Healthy Holiday Baking
It’s a season for eating, especially baked goods. Cookies are everywhere, dessert at holiday gatherings is almost obligatory, and it seems like every meal is an excuse to indulge in something sweet. The only problem with this is…well…you know what the problem is. This is why gym memberships and juice cleanses are so popular in January.
Most of us have a built-in sweet tooth for evolutionary reasons. Sugar is quick energy, so your inner caveman craves it. Unfortunately, modern humans are less active. We’ve swapped hunting and gathering for desk jobs. This isn’t a bad thing. It just means that you don’t need as much sugar in your diet. But as anyone who tries to eat healthy can attest, the holidays are pretty brutal. But there are options for those of us who want to indulge a little but not too much.
The first step in baking up healthier treats is to substitute white flour for something with a little more nutrition. As flours go, all-purpose is a simple carbohydrate, making it the flour equivalent of white sugar. Fortunately, there are dozens of whole grain flours to choose from depending on the flavor and texture you want. Whole wheat flour is the most common substitute for white flour, and it can make delicious baked goods, but whole wheat flour isn’t without its problems. It can make some baked goods very dense and dry. As whole wheat flour tends to absorb more liquid than white flour so often, more liquid is needed in the recipe to compensate. However, white whole wheat flour is also available, which produces baked goods that are lighter. This is the easiest substitute for all-purpose flour.
But beyond whole wheat and white whole wheat flours, there is a world of flours made from alternative grains. Spelt and einkorn flours are delicious and function much like whole wheat. Buckwheat is another option, although be aware that buckwheat flour contains no gluten and has a distinctive flavor of its own. The same goes for millet, sorghum, oat, coconut, and almond flours. Unless you are gluten free, it is not recommended to substitute all the white flour in a recipe for a gluten-free flour. However, these flours can stand in for part of the white flour to add flavor and nutrition.
Don’t Call Me Sweetie
Sugar plays a lot of important roles in baked goods. It’s not just for making things taste sweet! Sugar helps baked goods brown, it keeps them tender by inhibiting gluten formation, and it keeps them moist by binding to water. Sadly, we also know that eating lots of sugar just isn’t good for us. So how do you bake something delicious while still reducing sugar?
For starters, most recipes for baked goods–especially those like muffins, quick breads, pancakes and waffles, and butter cakes–contain more sugar than is strictly necessary, and you can generally cut the sugar by a third without seeing any negative effects. As for substituting alternative sweeteners, this can work, but keep in mind that even if a sweetener is more “natural,” it’s still sugar. Your body still processes it like sugar. While honey and molasses have more nutrients than white sugar, the jury’s still out on whether it’s a better nutritional choice. Further, it’s difficult to substitute a liquid sweetener in recipes calling for sugar because you’re throwing the liquid to dry ratio out of whack. It is possible to do this, but your baking might start to become more of a science project. If this is the route you’d like to go, find recipes from trusted sources rather than try to wing it.
Below is a simple recipe for a healthier take on shortbread that serves as a good example of how to make your baking habit healthier. Turns out there is a way to indulge a little without having to regret a lot.
Vegan Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
¾ cup white whole wheat flour or spelt flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons coconut oil, melted
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons nondairy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
1¼ teaspoons Brew Dr. Kombucha Superberry
2 tablespoons cocoa nibs
- In a medium bowl mix together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt. Stir in oil, milk, and vanilla. Knead briefly until dough is smooth, roll into a 1½” log, wrap tightly, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350℉ and line a baking sheet with parchment.
- Unwrap dough log and cut into ¼” slices. Place cookies 1” apart on baking sheet and bake until set, 10-12 minutes. Cool completely.
- In a small bowl stir together powdered sugar and kombucha. Drizzle glaze over cookies and sprinkle with cocoa nibs.