Gluten Free Holiday Baking

by Mary Bailey

It’s one thing to give up bread and substitute gluten free pasta or pizza crust, but to give up Christmas baking?

For those who can’t tolerate wheat and gluten, holiday treats become another thing to avoid. As I have several friends and colleagues who have wheat sensitivities or are celiac, I wanted to find a way to create great Christmas baking without gluten. I started with substituting gluten free (gf) flour blends in several holiday standbys, and moved on to playing around with different flours and starches. I asked colleagues what they did for gf baking and then I hit the Net, which wasted several hours but was entertaining.

Here are a few things I learned while making gluten free (gf) cookies:

  • Use or develop recipes that don’t have much flour to begin with, such as shortbread and rich tea cookie-type recipes made with butter.
  • Carefully mix wet and dry (think of folding in whipped cream). It’s too easy to knock the stuffing (trapped carbon dioxide) out of the mix.
  • Chill dough before making cookies. They seem to need more rest and are easier to work with after a stint in the refrigerator.
  • Kinnikinnick rocks. Their GF products come in resealable bags, they are an Edmonton based company and their products are available just about everywhere.
  • Make xanthan gum your friend. This natural ingredient mimics gluten by helping to trap air, and assists in crafting a nice texture. I didn’t try guar gum but it’s supposed to do the same thing.
  • Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut to fit or a Silpat.
  • Use Lactancia unsalted butter in stick form for easy measuring and best results.
  • Turn cookie sheets halfway through baking time.
  • Flour blends: there are several gf flour mixes on the market, but I played around with several different flours to see how they would work. I didn’t come up with the definitive blend, finding different blends worked for different cookies, but here are some I found during research.
Flour blend one

1 c sorghum flour

½ c millet flour

½ c cornmeal

¼ c almond flour

¾ c starch: tapicoa, potato or corn starch

1 t xanthan gum

Flour blend two

1 c sorghum flour

½ c millet, almond or buckwheat flour

1 c starch: tapioca, potato or corn starch

1 t xanthan gum

Flour blend three

GEMS Flour Formula (Gems of Gluten-free Baking, by Wendy Turnbull, Whitecap)

2¾ c brown rice flour

2/3 c sweet white sorghum flour

1/3 c gluten-free oat flour

3 T bean flour

Where to buy gluten free (gf) baking ingredients

Kinnikinnick Foods
10940 120 Street, plus most shops carrying gluten free products.

Ed’s Gluten Free Specialty
9303 34 Avenue

Planet Organic
7917 104 Street,
12120 Jasper Avenue

Italian Centre Shops
5028 104A Street,
10878 95 Street

Lemon drops

Kirstin Kotelko’s family recipe, remodeled. Make these bite sized as they are very tender.

½ c tapioca flour

½ c sorghum flour

¼ t xanthan gum

2/3 c cornstarch

1 c butter

1/3 c icing sugar

1 t lemon zest, finely chopped

Whisk flours, xanthan gum and cornstarch in a separate bowl and reserve. Beat butter and icing sugar together until fluffy. Mix in dry ingredients just until blended. Roll into small balls and place on prepared baking sheet (the dough will be sticky). Bake at 325ºF for 10-12 minutes. Cool completely before handling.

Icing (optional)

1/3 c soft butter

2/3 c icing sugar

3 T fresh lemon juice

1 T lemon zest

Blend together until creamy.

Ice cookies with a knife.


Dip the iced cookies in coconut.

Finely chop fresh rosemary and mix ½ t into the cookie dough.

Finely chop dried cranberries and mix ¼ c into the cookie dough.

Ginger chocolate christmas biscotti

This biscotti recipe went through several testings before I came up with something that looked like the original. The problem was spread. This mix of flours did the trick and don’t forget the xanthan.

¼ c potato starch

¼ c sweet rice flour

¼ c sorghum flour

¼ c tapioca flour

½ c almond flour

2 t baking powder

1 t xanthan gum

¼ t salt

1 stick butter, softened

1 c sugar

2 large eggs

½ t vanilla

zest of 1 lemon

1 c dark chocolate (in small chunks), chopped candied ginger, dried cherries, and chopped almonds (approx equal parts of each)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, whisk flours together with baking powder, xanthan gum and salt. Reserve. Cream butter and sugar, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla and zest. Add the dry ingredients to wet about 1/3 cup at a time, running mixer on low to incorporating the dry. When all the flour mixture has been added, mix in the ginger/chocolate/almond/cranberry mixture and blend just until incorporated. Wrap dough in plastic and chill for about one hour or overnight.

To form biscotti logs, shape the dough into two or three loaf-like logs, about 3-4 inches in diameter, on a prepared baking sheet. Bake the biscotti until the biscotti logs are golden and somewhat firm, about 15-20 minutes. Cool on baking sheet. Turn oven down to 325ºF. When the logs are cool enough to handle and hold their shape, cut in ½ to ¾” slices with a serrated knife. Place them on prepared baking sheets and place in the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes until starting to darken for soft biscotti, about 20 minutes for dark, crunchy biscotti. Cool completely before handling. Makes about three dozen biscotti.

Nutty crunchy cookies

It’s not the holidays without a nutty cookie. Adapted from

1 c almond flour

1 c sorghum flour

½ c tapioca starch

1½ t baking soda

1½ t xanthan gum

1 t sea salt

1½ c light brown sugar, packed

1/3 c plus 1 T olive oil

1 T honey

2 eggs

1 T vanilla

milk (or almond milk)

¾ c chopped pecans

In a large bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, briefly cream sugar, oil and honey. Add eggs one at a time, then add vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed brown sugar mixture a little at a time. Add 1-2 T milk as needed. Beat until smooth — not too wet, not too dry. Stir in pecans. Cover bowl and chill dough for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

Quickly form dough into balls and place on cookie sheet, about two inches apart. Press down on the dough balls to flatten a bit, but keep a slightly mounded shape. They will spread. Add a sprinkle of chopped pecans on top if desired. Bake in the center of a pre-heated oven for roughly 15 minutes, until the cookies are golden and firm to the touch.

Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Makes 20-30 cookies depending on size.

Sugar cookies

Not as crispy/chewy as regular sugar cookies but taste like Christmas all the same.

2½ c gf flour

1 t baking powder

2½ t xanthan gum (omit if the flour mix contains it)

1 c sugar

1 c butter

1 egg

2 t vanilla

½ t nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Whisk dry ingredients together and set aside. Cream butter and sugar, then add egg and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and nutmeg. Mix.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour or overnight. Roll out to ½-inch thickness, cut out and bake for about 12-15 minutes. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before handling.

Gluten free valencia orange cake

Courtesy Shari de Souza, Culina’s in house baker

2 oranges

4 eggs

2 c brown sugar

2 c almond flour

1 c brown rice flour

½ t salt

1 t baking soda

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Wash the oranges and boil them whole for 1½ hours. Place the oranges in a food processor and process till smooth. Add rest of ingredients and process till well blended.
Pour batter into a greased 9″ round pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Let cool in pan for 2 hours.

Tom Douglas’ chocolate shortbread

A gluten-free version of a recipe in the Seattle Kitchen cookbook, adapted from

¾ c sweet rice flour

½ c teff flour

¼ c millet flour

¼ c tapioca flour

½ t xanthan gum

½ c cocoa powder

½ t salt

1 c unsalted butter

½ c sugar

1 t vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

In a large bowl, whisk flours, xanthan gum, cocoa powder and salt. Reserve. Mix butter and sugar together until creamy. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture a bit at a time, until combined.

Dust surface kitchen counter with rice flour. Roll dough to ½ inch thickness. Cut out cookies until you have used all the dough, or roll into balls and place on cookie sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes, or until they feel firm to the touch. Cool on the baking sheet for five minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely Makes about 30 cookies.

Thyme cookies

A delicious, not too sweet cookie. As the dough is very soft and sticky, chilling makes it easier to work with.

1¾ c Bob’s Red Mill gf all-purpose baking flour (contains chick pea and fava bean flour.)
1 t baking soda
1 c stone-ground yellow cornmeal
½ t salt
¼ t xantham gum
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1¼ c sugar
2 eggs
¾ c dried currants
1 T+½ t finely chopped fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 350ºF, Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cornmeal and salt in a medium bowl.

Cream butter and sugar on medium until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Add flour mixture; mix on low speed until just combined. Mix in currants and thyme. Wrap dough in plastic and chill for one hour or overnight.

Drop small balls of dough onto lined sheets, spacing them two inches apart. They spread. Bake until pale golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer cookies, on the parchment, to a wire rack. Let cool completely before handling. Makes about 48 small cookies.