Vegan Children

Delicious Gluten-free Valentine Treats
by Audrey M. Smith Valentine Cookies

Recently, I made gluten-free, frosted cutout cookies for a coffee hour at our church. I knew of at least four others who might attend the event that also had celiac disease (cannot consume gluten) and figured they had to be as tired of having nothing to eat at our monthly coffee hours as I was. Everybody else had plates stacked high with delicious-looking baked goods and snacks to choose from, but there was little, if anything, for us. It was the same at every social event I attended. It's not just that there's nothing for us to eat, but there is a level of exclusion, of being an outcast, as we can sometimes ascribe to with being vegan.

Anyway, baking and decorating gluten free cookies that looked just like the "regular" ones, was my way of achieving "cookie equality!" What I didn't realize was the impact my stance would make. One fellow celiac rushed up to me so excited I could not understand what she was saying. When she slowed down I learned that it was her first frosted sugar cookies in 8 years! Unbelievable! I asked her how it tasted and she almost danced, as she blurted out beaming, "Normal!"

Anyone who hasn't struggled with a confining diet, especially a gluten-free one, cannot fully understand how exciting and what a relief it is to find food that actually tastes great while not making you sick. The very same week I got tearfully excited when I found a box of gluten-free cereal in my local, big box grocer ? a "normal" cereal that had taken the gluten-free plunge. It was also offered in 3 varieties ? huge bonus! I had gone from zero cold cereal choices to three of my favorite cereals when I was a kid! No sawdust dry, grittiness prevalent with so many gluten-free products. I also didn't have to take a loan out at the bank to buy it or make a separate trip to a specialty store. It was a moment of triumph and a wake up call: I could not be alone in the struggle.

Not just people with celiac disease, but those who desire a gluten-free diet due to intolerances, allergies, and as an anti-inflammatory diet have the same challenges, especially around the holidays. I decided this holiday season had to be different. Here are some tips to baking your own gluten-free (GF), delicious Valentine's Day treats:

Gluten-Free Baking Tips

All GF flours are not alike. Just because it is GF does not mean your body or taste buds will love it. Whole grain flours are still the best choice nutritionally including in GF flours. The following is a list of common GF flours with the fiber and protein content of each in grams per cup:
From the above list, you can clearly see that some GF grains are better choices fiber and protein-wise than other GF flours. However, I caution that GF flour cannot be used in the same way as other flour. GF flour must be mixed together in order to produce a tasty, well-textured baked good. As a general rule, I find a 50/50 ratio of brown rice flour to all-purpose baking mix best; with or without a 1/4 cup addition of any of the above flours the best mix for baked goods. It can be premixed ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or mixed per recipe. One precaution: Never add more than 1/4 cup of bean flour, like fava or soy, to a recipe or the result is a strong, unpleasant beany taste or aftertaste.

The moisture content of GF flours may vary per brand, so additional flour need to be used to firm up the dough or batter, for example. For this I find the safest, tastiest addition is brown rice flour. I also dust surfaces with brown rice flour for rolling out cookies, biscuits, rolls, noodles, and so forth.

Convert favorite family baking recipes to GF simply by substituting the above GF mix for the same quantity of wheat or white flour and add one teaspoon of xanthan gum per recipe. You may need slightly more of the GF flour than called for in the recipe, but trial and error will tell you what works best for each recipe. Baking time is also longer for GF baked goods. The best way to tell when something is baked thoroughly is when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean; otherwise, follow the steps of recipe preparation as usual.

(A note on xanthan gum: although I have baked without adding it, I do find the end product much improved with its use. Xanthan gum acts like gluten by helping the ingredients bind together. Other additions that help hold the dough together include mashed bananas, applesauce, and the addition of small amounts of water at a time. Both mashed bananas and applesauce also act as binders while lowering fat content. Substitute either or a combination of both for up to half the fat in a recipe. In some recipes you may be able to substitute it for all the fat.)

Frosted Heart-Shaped Sugar Cookies

Ingredients: Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In medium-sized mixing bowl using a mixer, cream the first two ingredients. Mix in egg substitute and vanilla. In a separate bowl, toss the remaining ingredients together and slowing add to wet mixture. Because of the differences in texture and moisture content of gluten free grains and the difference between egg substitutes, the dough may be too wet or too dry at this point to roll out. If so, gradually add 2 tablespoons of water at a time until the dough is easy to handle. If the dough is too wet, add brown rice flour until proper consistency. Do not add more baking mix or any type of bean flour as the "beany" taste often found in gluten-free baked goods comes out.

Next, lightly flour a surface to roll the dough to a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Gently lift from surface wit ha thin, metal spatula. The dough is a bit fragile. Place on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray or lightly greased. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 8 minutes, or until lightly browned on edges. Cool cookies on sheet for a few minutes to allow them to become firmer. Remove cookies and place on a cooling rack or on waxed paper or parchment paper to cool.

After completely cooled, frost cookies with your favorite frosting using confectioners sugar that is gluten free, or try one of our family favorites below. Either way, be sure to read the confectioner sugar package ingredients as some manufacturers now add wheat. Simple Frosting - a basic, versatile frosting that can be adapted for just about any baked good, from cookies to cakes and pastries. Ingredients Directions: In medium bowl, use a mixture on low speed to beat the margarine into the confectioner's sugar. Add milk or water gradually until frosting reaches desired consistency for spreading on cookies, thick and fluffy to thin and glossy. Stir in desired flavoring. Spread on cookies when completely cool.

Decorator Frosting

A spreadable frosting for cookies, it can also be used to pipe on decorations (see recipe below for details). To make a spreadable frosting for cakes or cupcakes, thin frosting with nondairy milk or water to desired consistency

Ingredients: Directions: With mixer, cream margarine. Add sugar one cup at a time alternating with milk. Beat thoroughly between each addition of sugar. Beat frosting until fluffy.

Divide into separate containers to add food coloring for different colors of frosting, if desired. Use frosting immediately or store covered in refrigerator until ready to use. May be spread on cookies and to pipe on designs using cake decorating tips and bags or by filling half full quart- size plastic freezer bags and snipping off one corner of the bag. Grocers and department stores often sell inexpensive, reusable sets of frosting tips and tubes fun and easy for most any age to use.

Banana Raisin Nut Bread - Great any time of year. Delicious breakfast treat!

Ingredients: Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 9x5 loaf pan by greasing or use nonstick cooking spray. Cream together oil and sugar or agave nectar. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in bananas. Add flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and xanthan gum to wet ingredients and mix well by hand. Stir in raisins and nuts. Spoon into prepared pan. Bake 1 hour or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Read also:
Vegetarian at Thanksgiving
Creating Holiday Traditions
Have a Very Vegan Thanksgiving
Fun and Compassionate Family Ideas for the Holidays
Vegan Pumpkin Pie