Editor’s note: For 12 days leading up to Christmas, St. George News is featuring staff members’ favorite holiday recipes. Here’s the latest installment.

ST. GEORGE — My sister-in-law Jeannie Cappiello is known affectionately around suburban New York City as “The Cookie Lady.”

Jean Cappiello (back right), who operates The Cookie Tray, oversees a cupcake and cookie decorating class, Nanuet, New York, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Jean Cappiello, St. George News

What started as a labor of love involving donations to first responders, her church and groups of volunteers, has grown into a tradition within a tradition, so to speak.

A few years back, Jeannie and my brother John transformed their at-home kitchen into a more industrial-sized yet very warm and cozy cooking space where Jeannie’s mom “Omi” prepared many a cookie. Her chocolate chip cookie recipe is concealed from view, taped to the inside of a cabinet, as secure as the memories she made for many years, reminding John, “Take one for your brother.”

I contacted Jeannie, now the proprietor of The Cookie Tray, for a sugar cookie recipe, and she provided her gluten-free, vegan-friendly version, which, according to her and my brother, is virtually impossible to decipher from the more traditional type.

But it was from the original tradition and a few other factors that this version was derived.

“As a child, I always remembered my mother baking cookies around the holidays,” Jeannie says. “One Saturday in December, my mom would let me pick a friend or two to come over and bake with us.

“Over time my love for baking grew and so did the food allergies in the family. My husband. John and daughter Kayla are gluten-free. Both my daughters, Kayla and Kristin, are nut-free. And there’s me — I am vegetarian or vegan at times. So how do you keep the family holiday tradition going?”

Keep reading.

These sugar cookies provide a healthy alternative for everyone, not just those who are gluten-free and/or vegan-friendly, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Jean Cappiello, St. George News

Sugar Cookie (gluten-free, vegan-friendly)

Ingredients: 

1 ½ cups + 2 tablespoons (241g) gluten-free flour (*See note below)
1 tablespoon cornstarch, arrowroot starch or potato starch
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup / 1 stick (113g) unsalted vegan butter, slightly softened (*See note below)
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar (or organic cane sugar)
4 teaspoons unsweetened dairy-free milk (*See note below)
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
sanding sugar (optional)

Icing for decorating:

1 cup (120g) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened dairy-free milk
⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
gel food color
sprinkles

Instructions:

In a medium bowl, add the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine and set aside.
In another medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until blended and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of your bowl when needed. Add milk and vanilla extract, blend again.
Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on a low speed with your electric mixer until a dough has formed. 
Place the dough ball on a piece of waxed paper and form into a disk. Wrap the dough disk and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 3 hours.
Remove from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. It may be too hard to roll out right away, especially if it has been in the fridge for longer than 3 hours).
Preheat oven to 350F.
Line cookie sheet(s) with parchment paper.
Dust a piece of parchment paper with a little gluten-free flour and place the chilled dough on top of the flour. Place another piece of parchment paper on top of the dough and using a rolling pin, roll dough out until it is ¼-inch thick.
Cut out shapes and place them on the prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 1 inch of space between the cookies.
Gather dough scraps and repeat rolling and cutting until all of the dough has been used.
If using, sprinkle the cookies with the sanding sugar.
Bake cookies. For softer cookies, bake for 11-12 minutes, for crisp cookies, bake for 13 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cookies cool on the cookie sheet for 1-2 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. Fully cool before decorating.

To make icing:

Add all icing ingredients to a small mixing bowl and mix until smooth. If the icing is too thick, add more milk, ¼ teaspoon at a time.
Add color gel, if desired.
Fill a piping bag with the icing and using a small tip, decorate cookies and top with sprinkles, if desired.  

Baking notes:

I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Flour.
For the vegan butter, I use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks.
For the non-dairy milk, I use Plant Oat Unsweetened Original.

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