Gluten-free vegan shortbreads

These are a riff off of Ellie’s Crispy Coconut Cookies and my crackers recipe. I have a friend who is allergic to coconut, so the switch to ground almonds was a natural choice.

  • 1 c oat flour (OK to grind this yourself from rolled oats in a food processor)
  • 1/2 c ground almonds or almond flour
  • 1/4 c potato starch (!= potato flour; check the kosher section)
  • 0-3T granulated sugar, to taste*
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • pinch salt

Whisk together until thoroughly blended and no clumps remain. Add:

  • 2T melted Earth Balance (or your choice of butter-like substance)
  • 2-3T maple syrup
  • 1t vanilla or almond flavoring

* The maple syrup is necessary to moisten the dough, and water doesn’t substitute terribly well. If you’re going to cut sugar, cut the granulated stuff.

Stir until it forms a somewhat crumbly dough, like pie crust. If it’s too soft, add more potato starch, 1T at a time. If it’s too dry, you can sprinkle with water or nut milk, but stop when a handful holds together when squeezed. No gluten, so you can’t really overwork it.

Roll out to 1/8″ thick for delicate wafers or 1/4″ for a more substantial bite. You can roll toppings into the surface at this point if you like; see Variations notes below. Cut into squares, and arrange on baking paper or a silpat. These don’t spread so you can put them quite close to one another, but 1/2″ of breathing space makes the whole pan bake more evenly.

Bake at 350F for 15 minutes, then rotate pans and check every 5 minutes until the edges start to go golden. Cool on pans or racks.

You can use almost any high-protein high-fat flour (nuts, seeds) in place of the ground almonds. If you’re making more than one kind at a time though, it’s a good idea to reserve some of the operative ingredient in recognizable form, and roll it into the surface of the dough before cutting.

  • Coconut: Grind up flaked coconut in the food processor and sub for the ground almonds. If using sweetened coconut, no additional sugar is necessary. Coconut flakes look particularly nice rolled into the top, as they toast beautifully. Use rum instead of vanilla.
  • Hazelnut: Grind in a food processor. I prefer to use blanched ones for the body of the cookie, but for the garnish use finely chopped ones with skins on. Use frangelico instead of vanilla.

Really, these ratios can be used for anything — 4 parts well-balanced flour like oat or sorghum, 2 parts nut or seed meal, 1 part starch, some fat, some liquid, a little leavening, good to go.


Nut & Seed Crackers

I’ve been seeing a nutritionist who specializes in folks like me with FODMAP sensitivities, and one of the things I’ve been excited to add back into my diet is cheese! And of course that means crackers. For a while I was trying to develop a sourdough wheat-based cracker (sourdough fermentation reduces the amount of fructans, the particular problematic fermentable saccharides in wheat), but I couldn’t get the texture right. It’s been a loooong time since I baked with gluten. To combat the tooth-breaking toughness of those crackers I started increasing the percentages of fat and nut/seed meal, and eventually just did away with the sourdough altogether. A bit of tweaking to get the hydration right, and this is the result: A gluten-free, vegan-able cracker that’s stiff enough to hold toppings but still crumbles nicely in the mouth.

You need a food processor for this recipe if you want to start from whole nuts or seeds.

Line two 16″x22″ sheet pans with parchment paper.

Preheat your oven to 400F and set up two racks at below-center and above-center. Prepare a small strainer with a few tablespoons of potato or corn starch in it for dusting, with more set aside for refills.

Dry ingredients:

  • 100 grams finely ground rolled oats
  • 300 grams finely ground nuts or seeds of choice. I typically use 100 grams each of almonds and walnuts, and then fill the last 100 grams with whatever is kicking around at the moment. Sunflower seeds, pepitas, macadamias, pecans, that sort of thing. If you’re using something really oily like macadamia nuts, put them in with the oats to grind so you don’t wind up with chunky paste. You really don’t want any chunks bigger than a couple millimeters.
  • 100 grams potato starch (!= flour; check the kosher section or substitute corn starch)
  • 30 grams flax meal
  • 7 grams salt
  • 5 grams baking powder (~1t)

Mix with a fork until thoroughly blended and the starch and oat flour has coated the oily nut/seed meal. Add:

  • 50 grams melted coconut oil
  • 30 grams olive oil (or your favorite liquid oil)

Alternate mixing and cutting until no dry areas or large clumps remain. Add:

  • 150 grams cold water

Mix. This is the weird step, since it will start out like watery sand and you’ll think it’s not going to work, then it will change to a batter, then to a soft, smooshy, sticky almost-dough. Once it holds an impression of the tines of the fork, it’s time to roll — work fast as it will continue to set up.

Put one of the lined sheet pans on your work surface and use the strainer to dust it thoroughly with starch. If your rolling pin is wider than your sheet pans, you’ll want to work on just the parchment, and slide the paper back onto the pan once the crackers are rolled out. Dump half the dough in the center of the paper, sprinkle with more starch, and roll to 1/8″ thick, dusting with more starch as needed. It will tear easily, so always roll towards edges, never along them. Use a pizza cutter, pastry cutter, or butter knife to score a grid of the size you like, and put any trimmings at the edges back into the dough bowl. Dock the crackers with a fork, bamboo skewer, or chopstick. Set this pan aside.

Make a glaze. In a small saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium-low heat:

  • 3 T honey, golden syrup, or brown rice syrup (NB: honey isn’t vegan, so if you’re baking for one, use something else)
  • 2 t water

This is also a good opportunity to add any surface flavorings you like. Dried thyme is good, and so is smoked paprika, but I actually like the plain honey best. Keep an eye & an ear on the simmering glaze while you roll and cut the second pan of crackers, and turn the heat off when the sound of the bubbles rises in pitch and they start to linger glossily on the surface before popping. You can also substitute maple syrup here, but as it has a different water content you’ll have to play around with the proportions to get a good glazing consistency.

The second ball of dough will be stiffer than the first. Be a bit more sparing with the starch, or it will tend to crack and split. Use the cutting scraps from the left side of the grid to patch up the partial crackers on the right side of the grid to conserve dough, or give the scraps to the chickens.

Brush the tops of both pans of crackers with the glaze. Try not to leave an unglazed margin at the edges, as that will be extremely visible once baked. Slopping over the edges a little is fine. If you find the glaze getting too thick before you’ve finished brushing, return it to the heat for a moment to loosen it up. Once the crackers are glazed, you can sprinkle on sesame or poppy seeds, and the glaze will make sure they stick. Coarse salt or pepper might also be nice.

Bake 8 minutes, then rotate and switch racks and bake another 8 minutes. Remove any crackers at the edges that have started to brown prematurely, and return the rest to the oven, checking on them every four minutes until they’ve gone just a shade or two darker. Cool on the pans or on racks, it doesn’t seem to make a difference except that they’re harder to break apart while they’re still hot.

These go from “starting to get brown” to “unpleasantly burnt” rather fast, so err on the side of underbaking — you can always dry them out in a low oven later if they’re still a bit soft once cool.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container. They’re probably best eaten within a month due to the nut/seed content, but mine are usually gone by the end of the week so it’s hard to say.