Gluten-Free Tagalongs, or Peanut Butter Patties

gluten-free tagalongs

Gluten-free version of Tagalong Girl Scout cookies

My daughters always have fun selling Girl Scout cookies – who can resist two enthusiastic, cute kids? I’m impressed that they sold 58 boxes each. But above all, I’m impressed that my younger daughter never complains that she can’t eat Girl Scout cookies, because they’re not gluten-free. This year, we decided to make our own gluten-free version of Tagalongs, or Peanut Butter Patties, so all of us could enjoy them.

Tagalongs were one of the girls’ top sellers this year – behind Thin Mints, of course. Tagalongs are a rich treat: a shortbread cookie topped with a peanut butter layer and enrobed in chocolate. Last year, we made gluten-free Thin Mints, so this year we decided to tackle Tagalongs. It’s a labor-intensive process — first you make the shortbread cookie dough and chill it, then bake the cookies, prepare the peanut butter topping, dip it all in melted chocolate and let it cool — but the results are worth the hassle.

My 10-year-old, who can eat gluten and who has quite a discerning palate, dubbed our homemade gluten-free Tagalongs better than the real deal. “The peanut butter is more peanut buttery, and the chocolate is more chocolaty,” she declared. My mother-in-law agreed.

On a side note, my friend Melissa (Hi, Melissa!) was upset that the cookies are called Tagalongs instead of Peanut Butter Patties. Apparently, there are two companies that bake Girl Scout cookies, and Little Brownie Bakers calls them Tagalongs, while ABC Bakers calls them Peanut Butter Patties. Glad we resolved that mystery. Next year, maybe we’ll tackle making a gluten-free Samoa!

Update 3/27/12: If you have leftover peanut butter mixture, use it to make mini gluten-free peanut butter cups, like mini Reese’s cups. See recipe for Homemade Peanut Butter Cups.

Click for Gluten-Free Tagalongs recipe

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Mint Fudge: The Easiest Gluten-Free Dessert Ever

gluten-free mint fudge

Gluten-free fudge is easy to make without any special ingredients.

Fudge seems rich and decadent, the kind of special-occasion sweet you might have during the holidays, or on a summer trip to the shore. I couldn’t believe how simple this recipe was and how many raves it elicited. Plus, fudge is the easiest gluten-free dessert ever. It has no flour, and no special gluten-free ingredients, so just about anyone can make it for their gluten-free guests. Another fudge fact: The recipe is egg-free, making it a good treat for friends who are allergic to eggs.

My kids had fun making this fudge, as the recipe doesn’t require any stovetop cooking (just the microwave). There was quite a lot of squabbling about whose turn it was to stir the chocolate, but we’re used to refereeing those arguments on a daily basis. My kids love mint, so we made mint chip fudge. But if you’re not a fan of mint, use 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract instead of the peppermint extract, and use white chocolate chips or chopped nuts instead of the mint chips.

No matter how you make it (or who stirs it the longest), the dense chocolate flavor will have you clamoring for more. Cut the pieces small, so you won’t feel guilty for having more than one. You know you will.

Gluten-Free Mint Fudge

(gluten-free, egg-free)
By Gluten-Free Nosh
printable recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups (18 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 cup mint chips (I used Andes creme de menthe baking chips, found at Target)

Method:

  1. Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper or waxed paper, and set aside.
  2. Place chocolate chips in a large microwave-safe bowl (no plastic!), and heat for 2 minutes on half power. Stir the chocolate well. If there are still lumps of chocolate, heat for an additional 30 seconds or 1 minute on half power and stir until smooth.
  3. Mix in sweetened condensed milk and peppermint extract, until combined. Add mint chips and stir until chips are evenly incorporated.
  4. Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared pan. Pat it smooth using a square of waxed paper. Refrigerate for at least two hours. Remove fudge from pan, and cut into 1-inch squares.

Yield: 64 small pieces

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The Best Gluten-Free Brownies Ever

brownies, gluten-free

Moist, fudgy gluten-free brownies.

Without a doubt, brownies have to be the best all-around dessert. Rich, dense and fudgy, they satisfy the cravings of any chocoholic. Plus, they’re easy to make for parties, potlucks and holiday get-togethers. Most importantly — at least as far as I’m concerned — they are easy to make gluten-free, especially with this killer recipe for the best gluten-free brownies ever.

The better the chocolate, the better the brownies. I’ve made this recipe several times, but the best was when I used semisweet Callebaut chocolate, which added a deep, decadent intensity. My older daughter, who helped bake the brownies with her friend, was rapturous after she took one bite. Seriously, they are that good.

The recipe comes from Grandma, who adapted her family brownie recipe to be gluten-free. We are so lucky to have two sets of supportive grandparents who always go to great lengths to make delicious gluten-free food for us. I am thankful to have family members that “get it,” so we never have to worry about finding safe food at their homes.

A note about cutting the brownies: Before you start cooking, line the baking pan with parchment paper, so the parchment paper covers the bottom and sides of the pan. After the brownies are cooked and completely cooled (or refrigerated), lift up the the parchment paper with the brownies, put them on a cutting board and then cut the brownies into squares.

For vegan, gluten-free brownies, I’ve tried substituting one egg in this recipe with 1/3 cup applesauce, and it turned out deliciously. I have not yet tried substituting both eggs, but I bet it would work well.

Click for the recipe for Grandma’s Best Gluten-Free Brownies Ever

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Gluten-Free Halloween Candy

trick or treat

Now that we live in a very neighborhoody area of Chicago, my kids really look forward to trick-or-treating. But there is a big Halloween hassle factor. I could do without all the extra sweets and the frustration of figuring out what candy is gluten free and what is not, let alone dealing with food at Halloween parties.

When my daughter was younger, we tried to trade her Halloween candy for a toy. She welcomed the toy, but a day later she was crying for the candy because she didn’t really get the concept that “trading in” meant permanently giving up the candy. These days, she’s pretty amenable to disposing of gluten-containing candies or trading them with her non-celiac sister. She knows she has much more candy than she’ll ever eat anyway.

I get frustrated with candy companies that refuse to print gluten-free lists and instead tell customers to look on the label. I’m sorry, but when we are trick-or-treating or getting a birthday goodie bag with candy, the individual pieces of candy usually don’t have a full ingredient list. I wish these companies would serve their customers, instead of their corporate lawyers.

When searching the Web to find out if a candy is gluten-free, make sure you are looking at gluten-free lists from the most recent year, as ingredients do change. The best source of information is always the candy label — even if you have to go to the drug store to look up labels. Also, be sure to check labeling to see if items are made in shared facilities or on shared equipment as items containing gluten. For instance, Brach’s candies, Palmer chocolates and Russell Stover chocolates all say that their candies are produced in facilities that handle wheat.

These blogs have thorough lists of gluten-free and allergy-free candy. I am grateful for their research.

Gluten-Free Candy Lists:
Sure Foods Living Allergen-Free and Gluten-Free Halloween Candy List 2011
Sure Foods Living Gluten-Free Halloween Candy Quick List 2011
Jen Cafferty at GFreeLife’s 2011 Halloween Gluten Free Candy List
Celiac Family: Safe Gluten-Free Halloween Candy (2010)
2012 Update: Check out the extensive 2012 Gluten-Free Halloween Candy List from the awesome Jen Cafferty at gfreelife.com.

Here is my own shorter list of items that are NOT gluten-free. This is not an exhaustive list, and there are other candies that are also NOT gluten-free. But I find this list to be useful, as you can steer your child away from selecting the following candies from a trick-or-treat bowl. Of course, you still need to check every piece of candy to make sure it IS gluten-free, but here are some candies you should definitely keep away from.

Click for my list of candy that is NOT gluten-free

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As Sweet as Honey

honey cake, gluten-free

Gluten-free honey cake provides a sweet start to the new year.

For Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, we greet each other with “Shana Tovah Umetukah” – wishes for a happy and sweet new year. To symbolize sweetness, many families serve honey cake, a traditional Rosh Hashanah dessert. Which, as usual, leaves me searching for a great-tasting gluten-free alternative.

Fortunately, this year I made a moist gluten-free, dairy-free honey cake spiced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg for my honey-child. (Cue Martha & The Vandellas’ “Honey Chile” and Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.”)

For inspiration, I started with Marcy Goldman’s vaunted “Majestic and Moist New Year’s Honey Cake” from “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking.” I used gluten-free flour, subbed some applesauce and increased the orange juice to keep the cake moist and sweet. Buckwheat flour — a dark, strong gluten-free flour that’s high in protein, fiber and magnesium — works well here, complementing the complex flavors in the cake. Interestingly, buckwheat is not related to wheat but is a member of the rhubarb family.

Have a sweet new year!
Click for Gluten-Free Honey Cake recipe

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A is for Apple Cake

Jewish Apple Cake, gluten-free

A traditional Rosh Hashanah dessert: Jewish apple cake.
I love this photo, taken in my living room!

Shanah Tovah! Best wishes for a happy Rosh Hashanah and a sweet new year. We’re getting this new year off to a tasty start, with a gluten-free version of traditional Jewish apple cake.

My mother is famous for her Jewish apple cake, laced with apples that she plucks from the trees in her back yard. I’ve always wondered, though, what makes the apple cake “Jewish.” Really, I didn’t know that cakes could have a religion. The answer seems to be that the cake is made with vegetable oil and orange juice, instead of butter and milk, thus making it pareve (neither dairy nor meat). Apple cake is also a favorite dessert for Rosh Hashanah, when we eat apples dipped in honey to symbolize hopes for a sweet new year.

Mom’s recipe worked surprisingly well in its gluten-free version. I substituted gluten-free flours, added xanthan gum (a binder for GF baking) and left the rest of the recipe intact. The cake is moist and bursts with the flavors of apples and cinnamon.

Click for the recipe for Gluten-Free Jewish Apple Cake

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The Last Pie of Summer

strawberry rhubarb crumble

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble: Even Easier Than Pie

One of the best parts of summer is fruit that bursts with juice, dripping with sunshine. Or a fresh pie, with fruit that becomes even sweeter and more fragrant with baking. But, to tell you the truth, I’ve always been intimidated by pie crust, let alone gluten-free pie crust. So this summer I took a classic strawberry rhubarb pie and turned it into a gluten-free strawberry rhubarb crumble, with no crust and a sweet crisp topping that everyone loves. Plus, if you substitute margarine (I like Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks) instead of butter, it easily becomes a delicious, would-never-believe-it vegan, gluten-free dessert.

The crumble topping uses pure gluten-free oats. For a discussion on gluten-free oats, please see a story I wrote, Feel Your Oats, for Living Without magazine, a great magazine for people who are gluten-free or have food sensitivities.

Click for the recipe for Gluten-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

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