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Remaking Holiday Cookies

Cookies have always spoken to me. Chips and pretzels sit in my pantry for weeks and I ignore them. But the shouts coming from the cookie jar can be deafening.

What other food item can be for breakfast or company—and always makes recipients happy? They are perfect.

When I was young we lived in Baldwinsville. Christmas meant heading into Syracuse to my Aunt Janet and Uncle Tom’s for family get-togethers. Aunt Janet always had trays and plates throughout the kitchen and dining room overflowing with an assortment of homemade Christmas cookies.

I spent the entire evening planning which to eat. Would it be the butterball with finely diced walnuts? The folded cookie with chocolate and pineapple preserve filling? The anise-laced and frosting-covered Italian wedding cookie? My young mind swirled with anticipation.

When I was in high school we moved to Fishkill. Every Sunday after church my mom would take my brother, sister and me to Paesano’s Bakery. We were allowed to choose one treat from the pastry case. My eyes were always drawn to the raspberry-filled, powder-sugar-covered, Linzer tortes—big, yummy, cookies. (Doughnuts, cake or pie—who needs ’em?)

But when it came to making cookies, my all-time favorite was my mother’s sugar cookie cutout. It was simple and pure, with its light dusting of sprinkles to make it Christmas-y. All I needed was an ice cold glass of milk or mug of sweet tea for dipping and I was in heaven.

As an adult, beginning with my mom’s and aunt’s recipes, I began collecting cookies. If I tasted a homemade treat that was scrumptious, I would ask for details. I followed cookie contests printed in the local newspaper. Every year I tried to add a new gem to my repertoire.

The culmination of my cookie collecting was unveiled each December. The Christmas tree was decorated. Various holiday knickknacks were spread throughout the house. Tunes wafted from the CD player. A fire glowed in the fireplace. The time to bake had arrived.

I had a routine. Difficult cookies were made first. The easiest were made last because I could whip up multiple types in one day, adding variety to the assortment. Most were frozen until it was time to make trays for family and friends. A few of each were placed in the “sample container” and kept in the refrigerator for family.

I became known as “The Cookie Lady.”

Then, at age 7, my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder caused by a reaction to gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

You need wheat flour to make almost all my yummy cookies. It was a dilemma: How could I create these wonderful treats and then tell my daughter she could not eat them? What was I to do?

My love for homemade cookies was stronger than my fear of recipe failure. Armed with ambition and an insatiable cookie appetite I embarked upon a mission to make all my treasures gluten-free.

For some it was easy. My aunt’s almond paste cookie recipe and holiday fudge do not call for flour. Others have so many ingredients the flavor and texture change by switching out flour is barely noticeable—such as the seven-layer cookie and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies with caramel frosting.

But my favorite, my mom’s sugar cookie cutout, seemed impossible. Either the cookie would not hold its holiday shape, would be too crumbly, or had no taste.

I tried various combinations of rice, tapioca and potato flour. I dabbled with butter vs. shortening. I experimented with different extracts, including vanilla, lemon and almond. I heaped on frosting—hoping to mask the lack of flavor and attempt to hold the cookie together.

It took years of disappointment and “so-so” sugar cookie eating, but I have achieved success! The decorated cutout once again is displayed on the cookie trays at Christmas.

And most importantly, they are Amanda’s favorite. Not only does she choose the sugar cookie from the sample tray as her bedtime snack with a big glass of milk, on Christmas Eve it is the cookie she leaves for Santa on the plate by the tree. As you can imagine, this makes Santa and me very happy indeed.   o


Deborah Cavanagh lives in Manlius with her husband and two children. She has written for local organizations supporting children and adults with special needs and publishes the blog www.momofmanyneeds.com.


The Recipe


Nana’s GF Sugar Cookie Cut-Outs


²/³ cup shortening (I use Crisco)

¾ cup sugar

½ teaspoon grated orange peel

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1½ teaspoons lemon juice

1½ teaspoons almond extract

2 cups gluten-free flour (I use King Arthur Gluten Free Multi-Purpose flour)

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 egg

½ teaspoon xanthan gum



1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon water

As many drops of food coloring as you like



Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream shortening, sugar, orange peel, vanilla extract, almond extract and lemon juice. Add egg. Beat till light and fluffy. Sift dry ingredients together. Blend into creamed mixture.


Wrap dough and chill in refrigerator for an
hour. Lightly flour surface, rolling pin and
cookie cutters with gluten-free flour.


Roll out dough to ¼-inch thickness and cut desired shapes.


Place on non-stick cookie sheet
(or sheet covered with parchment paper).


To make color glaze, take one egg yolk and mix in 1 teaspoon of water in small bowl. Add food coloring. Paint with soft bristle paint brush onto cookies.


Add sprinkles if desired.


Bake glazed cookies for 8 to 9 minutes.

Cool and enjoy.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York