When most people think of the holidays, they consider the lingering taste of eggnog on the tongue, glittering baubles and tinsel dancing merrily among the dark greens of Christmas trees, and heaping plates of cookies waiting to be sifted through by greedy fingers.
Much of my childhood was spent the same way, with my mother baking up batches of sugar cookies in the shapes of reindeer, evergreen trees, and snowmen waiting to be frosted with brightly colored icings and sugary sprinkles. Plus, since we never did the whole Santa thing, my childhood memories of Christmas time are primarily centered around baking with mum.
Which, you know, I adore.
But, in all honesty, I’ve never been much of a non-drop-cookie person. (Drop cookies being those that you scoop out of the bowl by the spoonful and plop haphazardly on lined sheets without any regard for aesthetics.)
I don’t know what it is about it, but I don’t find the process particularly enjoyable. The consumption, yes, for sure. But having to bend down over and over to pull enormous sheets in and out of the oven, ensuring that the dough doesn’t over-warm while waiting to be rolled out, meticulously stamping said rolled-out dough with intricate cutters and transferring them with the utmost care. Childhood was always nice because mum was the one to do all the hard work, while Yusra and I were left with the not-so-greuling task of eating until our stomachs hurt. But since leaving, I’ve not been one to bake up batches of cookies for friends or myself.
Noosh is the head of the med services volunteer program here at uni (my friends are distressingly successful), and every few weeks she is required to lead a meeting for all of her underlings (or “minions,” as I like to fondly refer to them – no offense at all to any who may be reading this post).
For such occasions, she likes to take a baked good of some sort, both because she is too nice for her own good and as a thank-you for the misfortune of having to show up at a meeting at 8pm on a Sunday night. Yesterday, the last of the meetings for the semester, she decided to take gingerbread men. Festive, delicious, adorable.
But when Noosh heard that I’d never made gingerbread men in any conscious memory (truth), she decided we needed to spend an afternoon doing just that. So, Michael and Zach came by Saturday with a crock-pot of stew in hand (have I mentioned how much I adore them for constantly feeding me?) and a bag of sprinkles, ready for a few hours of cookie-baking.
For me, it was kind of a fascinating process. I hadn’t been on the production-side of roll-out-cookie-creation in quite some time (though I was, admittedly, primarily a spectator for this weekend’s event, spatula-ing cut cookies onto parchment paper and grinning inwardly [and sometimes outwardly] at Zach’s utter inability to use the correct side of the cookie cutters), but I can’t deny the pleasantness of having an apartment smell like gingerbread for about 7 hours straight. And, you know, cookies are always a good way to bring out the kid in everyone.
(Plus, I had my own share of giddy fun with the decorating, huddled around our too-small coffee table with the others and How to Train your Dragon playing happily in the background. I probably put more effort and concentration into those snowflake cookies than I have in any academic assignment this entire semester.)
Still, the only downside to having your apartment smell like fresh-baked cookies for 7 hours straight is the constant olfactory reminder that you can’t eat any of said cookies. Now, I’m not often self-pitying about the gluten intolerance (unless, you know, some has accidentally been consumed and the remainder of the day is rather unfortunate), but knowing that childhood memories are unlikely to become reality ever again can be a wee bit depressing. I mean, I do expect to, at some point, play around with flour ratios to construct an adequate, GF replacement for roll-out gingerbread cookie dough, but that’s unlikely to happen for quite some time.
Instead, I woke up Sunday morning with foolish determination and decided that it was perhaps time to come up with some cookie traditions of my own.
After all, if you can’t join ’em, eat some totally unconventional holiday cookies to make up for it.
Flourless Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Meaningful Eats
Yields 15 enormous cookies, or about 24 normal-sized cookies
- 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 3/4 cup cocoa
- 1 tsp salt
- 3-4 egg whites
- 1 tbsp vanilla
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped
Preheat oven to 350F. Line and lightly grease a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, and salt until well-blended. In a small bowl, whisk three of the egg whites and vanilla. Pour into the cocoa mixture and beat on medium speed until blended. The batter will resemble that of brownie batter. If it’s too thick, add the fourth egg white. If it becomes too thin, add 1/8 – 1/4 cup of additional powdered sugar. Gently stir in the chopped chocolate.
Using a spoon, scoop cookie dough onto prepared parchment, at least 1.5 inches apart. Bake for 14-16 mins. Cookies should be cracked and glossy on top. Remove pan from the oven, allow cookies to cool for 3 or 4 mins (this will make them easier to remove from the parchment paper), then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container. Cookies will stay fresh for 3-4 days.
The culinary scene here in Cville is, luckily, quite progressive, so many of our cafes and bakeries offer gluten-free alternatives in the very hipster fashion that is typical of our small city. Meaning, I’m incredibly content.
On one of my excursions downtown a few weeks ago, I bought one of these sorts of chocolate cookies, primarily because they were the only GF treat behind the glass case that morning and I was feeling particularly unhealthy. I wasn’t expecting much out of them, seeing as how GF desserts are rarely anything to brag about, but I was astounded. So, from that moment on, I put it atop my list of priorities for desserts-made-solely-for-me-because-I-can.
Quite happily, these were perfection. Superior to most flour-filled cookies I’ve had, in fact. Even Noosh can attest to their deliciousness: meringue-like crunch encasing a gooey filling reminiscent of a molten lava cake. Crispy, chewy, and profoundly chocolate-y. A more than adequate make-up for the lack of cookie-consumption on Saturday afternoon.
You know, I can even picture mum and I whipping up a batch or two of these in a few weeks, amidst the sugar cookies and gingerbread men, in between time spent stringing up the last of the baubles on our pre-lit tree. Celebrating the holidays in our own, non-traditional manner.
Plus, I’ve always believed that unconventionality is the ideal way to keep them exciting.
Sift the flour, mix the butter,
Roll the dough for the cookie cutter.
A white sugar star, a red Christmas bell,
A brown teddy bear with a gingery smell.