Friday, November 18, 2011

Taste Test: Gluten Free Shortbread Cookies

Last weekend, on the day of the Santa Claus parade, I invited my family to participate in a taste test.  Christmas is coming, and my mom would make homemade shortbread cookies every year.  Since my son can't eat traditional shortbread cookies, I decided that I would find a delicious gluten free substitute so that we can carry on the tradition. 

I decided to compare 4 different shortbread cookies and have my taste testers write their opinions of each cookie as we went along.  I offered 2 store bought brands, one made from a mix, and one baked from a recipe.  The taste testers ranged in age from my sister in her late twenties, to my dad in his early sixties. 

The contenders:  Little B's Bakery Shortbread Cookies, Biscottea Blueberry Tea Shortbread, Bob's Red Mill Shortbread Cookie Mix, and a homemade shortbread cookie from a recipe I created. 


Little B's:  We started with this brand.  The company is based in Ontario, and specializes in gluten free baked goods.  Products are available in a small number of stores, mostly local. 

The cookies were round and light, but extremely crumbly. My father liked the flavour, but my mom and sister found them a bit bland.  I found the flavour delicate, but nice. 

The biggest drawback to these cookies is their consistency.  They were dry and extremely crumbly, making them difficult to eat without having them crumble into powder.  Shortbread is not traditionally a moist cookie, but these were too dry for our taste.  They were still a pretty good cookie, just not the substitute we were looking for.

Biscottea Blueberry Tea Shortbread:  These cookies come in a lovely package, and state that they are made with all natural ingredients.  The package states that they are gluten free, but they are produced on shared equipment in a facility that uses wheat.  This alone makes me unwilling to serve them to my son, because the potential for cross-contamination is too great. 

These cookies are a nice size, but their colour and consistency didn't remind any of us of traditional shortbread.  The cookies were a medium brown colour, and very, very tough.  They smelled wonderful though, the blueberry aroma was evident from the minute I opened the package. 

Unfortunately, these cookies smelled much better than they tasted.  Despite the strong blueberry smell, they didn't actually taste like blueberry, and they had a strange aftertaste.  Not one taste tester liked this cookie.

Bob's Red Mill:  I bought this mix when I was in the United States this summer.  I've looked in Canada, but have yet to find it here.  This mix was straightforward to make, with minimal additional ingredients required.  I found it interesting that it called for the addition of an egg yolk, but the egg was undetectable in the final product.  What I liked about the mix was that it made a lot of cookies, and the dough was easy to work with.

These cookies looked like a traditional shortbread cookie.  The flavour was very delicate, and if I were to make them again I'd add vanilla to the mix.  The biggest drawback to these cookies was that they broke very easily.  They didn't crumble to a powder like the first brand, but they easily broke when they were picked up, making it difficult to pile them on a plate.  If I made the cookies thicker, that problem might be taken care of. 

Homemade:  I made these cookies from a recipe I created, after scouring online suggestions.  I took the advice of many bakers and greased the cookie sheet so that the shortbread wouldn't stick.  The recipe itself was straightforward, and the cookies baked up easily.  I baked mine as one large cookie, cutting them into bars.  I used a butter substitute so that my son could eat them, as well as plain granulated sugar.

The finished product looked like a traditional shortbread cookie from the top, but the greased pan had resulted in the bottom of the cookies being a bit too chewy to be a real shortbread.  Once they were completely cooled the consistency improved, but they were still a bit chewy.  The vanilla flavour was nice, but the granulated sugar really stood out.  To be honest, I think it would make a great sugar cookie!

The Verdict:  The Bob's Red Mill got top marks from my mom and sister as the closest in consistency and taste to a traditional shortbread.  It lost points for breaking too easily, but they're simple to make and taste good.  They would taste even better with some added vanilla.  They are the perfect choice for the baker who may not be ready to bake from scratch, but wants something more personal than store-bought.

My attempt at homemade cookies came in second.  The taste of the sugar and the chewy bottoms were what pushed it into second place. 

Little B's cookies came in 3rd.  I feel that straight from the oven, these cookies are probably fantastic.  However, they were too dry and crumbly to be at the top of our list. 

The Biscottea cookies were the overall loser.  No one liked them, and the package has been sitting on my counter, untouched, for the last week.

Still, I wanted to create a simple, yet authentic recipe that I could pass down to my own grandchildren someday, so I've been working on how to modify my own recipe to improve the texture.  Tonight, I think I succeeded!

I'll be posting the recipe and pictures tomorrow.

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