How to Make Cutout Sugar Cookies Gluten Free
When I was growing up, sugar cookies that we rolled out and cut into trees, angels, stars, and Santa were a solid symbol of Christmas. They meant as much to me as the lights, tree, and decorations did. Christmas just wasn’t Christmas without whipping up a batch of sugar cookie dough.
When my own sons came along, Christmas cookies were still what made the holidays special. Even when funds were tight, and presents were few, we always had a Christmas tree. And we always had cookies.
Almost every baker has some type of cutout cookie recipe that serves to increase the Christmas spirit in their home. Being gluten free doesn’t change the longing for that tradition. In fact, it intensifies it, because there is now so many things that sit beyond our control. Luckily, gluten-free Christmas cookies isn't one of those things!
Classic, cutout sugar cookies make a great holiday project to do with the kids. They look terrific on a gift platter that you’re planning on taking to neighbors or to a party. No one has to know they are gluten free, and won't be able to tell. In fact, these cookies are so good, you'll want to make them for all types of holidays and celebrations.
Just change their color, flavor, and shape to match the holiday or your decorating theme. Being gluten free doesn’t mean you have to stay home, avoid giving your children the experience of giving, or restrict yourself to the gluten-free chocolate chip cookie mix available at your local grocery store.
Making GF Christmas Cookies
If you’ve never baked gluten free before, you’re in for a special Christmas treat. This recipe does take a little time, but so do traditional cutout cookies. Cutouts always work best when the dough is very cold, so plan on making them several hours ahead. In addition, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the cookies while they’re baking because over-baked gluten-free sugar cookies will be dry and crispy, rather than soft.
When you first transfer them to a wire rack, the cookies will feel stiffer than traditional Christmas cookies. Once you frost them, decorate them, and let them sit for a little bit, the texture will relax and set. They will be soft, moist, and the best gluten-free Christmas cookies you’ve ever tasted.
Best Gluten-Free Flour for Cookies and Cakes
When it comes to gluten-free sugar cookies, you want a gluten-free flour mixture that’s light. While you could easily get away with a whole grain mixture for an oatmeal cookie, sugar cookies are supposed to be soft and melt in your mouth. You don’t want a combination that is going to make your cookies dry and crumbly.
The following is the best gluten-free flour mix for cookies and cakes that I’ve ever tried:
- 2-1/2 cups finely-ground white rice flour
- 1/4 cup brown rice flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1 cup potato starch
- 1 cup tapioca starch
Simply, combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl, and stir it until there are no more streaks of white left. This is easiest to do with a stand-mixer, but you can also do it by hand if you're patient enough to mix it well.
This combination was the first basic gluten-free flour mix that I started using shortly after going gluten free. It works cup-for-cup to replace all-purpose flour in recipes for cookies, cakes, sweet breads, and muffins. It doesn’t work well for yeast breads because loaf bread needs more grain than this mix provides, but it works for everything else. I’ve never tried anything that failed with this combination.
If you’re allergic to corn, however, this flour mix won’t work well, even if you replace the cornstarch with additional starches. I don’t know why, but I never could get this recipe to work without the cornstarch. If you need to be corn free, you can still make wonderful gluten-free Christmas cookies. You’ll just have to use the corn-free gluten-free flour mix that goes along with my Gluten-Free Molasses Cookies.
That’s the mix I used last year, and these cookies turned out great. If you prefer a ready-made gluten-free flour mix, King Arthur's Gluten-Free Flour is the only one I know of that doesn't have cornstarch or corn derivatives.
Best Gluten-Free Christmas Cookies
- 1/4 cup soft butter
- 1 tablespoon applesauce
- 1/2 cup cane sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1-1/2 cups gluten-free flour mix
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons xanthan gum
- In a large bowl, cream together butter, applesauce, and sugar until nice and creamy. Add egg and vanilla; beat again until smooth.
- In a smaller bowl, combine gluten-free flour mix, baking powder, salt, and xanthan gum. Stir well.
- Dump the dry ingredients all at once into the creamed mixture and stir to combine. Once combined, use your hands to form the dough into a ball.
- Wrap the dough tightly in a piece of plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
- The next day, sprinkle a clean surface with tapioca or cornstarch. This works best if you use a sheet of parchment paper, so you can remove the cookies easily.
- Divide the dough into two or three pieces. Place one piece on the non-stick surface while keeping the other pieces tightly wrapped. You don't want the dough to dry out. Roll the dough to at least 1/4-inch thick, or more. For crisp cookies, you can roll the dough thinner. For soft cookies, you don’t want them too thin. Thicker is better.
- Cut the cookies into desired shapes with Christmas cookie cutters, a glass, or whatever form you like. After removing the cookies, gather the remaining dough scraps into a ball and reroll. When finished, do the same thing with the other two dough balls, one at a time.
- Place the cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, non-stick foil, or a Silpat mat to prevent them from over baking. If you like crispy cookies, you can place them on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Don’t use “baking spray,” as it contains wheat flour and is not gluten free.
- While rolling and cutting out the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake each batch for only 6 to 8 minutes, just until the bottoms begin to brown. The top of the cookies will still be white, but no longer doughy looking. For crisper cookies, you can bake them for about 10 minutes, until the edges just begin to brown.
- Let them sit on the pan for a minute or two, then remove them to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting and decorating.
Gluten-Free Buttercream Frosting
- 2 tablespoons of soft butter
- 2 tablespoons of shortening
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 to 4 tablespoons of coconut milk, evaporated milk, or heavy cream
- food coloring (optional)
- With an electric mixer, combine butter and shortening until well mixed and light. You can use all butter, but the shortening helps the frosting stand up better. Add vanilla and continue beating until fluffy.
- Dump powdered sugar into the whipped butter all at once. Beat until well combined. Mixture will be crumbly-thick.
- Slowly add milk or cream, starting with 2 tablespoons. Frosting will be very thick.
- Continue adding milk or cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition, until frosting reaches spreading consistency. The amount of milk it takes depends upon the humidity, the type of powdered sugar you use, and how thin you want your frosting to be. If you need more than 4 tablespoons, use whatever amount you need. You want the frosting to be thick, but no so thick that it breaks the cookies when you try to frost them.
- If you want to color the frosting, add a drop or two of liquid food coloring and continue beating until smooth and fluffy.
Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Christmas Cookies
These sugar cookies are easy to adapt to be dairy free. The recipe works equally well with dairy-free margarine, shortening, or a combination of both to replace the butter. The rest of the ingredients are all dairy free.
For the frosting, you simply do the same thing. Use dairy-free margarine or all shortening to replace the butter in the recipe. Butter-flavored shortening is dairy free, but not corn or soy free. Also, make sure that you use coconut milk or some other milk alternative to make the frosting spreadable. Sprinkles and colored sugar are also dairy free.
Good Gluten-Free Cookie Variations
This recipe is for a simple, basic cutout cookie, but cutouts aren’t the only way to go. You can also roll the dough into balls, place the balls on your baking sheet, and then use a glass or flat surface to flatten the cookies to about 3/8 of an inch. This gives you perfectly round cookies and saves a lot of time since you don’t have to bother with rolling out the dough and cutting it into shapes.
Spicy GF Christmas Cookies: Use brown sugar instead of the white sugar, and add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of pumpkin spice to the gluten-free flour mix. Just make sure that the brand of spices is gluten free.
If you add a little bit of mashed pumpkin to the frosting and less milk, you’ll have a plateful of good gluten-free cookies that would make excellent Halloween or Thanksgiving treats as well.
GF Dough Variations: Gluten-free flours are not as tasty as wheat flour is, so you might want to add more of a creative flair to your batter. Rather than vanilla, try using lemon or almond extract. Maple flavoring would also provide a unique twist. You can also color the dough with gelatin powder, a pinch of kool-aid drink mix, or traditional food coloring.
GF Frosting Variations: The frosting is also a basic buttercream frosting, but it could be varied to match your holiday theme, decorations, or that special someone's favorite color. Orange-flavored Tang breakfast drink powder makes an excellent flavoring and coloring for gluten-free frosting, as does gelatin powder, or instant pudding mixes, but you could also use fresh lemon juice and grated zest, and even coconut and chopped pecans.
Decorating: Most of the fun involved with gluten-free Christmas sugar cookies comes with the decorating. Although colored sprinkles or sugars are traditional, there are several types of frosting tubes available today you can allow the kids to go wild with. Let them print out their name, come up with clever holiday sayings, draw religious symbols, or just drop some lacy squiggles to make a snowflake.
For Easter, tint a bowl of coconut flakes green, then top the frosted cookies with the green coconut, and group 3 or 4 jelly beans on top to resemble colored eggs. Some unwrapped peanut-filled M&M's would also work well.
For those allergic to corn, you can also be creative and do something that your friends or neighbors won’t expect like sprinkling them with mini dairy-free chocolate chips, crushed pecans, raisins, dried cranberries, or minced candied fruits. Try to think outside of the box and don’t limit yourself to the baking isle. When it comes to making good gluten-free Christmas cookies, the only limit you have is your imagination.