their preparations for advent (the four weeks prior to Christmas), where we sit together on Sundays and light candles one through four on our advent wrath. They first thing they’ll bake is Stollen, a sweet type of hard cake with candied fruits and raisins., covered with a mixture of butter and powdered sugar. Again, I’m not a fan, but my mother is. The secret to a good Stollen is to prepare it way ahead of time and to store it wrapped up in aluminium foil for about six weeks before you cut it for a first taste. My mom learnt how to make Stollen from my father’s mother and I can still see my mom sneaking a tiny piece of Stollen or two into her mouth after dinner in the evenings in December, back when I still lived at home. Now that I’m gluten-free, I still don’t crave Stollen, so I must really not be a fan!
My grandmother (my father’s father) was big into Christmas baking, and even when we lived abroad, she would send a large package in the mail with lots of Christmas cookies (in large tins). To my family and I these were little treasures, and my mom had to distribute them evenly between us. She would then hide the cookies in some secret location (I suspect it was somewhere up in her closet, where we couldn’t reach).
Being German, I’m also quite into baking Christmas cookies, but I’m nowhere near as diligent as my grandmother. My grandmother used to make twelve types of cookies, maybe more. I only make four types: almond, hazelnut and coconut macaroons and vanilla crescents (Vanillekipferl). This year, I’ll be making six, adding chocolate covered nut corners and yule cookies to the mix. It’s not like I can eat cookies at any of the places that I go to, so if I want to have a greater variety of Christmas cookies, I better start at home. So this is my version of Spitzbuben. Traditionally, Spitzbuben and Yule cookies are made with dough from flour only. I find they taste much better with an almond component. They also taste much better the second day, when the jam has given off a bit of moisture into the cookies – so good! I made these last week and quite a few of them have already been eaten – we didn’t have guests over or anything. I will have to make a second batch. And so it begins: the stress of Christmas baking!And yes, gluten-free cookie dough is kind of a horrible thing to work with. If you don’t add sufficient egg, your cookies will fall apart, if you add sufficient egg and butter, then your dough is going to be one sticky mess that you may be able to roll out flat, but which you then won’t be able to pick off your table… Aaaah! Last year, I let myself ease into the art of gluten-free cookie baking. My friend Nina and I got together at her place and baked away the afternoon. We were a great team. She would hold the plastic wrapping covered in flour between which we would roll out our cookie dough, I would then cut out the cookies and she would push the back of it in my hands, from where I could transfer the cookie to the baking tin lined with baking parchment. It was still quite an ordeal. Back then I thought I would never be able to bake cookies without the assistance of a second person, but I am happy to report that after being gluten-free for over a year and a half, I have mastered the art of gluten-free cookie dough and can now bake by myself, without help! Yay!
And don’t worry, I will teach you. But I do suggest that if you are new to gluten-free cookie dough, you ease yourself into this matter with the help of an assistant, too. It will save you tears and lots of frustration. Believe me! And you don’t want to get discouraged. Did you know that between thirty to fifty percent of celiacs don’t adhere to their diet properly? I would hate to think that it’s because of the horrible thing that is gluten-free cookie dough. Plus, we don’t spend nearly enough time with our friends, don’t you think?
300g gluten-free flour (I used one half Harina de Reposteria and one half Schaer Farine)
200g ground almonds
250g sugar (I used half brown and one half white sugar)
250g butter (or margarine) – at room temperature
one tbsp. vanilla aroma
3 eggs (large) – at room temperature
Flour (for cutting out the cookies)
dark jam (e.g. from wild berries such as blue berries, black currant, etc.)
one round cookie cutter of medium size
Place all of the ingredients for the cookies into a bowl. Knead into a smooth and even dough. Divide dough into four balls (or place into a small bowl) and cover with plastic wrap. Transfer to your fridge. Let cool for about twenty minutes.
Heat your oven to 175° C.
Line – if you have that many – three baking tins with baking parchment.
Now, the work of cutting out the cookies begins. For this, you need a piece of saran wrap (about two to three feet wide), between which you will place a piece of dough. It is important that you dust the saran wrap with flour. This avoids the plastic to stick onto the dough or vice versa. Once you have rolled out the dough to about half a centimeter width, begin cutting out the cookies with the help of your cookie cutter. I find that the raw cookies are best removed from the saran wrap by keeping the cookie cutter on the cookie, lifting the bottom of the saran wrap and pushing the back of the cookie through the saran wrap. You can then lift the cookie (still in the cookie cutter) onto the baking tin and gently push it out using your fingers.Place full cookie tin into your oven and bake them anywhere between eight to twelve minutes, depending on your oven. You can tell that they are done, when the begin browning softly on the edges. For best results, I suggest cooling the cookies off quickly, e.g. on a kitchen towel on a table on your balcony or terrace and then removing them with a spatula. I also recommend ensuring the baking tin is no longer warm before re-using it for the next batch of Yule cookies. I also think that baking one baking tin at a time (instead of piling multiple tins into your oven) renders best results. Roll out, cut out and bake cookies until your dough has been used up. Once all of the cookies have been baked and all of them have cooled off, you can assemble and fill them. (Yeah, sorry, for the crappy cell phone shot)For this, place five tablespoons of dark jam into a bowl, add about two tablespoons powdered sugar and mix well until no lumps remain. Then, heat the mixture up in your microwave or in a water bath. If the jam is hot when placed onto the cookies, it does a much better job of keeping them assembled. Fill cookies with the help of a spoon or a knife, adding about half a tablespoon worth of jam onto one cookie. Stick a second cookie onto the first. Done! Repeat with all other cookies until none remain (if there is a single cookie left over, I suggest adding a dollop of jam and eating it immediately!). You may have to make a new filling (mixing jam and powdered sugar) along the way, but it’s best to do this rather than filling your cookies with a cold filling (which could then spill out of your cookies later on, if you’re not lucky).