This week I’m sharing with you one of my favorite cookies, the buttery, flaky Almost Linzer cookie. These are an *almost* Linzer cookie because they do not include the traditional ground almonds. The ingredient I’ve chosen to incorporate from this year’s challenge list is Lingonberry Jam. I used a jar from IKEA. I also used this week’s sweet as an opportunity to try out a new gluten-free flour blend.
When I hear about new gluten-free products, I have a mixed reaction. My first reaction is that I want people to know they CAN bake gluten-free at home, they don’t need the latest, greatest gluten-free product whether it be an expensive mix or fancy flour blend. I want to show them the way, help them understand life is going to be better, the food is going to be delicious and doesn’t have to include pricey products with ingredients concocted in a lab. My second reaction is to check out the new product, to see if there really is something worth the expense, something so ground-breaking that this from-scratch baker is going to be converted. So here I am with my secondary reaction, checking out this new gluten-free flour blend with perhaps the best pedigree of any gluten-free product to hit the shelves.
There has been a bit of chatter in the gluten-free community about the latest gluten-free flour blend to hit the market, Cup4Cup. Developed by Chef Lena Kwak in partnership with Thomas Keller, it is purported to be a cup-for-cup replacement of all-purpose flour to make any recipe gluten-free. Most of the chatter on-line has been related to the price, $20 for 3 pounds. A handful of bloggers have written terrific reviews of the blend (here and here, for example). I wanted to try it myself, to see if it lives up to the Thomas Keller reputation as well as to see how it holds up in a side-by-side comparison with my gluten-free flour blend.
Currently, Cup4Cup is available at Williams-Sonoma. Soon it will be available at Bouchon bakeries. I drove to the Williams-Sonoma nearest me. The lovely sales clerk shared with me that they are also offering gluten-free cookie and brownie mixes ($20) and a waffle and pancake mix ($18) from Bouchon. I love pretty packaging and these are certainly that, but I also love baking from scratch so I passed on trying the mixes. I’m anxious to hear what others think about them. I bought one 3-pound bag of the flour, dropping $21.55 on the most nicely packaged gluten-free flour I’ve ever bought. I love the resealable zipper, stand-up pouch style bag.
Here’s what you need to know about Cup4Cup: as I already mentioned, it is $20 for 3 pounds. It contains dairy, problematic for the growing number of gluten-free folks who also avoid dairy. It contains xanthan gum, an ingredient falling out of favor amongst many avid gluten-free bakers. The primary ingredient is cornstarch. It also contains many of the same ingredients as my flour blend, many basic flours found at your local grocery store. Here’s the ingredient list (please note a sticker of revised ingredients was applied over the original list on the packaging, both are shown here 🙂
I baked two batches of Linzer cookies, one with my flour blend and one with Cup4Cup. I immediately noticed the dough made with Cup4Cup flour was much tougher, had a firmer texture. It pulled together in the bowl of the stand mixer very quickly. I always chill Linzer dough before rolling it out, however it would have been possible to roll the dough made with Cup4Cup without chilling. It made a dense dough more stiff and bread like than buttery cookie like.
The only difference I noted during baking was the batch made with Cup4Cup did not puff up as much while baking. The puffy appearance in the batch made with my flour blend goes away after removing the cookies from the oven anyway, so I didn’t expect this to make much difference. The cookies looked very similar after baking, but it was the taste and texture I was most interested in.
To make sure I wasn’t giving you a biased review of the two flour blends, I shared the cookies with several people: my husband John, my friend Renee who has a strong interest in food science and her family including fledgling-baker kids E & A, my fearless baker friend Deanne, Foodie extraordinaire Jenny, and two folks who make sure the gluten-free students at a local college are well-fed, Chef Jeremy and my friend Sheila. Each received two boxes, labeled #1 and #2. Each box contained a lingonberry jam filled cookie, a peach butter filled cookie (made and canned by Renee), and several cookies without filling. Here is their input:
From Sheila: I prefer #2. The #1 cookies were heavy, they broke apart into large crumbs. I liked how light the #2 cookie was, a smaller light crumb. #1 is more crunchy, hard. I ate a whole cookie of #2, which is unusual for me, I don’t eat many cookies. It was that good. I would like a jar of lingonberry jam please.
From Renee, her husband Ed and E & A:
#1 tasted ok, but the texture was a little gritty, and when you held a bite in your mouth, or followed it with a sip of coffee, it became sort of slimy and had a gel texture, which I found off putting.
#2 tasted better — more “browned” and baked, and the texture was softer and smoother, and it didn’t have the gel mouthfeel.
Hands down #2 were better.
From Chef Jeremy:
I like the texture and flakiness on # 1. The flavor was about the same on both.
I taste tested them on Friday then brought them home to my son Tastie, so he and I could taste them again this weekend. He and I are both in agreement that the #1 cookies were much better, when compared to the #2 cookies. But, I have to say in all honesty, Johnna, your cookies, both sets were delicious. I cannot get over how delicious gluten free baking can be. Truly, loved and enjoyed every single bite of every single cookie.
Here were our tasting notes:
#1 – Softer, creamy texture. Big butter flavor. Cookies were crisp on the bottom and held together better. They also seemed much sweeter on the palate.
#2 – Crumbly, with a grainy texture. Nice butter flavor, but there was an aftertaste to the flour that was unpleasant. They were not as rich and crisp as #1 cookies. They were much drier with a mealy texture, it was gritty like eating a cookie made with sand compared to #1. These cookies were also much saltier and not as sweet as #1.
From John: The #1 cookie is heavy and gets pasty in your mouth, it sticks to your teeth. The #2 cookie has a small crumb and a sweeter flavor. More of the #2 cookies please.
From me: My review is very biased, I knew which flour the cookies were made with. I’m not opposed to spending a lot of money on a delicious Sweet, many of my recipes require more than $20 in ingredients, but I don’t understand spending this much money on flour. I also have a strong dislike for the flavor of xanthan gum in a buttery sweet, I can smell it while the goodie is still in the oven. That said, I tried to keep an open mind while testing these cookies. I tested over and over again, went to the gym to work it off, and then tested again. I much preferred the flavor of #2, it tasted sweeter and had a better butter flavor. #1 maintained the firm texture I noted when mixing the dough, it had a large crumb, not the small, delicate crumb I like in a Linzer cookie.
And now, the big reveal:
Cookie #1 was created with Cup4Cup flour.
Cookie #2 was created with my gluten-free flour blend.
While I don’t think this is conclusive evidence that either of the flour blends is the perfect fit for every baking need, I do think it shows you can easily blend your own gluten-free flour at home for a mere 80 cents a cup as opposed to the $1.88 per cup Cup4Cup costs and get a result that is pleasing to many. It certainly didn’t please everyone, two of the taste-testers preferred the cookies made with Cup4Cup flour. To make a more conclusive decision, I would need to bake a wider variety of goodies, perhaps pie crust, a cake, a quick bread. Because I’m pleased with my own blend and also on a baking budget, I probably won’t do that.
For those of you who enjoy food math, here’s some information on my flour blend, Cup4Cup, the basic Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free flour blend and Gold Medal All-Purpose flour:
Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Blend: $0.95 per cup (priced from the BRM website)
My Gluten-Free Flour Blend: $0.80 per cup (priced using BRM products, full retail price)
Cup4Cup: $1.88, $2.05 per cup with tax where I live.
Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour (not gluten-free): $0.12 cents per cup
Basic Nutrition, Calories:
Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Blend: 100 calories per 1/4 cup, 22 grams carbs, 3 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, 3 grams protein
My Gluten-Free Flour Blend: 143 calories per 1/4 cup, 33 grams carbs, 1 gram fiber, 0 grams sugar, 0.6 grams protein
Cup4Cup: 120 calories per 1/4 cup, 26 grams carbs, 0 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, 2 grams protein
Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour (not gluten-free): 110 calories per 1/4 cup, 22 grams carbs, less than 1 gram fiber, 0 grams sugar, 3 grams protein
And because you read this far, here’s the recipe for you. Enjoy!
You will need two cookie cutters, one large and one pretty small. I used a 3″ circle and a 0.75″ flower. In the past, I have used stars, hearts, squares, any basic shape will work. My favorite place to get cookie cutters is Off the Beaten Path. They ship around the world and if you are in the Kansas City area, you can drop by to pick up your order and browse.
Almost Linzer Cookies
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks) or Earth Balance if dairy-free*
2 t. vanilla bean paste
3cups of my favorite flour blend or Cup4Cup
1 1/2 t. guar gum (eliminate if using Cup4Cup flour)
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 jar jam, jelly, preserves or fruit spread (I used IKEA lingonberry and peach butter this time)
*if you are dairy-free, please be aware that Cup4Cup flour is NOT dairy-free. Please use my gluten-free flour blend instead.
Cream sugar and butter until fluffy using an electric mixer, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients separately, adding to the butter mixture one cup at a time. Mix well.
Split the dough into two equal parts. Place one part on top of a piece of plastic wrap and flatten into a disc. Place another piece of plastic wrap on top, roll the edges up and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Repeat with other half of dough. Instead of turning the dough out onto a floured surface, you can now roll it out between the pieces of plastic wrap and not add any additional flour to the already-perfect dough!
You will need to cut out half of the dough in solid large shapes (I used a 3″ circle) and the other half will be cut out first with the large circle and then cut a little flower out of the middle. This is tricky! If you do this on the counter and then try to move them, you may lose the shape.
Here’s the trick to this: place the dough (rolled out) onto your cookie sheet. Cut the large circle out and remove the excess dough. Now cut the small shape out in the middle. By cutting them out on the cookie sheet, you can preserve the shape.
Bake cookies at 350 for 10 to 12 minutes. I suggest baking the full circles separately from those with the center cut-out, as they will cook a bit quicker.
Move cookies to cooling rack. Once cool, warm the jam in the microwave for 30 seconds to thin it a little bit. If it is too thin, let it cool a little before using. Spread a scant teaspoon of jam on top near the center of a full circle. Place a cutout cookie on top. You may add a bit more into the cutout in the center to fill the hole.
Have you tried Cup4Cup flour? I’d love to hear about your experience!