Many years before I started baking or eating gluten-free, I worked for a young French pastry chef who was new to the states. He was uncompromising with his expectations, but his generosity with his baking and pastry knowledge was more than enough compensation. It had to be, because believe me when I say that we weren’t being paid much. Every recipe that Deni shared was like a token I would deposit in my ragged recipe binder. One day when I arrived at the restaurant I saw the word “Roulades” at the top of my To Do list. I immediately began prepping my reliable recipe for a Vanilla Roulade when Deni came running over and dropped a new recipe on top of mine. His was written in French and the small narrow script was barely legible. At the top of the ingredient list was the word “maizena.” Knowing that this had something to do with corn, I stopped and gestured to Deni with a shrug. When he told me that he had always replaced a portion of the wheat flour with cornstarch to produce a lighter, more tender sponge cake, I was shocked. I had never heard of such a thing and this technique had never been discussed by my culinary instructors. I was as intrigued as I was skeptical. Out of respect I followed Deni’s recipe and produced the nicest sponge cake I had ever made. It was flexible, light and moist and rolled like a dream. I was a believer.
Essentially, Deni’s recipe had removed a portion of the gluten containing flour with a starch in order to have a light and tender cake. It makes so much sense now since that is the exact thing I do when tinkering with a new gluten-free recipe. I carefully balance the flour and starches in order to attain a ratio that yields an ideal texture.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was a valuable lesson for my future journey into baking gluten-free. It was proof that there are certain applications in baking where gluten-free flours can be advantageous. Gluten-free pie crust, tart shells and shortbread cookies can be dreamy and tender and there isn’t the constant fear of overworking your pastry dough. These Brown Sugar Cookies are no exception.
I have never been a huge fan of shortbread, but these cookies, laced with brown sugar and finely ground nuts are all the convincing I need. The creamy chocolate filling doesn’t hurt either.
Brown Sugar Pecan Cookies with Creamy Chocolate Filling
- 2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour mix
- 3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum or guar gum (I use Authentic Foods xanthan gum for a corn-free variety)
- 5 ounces or 3/4 cup non-hydrogenated shortening (I use Spectrum Naturals) or butter
- 1/4 cup pecans (almonds or hazelnuts will work too)
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use Frontier or homemade or omit)
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup chocolate frosting for filling (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
Place pecans on a sheet pan and roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Check frequently to ensure that they don’t burn. Remove from oven and cool.
When nuts are cool, place them in the bowl of a Cuisinart and process until finely ground. Use short “pulses” so that you don’t create “nut butter” by over-processing. The mixture should be sandy, not a paste. Set aside.
Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the shortening and brown sugar until combined. Slowly stir in the vanilla extract. Set aside.
In another bowl, mix the gluten-free flour mix, xanthan gum, sea salt, and finely ground pecans.
Add the flour mixture to the shortening/sugar mixture in your electric mixer. Still using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until combined. Approximately 30-45 seconds.
Scrape 1/2 of the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, cover with another piece and flatten dough into a disk about 1/2 inch thick. Repeat with other half of dough. Refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.
Roll chilled dough out between plastic wrap, until it is 1/8 inch thick. Cut out cookies with your cutter of choice. Using a spatula, gently move cookies to a parchment lined sheet pan. Or use a Silicone Baking Mat or an ungreased non-stick sheet pan.
Chill cookies on the sheet pan for about 15 minutes.
Bake in 350 degree F oven for 16-18 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Baking time may depending on the exact thickness of your dough. Remove from oven and cool on sheet pan until the cookies are room temperature.
When cool, spread a 1/4 inch layer of the chocolate filling on half of the cookies. Dust the remaining cookie “tops” with powdered sugar and place them on top of the frosted cookies. Serve immediately.
-If you plan to only eat a few, just frost the ones you want to eat that day. Store leftover filling in the refrigerator, and keep the cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Creamy Chocolate Filling
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar (use a corn-free version if necessary)
- 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1/8 teaspoon instant espresso powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use Frontier or homemade)
- 3 tablespoons non-hydrogenated shortening ( Spectrum Naturals) or butter
- 2-3 tablespoons milk, or milk substitute
Place all ingredients except the milk into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix slowly at first, to incorporate ingredients. Now add the Milk to the bowl. Mix on medium speed for about 2 1/2 minutes and very light and fluffy.