As a student at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the Napa Valley, we spend 18 weeks on "externship" at an approved food site. While on externship at the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen, I am grateful to be staying with my sister, brother-in-law and my two clever nieces, "G & M." At nearly 5 and 3 years old, respectively, G & M are exquisite creatures who love performing impromptu musicals before bath time, reading five to six books at bedtime, and love helping in the kitchen, especially when it comes to baking.
From atop their Little Partners Learning Tower, they sift flour, scrape mixing bowls, and, their favorite, lick the beaters clean.
Baking with them transports me back to my momma's avocado-green kitchen, watching her Sunbeam MixMaster mixing bowl turn and turn while the beaters whipped something heavenly. Later my siblings and I would fight over the beaters and, of course, the coveted mixing spoon.
However, unlike my siblings and me, my nieces' baking adventures have been limited due to a host of severe food allergies, including dairy, eggs, nuts, gluten and soy. When initially diagnosed, I thought their number of food allergies rare. But according to a 2011 study published in Pediatrics, 8% of U.S. children have a food allergy, with 38.7% of food-allergic children reporting severe reactions and 30.4% having multiple allergies.
Finding baking recipes that address all five allergies (I use the acronym D.E.N.G.S. to remember them all) has proven challenging for my sister. So, before I return to Greystone, and as recompense for opening their hearts and home to me, I've developed a few baking recipes for G & M that are D.E.N.G.S-free, crumb-lickin'-good and with just a pinch of whimsical spice to expand their palates.
G & M'S OATMEAL COOKIES
Total Time: 50 minutes, plus cooling time.
Servings: 12 cookies
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water
3/4 cup (3.6 oz) gluten-free all-purpose flour (see note below)
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup soy-free vegetable shortening (preferred Earth Balance Soy-free baking stick)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup dried-sweetened cranberries
1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment.
2. In a small bowl, combine the flaxseed and water and set the bowl aside for 5 minutes to soften the flaxseed, then whisk until it thickens to the runny consistency of a raw scrambled egg.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, sift together the flour, xanthan gum, baking soda and sea salt.
4. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream the granulated and brown sugars and shortening on high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Don't be afraid to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. To the sugar-shortening fluff, add the vanilla, cardamom and flaxseed mixture and mix on high speed until fully combined and having the consistency of pudding, 1 to 2 minutes.
6. Add dry ingredients in two additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between. Beat the batter for another 2 to 3 minutes on medium speed; this will help hydrate the flour and limit gritty texture.
7. Fold in the oats and cranberries by hand.
8. Place one-fourth cup mounds of cookie dough on baking sheets 2 inches apart and gently press flat with the back of the scoop. (A 2-ounce ice cream scoop makes easy work of this.)