I went to the grocery store last week, and the baking aisle looked like it had been ransacked ahead of the apocalypse. (Baking-pocalypse!) I got the second-to-last bag of sugar, and vanilla extract was nowhere to be found. Everyone and their mother (and their grandmother, and their sons and daughters, and nieces and nephews) must have been doing their holiday baking. You’ll be pleased to learn I restrained myself from pushing over any little old ladies (or little old men) to obtain my goal: Hodgson Mill Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Baking Mix, and some warming wintery dried fruit and spices.
I have to say, it was a little stressful. There was so much left for me to do both for Christmas and New Year’s. But one of the things I try to do every year is to make and give homemade goodies to friends (some years, like this one, these gifts become New Year’s gifts instead of Christmas . . . ). I love giving food gifts, like cookies, that will be appreciated and won’t take up space long-term. But crunch time can be tough, and I have to remember to be realistic in my baking goals, too. I think these cookies are just the right amount of special, and I’ve included a handy shortcut in case you overestimate the hours in your day (like I have throughout December.)
Crispy on the outside, soft and delicate and crumbly on the inside, with chewy bits of dried plum and a light sweet anise perfume—these little morsels fit the bill for any holiday gifting. It’s almost like shortbread, crumbly and sweet, but the moist fruit is a delicious surprise inside.(I told you this flavor combo would be back!)
This is a fun dough to whip up quickly with a mixer. (And since it’s gluten-free, you can mix for as long as you want without worrying that it will make the dough tough!) Once it’s mixed and refrigerated for at least a solid 60 minutes, it’s time to roll it out.
It is IMPERATIVE that you sandwich this dough in parchment paper or plastic wrap to roll it out – the dough is too sticky and fragile to do it with a rolling pin alone.
After having tried rolling this out on both parchment paper and plastic wrap (in the name of science), I strongly recommend using parchment paper. I find parchment paper resists wrinkling and sticking to itself (and the dough). If you do use plastic wrap, like I did on this test, then you’ll probably have to stop between rolls to lift the top sheet slightly, because the top and bottom layers bond to each other and won’t let the dough roll out any further. Plastic wrap will work in a pinch, but I did think it was easier with parchment paper.
Once you’ve rolled it out to a rectangle about 14 x 18 inches, peel off the top layer. (You may need to refrigerate for 10-15 minutes if the dough sticks to the paper.) Strew the chopped fruit (and zest, if you’re using it) on half of the dough, grab the bottom paper on the uncovered side, and in one motion, fold it over to cover the fruit completely. Hopefully your corners meet. Now you have a rectangle that measures about 7 x 9 inches. There’s a little rounded bit that you can trim if you like, but I’m not so picky that I can’t appreciate an abstract or trapezoidal cookie. You might also choose to take the extra uneven pieces you trim and gently gather them into 1-inch drop cookies. Sprinkle the dough mixture liberally with sugar, pat it down very lightly to make sure it sticks, and cut the whole shebang into one to two-inch squares! Here is a diagram to help you understand the directions below (4 strips, 4 columns, and all that)
You may need to refrigerate the dough just one more time to firm it back up so you can cut and/or transfer. Use your judgment; if you think it will stick to a spatula, then refrigerate first. The refrigerator is your friend for this recipe.
Transfer them to a lightly greased or lined baking sheet, and they’re ready to bake. Here’s a gorgeous example of one square, with fruit filling peeking out, coated with just enough sugar. If you can find it, bigger sugar crystals like turbinado sugar make this especially pretty and add a special sweet crust to each morsel.
Here’s the kicker: if you’re really short on time, you can skip rolling completely. Who said this has to be a bar cookie? It’s very nice in a bar, with two delicate layers of cookie dough sandwiching a fruity chewy filling, but these are tasty cookies no matter how you shape it. Just fold the chopped prunes into the dough before the first refrigeration, then scoop the dough out by the teaspoon onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake!
Sometimes, I have to remind myself that giving a gift of cookies will be appreciated no matter how much or how little effort goes into making them. What counts is making something with love and sharing your gift. (That’s not too hokey, right? I’m allowed a little schmaltz this time of year, I think.) And I’m thinking a batch of these will go great with a cup of tea as my friends and I sit down to a new episode Downton Abbey . . .
Happy new year, and happy baking in 2013!
Gluten-Free Plum Anise Bar Cookies
Based on “Pebbly Beach Fruit Squares” in Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich
2 cups Hodgson Mill Gluten-Free Multipurpose Baking Mix, plus more for dusting½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon ground anise seed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon anise extract (optional)
½ teaspoon lemon or orange zest (optional)
1 cup dried plums
1/8 – ¼ cup turbinado or coarse sugar
In a medium bowl, combine Gluten-Free Multipurpose Baking Mix, baking powder, and salt. In a another medium mixing bowl, use a mixer to beat the butter and granulated sugar together until well blended but not fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the egg, extracts, and anise and blend until smooth. Add dry ingredients then mix and blend until completely combined, about 1-2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape sides of bowl as needed.
Divide dough in half and spoon onto two large pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper (preferred method.) Flatten each into a rectangle, wrap tightly, and refrigerate at least 1 hour, but preferably 2 hours. (Overnight won’t hurt.)
Sprinkle one large piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap (parchment paper preferred), with a little extra Gluten-Free Multipurpose Baking Mix. Place one rectangle of dough in middle of paper, dust with more Gluten-Free Multipurpose Baking Mix, and lay another sheet of parchment paper on top to sandwich. Gently roll out until it’s roughly 14 deep by 18 inches wide. It should be between 1/8 – ¼ inches thick.
Peel top paper off of dough. If dough sticks, return it to refrigerator for 10-15 minutes until you can peel it off cleanly. Once top paper is off, then evenly spread ½ cup of dried fruit and half of zest on one half of the dough. (See picture above for detail, otherwise, imagine the rectangle is an open book and you are only putting the filling on one page, so you can close it.)
In one motion, grab the bottom paper on the side not sprinkled with fruit, and “close the book”—fold the empty half of the sheet of dough to cover the filling. Then, sprinkle entire top lightly with coarse sugar and pat lightly to press it in and make sure it sticks.
Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter coated with a little nonstick spray, cut rectangle into 4 strips the long way, then cut each strip into 4 columns to make 16-20 square-ish pieces, which each measure one to two inches per side. Transfer squares to parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. If squares do not transfer cleanly, refrigerate for another 10-15 minutes and try again.
Bake 12-15 minutes, or until edges are lightly brown but tops are still pale. Repeat process with second rectangle of dough.
Notes: Makes 24-36 1 ½ – 2 inch square cookies. Keeps up to one week if kept tightly sealed in a cool place. Cool completely before storing. Can also opt to skip rolling out and just make a drop cookie – fold in fruit and zest (if using) after completely blending in dry ingredients. Refrigerate for one hour, then drop by teaspoonful on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and bake as directed above.