Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stevia Sweetened & Grain-Free Thumbprint Cookies with Apricot Preserves

This has been one interesting year, blowing by like gust of wind and just as violently. It has had its moments, with the enlightening and confusing lessons, the exciting and terrifying situations, and the thrilling as well as exhausting activities of which I thought of as important. I felt like I was flying from day to day, hour to hour, events to events, and suddenly I’ve come to a wall. Since October my life decided to put on the breaks, and the second half of the semester has turned into a slow-motion car crash. I’m so tired, the tired that reaches down to your very core, the type of tired that most college students get this time of year. As this is my last official week as an undergraduate, my body has taken on another wave of sickness. You know, the December pre-holiday, sore throat, slight fever, congested sinuses, and swollen glands kind. And let me tell you, all these things make it hard to get into the holiday spirit.

I love Christmas, Yule, Jul, St. Lucia’s Day, the Winter Solstice, Boxing Day, and New Years Eve. I love the lights on the houses, the smell in the air, the color of snow clouds, and the secular winter songs sung by various Big Band, ragtime, jazz, and contemporary artists. Most importantly, I love the food. After my Christmas in Sweden last year, IB and I are bringing the traditions we learned from our friend SR. We’re celebrating our guilt free and grain-free free day with a Julbord on the 24th like we did with our friend SR and her amazing family. There will be lox, various pickled things, cheese, sweets, and maybe a little singing around the dinner table with schnapps in hand. 

His and My Christmas in Sweden, 2010

Is it just me, or has the “Christmas spirit” changed a bit in the last few years? As I recall, the winter holidays didn’t start in October. Maybe that’s what has soured my childlike love for this time of year: the consumerist part of this holiday that sells good cheer earlier and earlier in stores. My biggest fear is turning into my version of Dickens’ Scrooge, but even worse than a Scrooge would be the kind of person who feels nothing for the holiday once beloved and viewed as a magical experience. I want to relive my childhood memories of larger than life trees, of Santa Claus and the night before Christmas present tradition, of holiday movie marathons like “A Christmas Story” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and seasonal treats like hot cocoa, lox on bagels, and candy. Once more, I want to keep the spirit of the holidays alive, last semester and post-graduation stress besides.

But this month’s Gluten Free Ratio Rally was what really got me into the spirit of the holidays. I mean, what is December without cookies?

Cookies, sometimes known as biscuits in other English-speaking countries, have been seen throughout history since food has been documented. Its not-so sweet ancestor (such as the jumble) traveled well and lasted much longer than other foods when people went on long journeys through harsh lands and environments. The cookie the U.S. knows and loves today involves the creaming of butter and sugar, which wasn’t introduced to our palates until the 18th century.

Call it what you like, whether it is the Dutch koekje, the Scandinavian kakor, the Anglicized cooky, or the modern cookie, it’s an amazingly adaptable treat. The classification of each type of cookie is based on how it is formed. There is the drop cookie (the classic oatmeal or chocolate chip), the “icebox” cookie, the molded cookie (the gingerbread man), the rolled cookie, the pressed cookie (the German Spritzgeb├Ąck), the bar cookie (the British “Tray Bakes”), the sandwich cookie (the Oreo), and so much more. They can be decorated or left plain. They can be crispy or chewy. They can be “healthy” and beyond your average indulgence.

Have it with milk, with tea, or with coffee, a cookie is a dessert to be relished, enjoyed and cherished with every bite. And even with my week of low-carb, grain free, limited fruit intake, and sweetener free, I still wanted to participate in this month’s GFRR and eat what I made… even if it wasn’t on Saturday (aka my grain-free free day).

I had in mind a thumbprint cookie, with an apricot preserve filling that didn’t have any added sugar in it. I thought, should I add more sugar to the cookie dough or not? I wanted a cookie, but I didn’t want a baked sugary thing posing as a cookie. I wanted it to have the integrity I felt cookies should have, where it’s not too sweet but definitely fulfilling. I’m not the only one who prefers a not-too-sweet cookie. Just look at Ruhlman’s “1-2-3 Cookie” in Ratio, a shortbread cookie all about the cookie and not all about the sugar.

So I had a challenge, two actually. The first was to make it grain free. The second was to make it refined sugar free and low in the unrefined also. It was the second that took me out my element, and I’m glad I gave it a go.

My Gluten Free Julbord Plate, 2010

As you know, I don’t do refined sugars, even organic cane sugar. It makes me lethargic, ill, and my digestion is finicky for days after. I also don’t do artificial sweeteners or corn syrup, the “regular” or the “high fructose” kind.  So what was a Morri to do?

The answer, my friends, is stevia.

Stevia is a herb/shrub/plant found in the sunflower family, whose extract is three hundred times sweeter than your average sugar. It is also the only natural sweetener that the body does not recognize as a sweet as well as being non-caloric, so it has little effect on blood glucose and the liver. It's great for diabetics and those with glucose intolerance alike.

There are quite a few gluten free bloggers noted for using stevia in their recipes, such as: Iris of The Daily Dietribe, Desi of The Palate Peacemaker, Lori and Michelle of Pure2Raw, and Ricki of Diet, Dessert, and Dogs. I first tried stevia years and years ago, back when stevia started entering the holistic food world. That same stevia in our fridge isn’t pure; it has grapeseed extract, an ingredient that has a bitter aftertaste. Some people think stevia has a bitter aftertaste all on its own, though I find stevia works in some foods and not in others. (I also recently purchased 100% pure stevia in powdered form from Trader Joe's, which tastes significantly better and was what I ended up using for the cookies.) It tastes great with pumpkin and socca bakes, though I’m not a fan of it in light beverages such as lemon water, tea, or coffee. The taste of stevia in beverages was what concerned me in the first place, but it’s like comparing the taste of milk to juice, or fish to steak, or… or uh, beverages to baked goods.

Anyway, stevia should be used sparingly, but it does work with cookies. Oh yes, it works with cookies… these cookies, actually.

This recipe was inspired by Williams and Kidd’s Cooking At Home recipe for “Miniature Jelly Thumbprint Cookies” (pg. 483).

Stevia-Sweetened Grain-Free Thumbprint Cookies with Apricot Preserves

3 oz Almond meal
4 oz Garbanzo bean flour
1 oz Coconut flour
1/4 tsp. Sea salt
4 oz Unsalted butter, room temperature
1/8 – 1/4 tsp. Stevia
1/2 tsp. Bourbon vanilla extract
1 Egg yolk
2.5 oz Apricot preserves (if not smooth, put it through the food processor until it’s curd-like)

Preheat the oven to 375┬║F.
In a food processor or stand mixer, cream the butter, stevia, vanilla, and egg yolk on medium speed.
Decrease the speed setting to low and slowly add the dry ingredients until the dough begins to form.
Separate the dough into a least twelve equal parts (although I recommend making three to four times that amount for smaller cookies), roll into balls, and place on parchment paper or on an ungreased baking sheet at least 1 1/2 inches apart.
Using your index finger or a 1/4 tsp. spoon, make a depression in the center of each ball.
For the smaller cookies, bake for 7 minutes, while doubling the time to 14 minutes if you’re making a dozen larger cookies.
Remove from the oven and use a small spoon (the same 1/4 tsp. spoon) to fill the depressions with the preserves.
Return to the oven and continue to bake until the cookies begin to color, about 8 minutes (16 minutes for the larger cookies).
Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to five days.

Makes 12 – 42 cookies.

The great Caroline of The G-Spot Revolution hosts this month’s GFRR,  “because a healthy life shouldn’t be hard to find.” I think she is the right person for this ratio for this month. She’s sassy, warm, and honest, a person who isn’t afraid to get her hands into cookie dough. Her photos are beautiful and her recipes are intuitive and easy to follow.

So thank you, Caroline, for being awesome and making cookies with the rest of us:

Amanda | Gluten Free Maui     Simple Shortbread
Amie Valpone | The Healthy Apple     Gluten-Free Grapefruit Sugar Cookies
Brooke | B & the boy!     Candy Cane Shortbread
Caleigh | Gluten Free[k]     Mulled Spice Cookies
Caneel | Mama Me Gluten Free     Cardamom Date Cookies
*Caroline |  The G-Spot Revolution     Double Chocolate Chip Peppermint Cookies
charissa | zest bakery      Coconut Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies
Claire | Gluten Freedom     Chai Latte Cashew Cookies
Erin | The Sensitive Epicure     Spritz Cookies w/ Jam
gretchen | kumquat     classic sugar cookies
Irvin | Eat the Love     Apple Brown Butter Bay Leaf Spice Cookies
Jean | Gluten Free Doctor Recipes     Reindeer Cookies
Jenn | Jenn Cuisine     Basler Brunsli
Jonathan | The Canary Files     Vegan Salted Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Karen | Cooking Gluten Free!     Mexican Wedding Cakes
Lisa | Gluten Free Canteen     Molasses Rum Raisin Cookies, Gluten Free
Mary Fran | frannycakes     Gluten-Free Pinwheel Cookies
Meaghan | The Wicked Good Vegan     Vegan Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
Meredith | Gluten Free Betty     Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
Me! | Meals With Morri     Stevia Sweetened & Grain Free Thumbprint Cookies with Apricot Preserves
Pete & Kelli | No Gluten, No Problem     Belgian Speculaas Cookies
Rachel | The Crispy Cook     Melomakarona
Shauna | Gluten Free Girl & The Chef     Gluten Free Soft Molasses Cookies 
Silvana Nardone | Silvana's Kitchen     Old-School Italian Jam-Filled Hazelnut Cookies
T.R. | No One Likes Crumbley Cookies     Cinnamon Lemon Cookies
Tara | A Baking Life     Walnut Shortbread


  1. You can do it! One more week! Early congrats! Then what? These cookies look & sound great. My cookies were in the same vane. Great minds think alike. I love your story & photos. Merry Christmas!

  2. I love your cookie history, the Sweden photos and most of all your cookies. Great post for the GF Ratio Rally. Gotta check out that stevia I've been hearing so much about.

  3. I'm glad to hear that the stevia baked so well - sometimes when I've used it in methods with heat it's kind of disintegrated, so maybe baking cookies helps to stabilize it somehow - will have to give these a go next time I am with my parents!

  4. Oh Morri, I remember that overwhelming tired feeling, right before I graduated. (I've since felt in again, much more recently, when we were opening the restaurant). I hope you get lots of rest over the holidays! I'm so glad you were able to create a healthy cookie that tastes great. Baking just isn't the same when you can't enjoy the final product! And I'm glad you gave some info on stevia. My parents have started using it instead of sugar, but I have no experience with it and no idea how to use it in baking. Thank you! (And I owe you an email. I haven't forgotten, and will try to get on that asap!)

  5. I truly appreciate your cookie philosophy, Morrie. We want to taste the cookie, not necessarily what it was sweetened with. I have never baked with stevia, but after reading this, I think it's time to walk through that door. Thank you so much for sharing and enjoy the holidays!

  6. What a cool looking recipe! I love finding other stevia recipes!

  7. what a great post, morri, in so many ways. i've used stevia a lot in beverages, etc, but never baking. glad to know it worked for you. i tried to make a thumbprint cookie lately also with coconut flour (which i love), but they were little hockey pucks. so glad to have your recipe to fall back on!

  8. Hi! These cookies were great...but mine came out crumbly. The one change image was that I used room temperature coconut oil instead of butter...Maybe that made the difference. My batter was wet and did not form a ball...should it? Thanks, tina

    1. As I recall, mine were also rather shortbread cookie in its crumbliness. If it was too wet to at least spoon and put your thumb in the center, it may have been the difference in the fat. If that's the case, I'd add a touch more almond meal or garbanzo bean flour to hold it together.

    2. I too, used coconut oil, however I also added 1 tsp. of golden flax meal to the recipe AND make sure to refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes!!!! Cooling the dough for cookies is essential !!!! These cookies are a shortbread cookie, hence they have an inherent crumbly texture. I have made these countless times and have ALWAYS been asked for the recipe! Also, I can only find "pure"stevia powder, at TJ's, as Morri mentioned. "Stevia in the Raw" is about 80% Maltodextrose !!!!