Gluten-free Nordic style gingerbread

The holiday season is upon us. We all have different traditions, and in our family baking loads of gingerbread spiced with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and allspice (amongst others) is a big part of our celebrations. I’d like to say these are Finnish gingerbread but I do think similar ones are found in rest of the Nordic countries as well. Do leave a comment if you find this not to be true for I love to learn more about where different foods are from.

My dad also has coeliacs and he was diagnosed after turning 40 years old, as did I. Hence I have the benefit of having been amongst gf cooking and baking for nearly 30 years. I want now to share the trusty recipe my mum uses to make the most lovely, crunchy and delightfully spicy gingerbread.

The recipe makes a generous amount of gingerbread (6 trays at least), so if you want to half it please do. I do have to say they are so good and the gluten-eaters will want to have them as well, that a generous amount might be needed. The dough needs to rest a minimum of 3 hours so with the dough making and baking it is at least a 5-6h job, perfect for weekends or make the dough a day before.

Making the Gingerbread dough

Ingredients:

250 gbutter
3 dl (1.3 US cups)caster sugar
2 dl (0.8 US cups)dark sugar syrup
(you can use golden syrup for paler biscuits or use 1/2 treacle or molasses for darker colour)
2 tspground cloves
2 tspground cinnamon
2 tspground ginger
2 tspground cardamom (you can take the seeds from 10-15 pods and grind with a mortar and pestle)
1 tspground allspice
2eggs
4 tspbicarbonate of soda
9.5 dl*gluten-free plain flour mix (4 US cups) and some extra for forming the gingerbread
*since commercial flour mixes differ from each other, you might find the dough needs more to make it firm enough to bake. It’s a good idea to have at least 50% more of the flour mix at hand, also the fat you use might affect the baking properties so have some flour on reserve for the baking

Method:

  1. In a small saucepan, heat up the syrup and spices and bring to boil. Set aside to cool down until luke warm (you don’t want it to cook the egg or melt the butter when adding it to the dough). Start making the rest of the dough only when the syrup is cool enough to touch. Be careful with the syrup as it is really hot when you take it off the hob.
  2. In a bowl using preferably an electric whisk, whisk the sugar and butter into an airy mix (should turn quite pale in colour).
  3. Combine the gf flour mix and the bicarbonate of soda.
  4. Using a spoon or spatula, fold the flour in the butter and sugar mixture (do not use the electric whisk).
  5. Add the eggs and the syrup and stir gently so that you get an uniform dough. The dough should be at least semi-firm at this point, if it feel very soft, add more gf flour.
  6. Cover with cling film or lid and put the dough in the fridge to firm up at least for 3hours and preferably over night.

Forming and baking the gingerbread

  1. When you make the gingerbread, take a portion of the dough and roll it out 3-5mm thick on a surface that you have dusted generously with gf flour, put some flour also on top and dust the rolling pin with flour as well. Alternatively, use two sheets of baking parchment and roll the dough between them, still dusting bottom and top with gf flour.
  2. If you find the dough too soft at this point, add gf flour – the dough should be firm enough so you can cut shapes and lift them off to a baking tray using a spatula.
  3. Choose a cookie cutter of your liking, dip it in gf flour and cut out the gingerbread. Lift the gingerbread using a thin spatula on to a baking tray lined with non-stick baking parchment. You can collect the off-cuts and combine them with the rest of the dough before you take a new chunk to work with.
  4. Bake in a 200C/180C fan assisted (390F/365F gas mark 5) oven for 5-8min depending on the size and shape of the gingerbread. If the shapes have a lot of pointy edges you might want to drop the oven temp for 15 degrees and bake a little longer to avoid the edges burning.
  5. Form the rest of the dough in chunks. You can put the dough in the fridge to cool down and firm up in between trays if it starts to get tricky to work with.

Possible tweaks:

The recipe is great as it is, but different dietary requirements or preferences might cause you to want to change the recipe a bit. Here’s some guidance to that.

Adjusting the spicing

I suspect ginger doesn’t suit me, so as much as I love it, I substituted it with bitter orange peel powder, which is a spice widely used in Finnish/Nordic/Scandinavian Christmas bakes. You might find this in ethnic grocery shops or online. You can also use a few tablespoons of the zest of an organic orange (wash carefully), which will give a more mellow citrus flavour. If there’s a spice you are not keen on or find hard to source, feel free to leave it out. I am sure you still get a tasty end result.

Changing the flour mix

Also as I avoid using corn and rice due to intolerance, I baked the gingerbread using a mixture of millet, quinoa, buckwheat and about a quarter tapioca starch. I started with 7.5dl equal part mix of millet/quinoa and buckwheat and 2dl tapioca starch. Because gf flours behave quite differently from each other, I found I had to add more flour. I used millet because it has the mildest taste to make up the difference. Of course tapioca is flavourless but I didn’t want to add too much of it so that the gingerbread wouldn’t become too crumbly. When forming the biscuits I used buckwheat flour for the dusting of surfaces for I think it stays nice and loose and I also added it to the dough when I found it was too soft to bake still.

I found this approach worked well, so if you find you need to substitute flours, this might be a good tactic. Of course with a commercial mix you just add more for they tend to be quite starchy mixtures and don’t affect the flavour of the end result as much. If you don’t want to add loads more flour, you can mix 2 tbsp of psyllium husk powder to help firm up the dough.

Making dairy-free gingerbread

If you want to bake the gingerbread dairy free, you can use margarine instead of butter, but as they don’t typically set hard, you might find you need to add a bit more flour to firm up the dough.

Decorating the gingerbread

If you want to decorate the gingerbread, using icing made from water and icing sugar is easy to do. Just take a couple of cups of icing sugar and add water a couple of teaspoons at a time and mix until you get a consistency that’s stiff enough to pipe. Or you can make royal icing by separating the white of an egg and whisk it lightly, then add icing sugar until again you have a suitable consistency to pipe. Royal icing sets quicker and harder than the water one.

You can also use shop bought icing tubes, just double-check they are gluten-free. If you want to use sprinkles, please note that  at least here in the UK most sprinkles and decorations that you find in supermarkets have gluten in, so quickest way to find them might be ordering online.

A pretty tin full of gluten-free decorated gingerbread would melt any coeliacs heart, if you ask me! And these taste so nice that even gluten eaters will love them, so make plenty!

So here you have the recipe to make great Nordic (or Finnish) style gingerbread that’s quintessential to my Christmas. However you spend your holidays, if you are making these, can you please contact me or tag @gf_lifetweaks on Instagram so I can have a look! Also if you have any questions, just comment on this post and I’ll try to help!

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