Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fearless Baking: Cornmeal Thumbprint Cookies

Gluten-Free, Vegan Cornmeal Thumbprint Cookies

In life, there may be many things that scare us.  Job interviews, dogs, heights, relationships, darkness - you name it, and someone's probably terrified of it.  But with rare exception, the reason we fear these things is not because they're inherently scary.  Rather it's the uncertainty, and the risk of doing something unfamiliar with an outcome, good or bad, that we can't predict.  Simply put, we fear what we don't know.

And so it goes with baking.  The mystery that surrounds it seems to inspire both "oohs, aahs," and "eek!" in equal proportions.  As someone who is relatively new to baking, I can definitely attest to that.  For most of my life, I fell into the latter camp of "I could never do that."  But in the years since eliminating gluten and dairy from my life, I've felt compelled and inspired to overcome my fears of baking and take the plunge.  For those with dietary constraints who lament the loss of desserts, I want them to have their cake and not only eat it, but enjoy it, too.  But baking gluten-free, dairy-free, and often vegan, while amazingly gratifying when it works, has admittedly had more than its fair share of clench-my-fist, need-a-time-out, [insert expletive] moments.

Written by Emily Luchetti (2004 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef) and Lisa Weiss, the cookbook was borne of a desire to raise that shroud and "'turn a terrified baker into a fearless one'".   Accordingly, each recipe is accompanied by simple, clear instructions and ingenious text message-like conversations in the sidebar anticipating questions and concerns from the FB (Fearful Baker) and providing gentle feedback and guidance from EL (Emily Luchetti).  I was fortunate enough to win a copy of it a couple months ago, and ever since then, particularly in times where I'm feeling more frustrated than fulfilled from my own baking trials and tribulations, I have turned to The Fearless Baker.  Whether it's giggling to myself at the witty banter between FB and EL, or how straightforward and accessible everything is, it always has helped me to rediscover both the joy in baking as well as faith in myself.

The green post-its are recipes on my to-do list.

When I came upon the recipe for Cornmeal Thumbprints on page 44 and read that it "might be the sleeper cookie recipe" of the book, I knew that I had to try it.  And that description was dead-on.  The deliciousness of this cookie can catch you by surprise, striking a lovely balance between sweet and savory, soft and crunchy.  And did I mention addictive?  

You'll definitely want to have company over when you make these.  Trust me.


Cornmeal Thumbprint Cookies 
Gluten-Free & Vegan / Adapted from The Fearless Baker

Total Time: 20-30 minutes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 16-20 minutes
Yield: 18-24 cookies
 
4 tablespoons (2 oz) vegan butter, softened
1/4 c (1 1/4 oz) coconut sugar
2 teaspoons ground flax
1/2 teaspoon GF vanilla extract
1/8 c (1 oz) maple syrup
3 tablespoons (1 oz) extra virgin olive oil

1/2 c (3 oz) GF all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 c  (1 3/4 oz) ground hazelnuts or almonds (not meal/flour)
1/3 c (1 3/4 oz) GF cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  With a hand mixer or a whisk, beat butter and palm sugar until smooth and lighter in both color and texture.  Add flax and remaining wet ingredients and beat until a uniform consistency is reached.
3.  In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients together.
4.  Gradually incorporate dry mixture into the wet mixture.  The resulting dough will be soft and slightly sticky. 
5.  Roll tablespoon-sized balls of dough and place them roughly 2" apart on a lined baking sheet.  If the dough is too soft or greasy to handle, chill the dough for a few minutes rather than adding more flour.  Do not flatten the dough balls prior to baking. 
6.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the dough no longer appears wet.  Remove pan from the oven and create thumb-sized indentations in the middle of each cookie either using your thumb or the end of wooden spoon or whisk - an extremely helpful tip from the book.  When I started the cookies with an indentation, not only did the cookies spread more, but the "thumbprint" all but disappeared as the cookies rose.  If the cookies start to crack when making the indentation (which they will), simply push the cracks back together.
7.  Return to oven and bake for 8-10 more minutes or until the bottom edges are just turning golden brown.
8.  Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before transferring.
9.  When cooled completely, fill with jam(s) of choice and enjoy.

Fluffy, sweet butter is always a good place to start.

Pre-bake.

Mid-bake.

Post-bake.  Yum!

The original recipe called for twice as much cornmeal, which definitely played up the contrast of textures.  But the third time making it, I decided to use half as much and substitute ground nuts for the remainder, resulting in a texture that was more cohesive and that I ended up preferring.  Feel free to do either - they're both delicious in their own ways.

Blackberry-vanilla jam or vegan citrus curd?  Both, please.

So often we can become fixated on the end product or destination we envision in our minds.  But one of the best bits of advice I've ever received was "Give yourself permission to make mistakes."  Because contrary to popular belief mistakes aren't a sign of failure.  Rather, they help us to slow down and appreciate each moment for what it is.  And ultimately they help us to grow - stronger, wiser, and perhaps less uncertain and fearful than we were to begin with.

So regardless of whether you create a masterpiece worthy of a centerspread, something special for someone's birthday, or flops no one will ever know about, remember that baking can be a beautiful journey.  

Embrace it, enjoy it, and most of all, share it.  Fearlessly.
*******

Humble Thanks to Emily Luchetti for allowing me to share my Fearless Baker experience with you.  To learn more about Emily, please visit:

www.emilyluchetti.com
https://www.facebook.com/emilyluchettidesserts
 
Full disclosure: I received a copy of The Fearless Baker as a prize in a giveaway contest on Emily Luchetti's Facebook page.  I have never been under any obligation to write about the book nor the authors.  All opinions expressed here are happily mine.

2 comments:

  1. I haven't had thumbprint cookies in a while; nor made them in a great while either. Since I've switched to all vegan; it has been an adjustment and right now I've been playing around with sweet rice flour =) Wish you were here to taste some of them. Back to the cookies, they look fantastic and I'm looking forward to making a good batch of the vegan citrus curd. Lemon curd was such a favorite of mine a long time ago.

    Keep on being fearless =)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Jess! I wish I could be there to taste some of your experiments, too. :) As you know, I've been on self-imposed crash course in vegan baking lately, so feel free to bounce ideas off me anytime. Glad your orange curd turned out today - now make the cookies to go with them!

    ReplyDelete

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