Friday, December 16, 2011

Top 5 Tricks for Healthy Christmas Cookies

Sometimes I think Ebenezer Scrooge has been sorely misrepresented.  I mean, the poor guy just wanted to be left alone; is that so much to ask?

This time of year, it's cold and dark and all the stores are not only over-crowded but playing absolutely terrible music, and everyone is rubbing in your face how happy they supposedly are because some old fat guy who's been stalking their children is going to sneak into their house in the middle of the night.  I don't know about you, but if I look at the holiday season from a certain angle, the whole idea really seems to fall apart at the seams.

And that's when I start to bake cookies.  Around the time I start to feel my heart shrinking to two sizes too small, I do the one thing that never fails to get me at least passably close to "in the Christmas spirit."

Experimenting with lots of different recipes for Christmas cookies is something I've done for a few years now, but this time around I challenged myself to make them as corn-free and minimally processed as I could.  I won't write all the recipes I used here, but I'll give you five ingredients- any or all of which can be used in whatever cookie recipes you already know and love to make them much healthier and- I think- much tastier too!

5. Local eggs.
I say "local" because that's really the easiest guarantee that other claims made on the package actually mean what they seem like they should mean.  Eggs from a small farm are going to be more nutritious because the hens who laid them had a more diverse diet than conventionally raised hens.  And I'm pretty sure most small farmers don't inject their eggs with hormones the way those from a certain well-known large-scale chicken farming operation have been known to do.  

4. Taza chocolate.
Any minimally processed chocolate will do, but this is my favorite brand, partly because it's made right here in Somerville, and partly because it's delicious.  It's available to purchase online if you don't live in the area, and it's all vegan.  I also like the variety that's available.  I use the 87% dark chocolate bars as baking chocolate to flavor batter.  There are also flavors like cinnamon, orange, and ginger available, which you can use in lieu of chocolate chips to put your own unique spin on old favorites. (Like my chocolatey peanut butter cookie recipe in the corn-free cookbook.)

3. Maple syrup.
Maple syrup is less processed than the white sugar you find in the baking aisle, and rumored to contain actual nutrients!  If you're worried about the consequences of replacing a solid with a liquid, I found this helpful fact sheet on the right sugar: maple syrup ratio.  I also used some actual maple sugar in crystal form, which lends the cookies a subtly robust flavor, but I'm not sure whether the further processing destroys any of the nutrition.

2. Grass-fed butter.
The butter I used in these particular cookies was from Vermont Creamery.  Just looking at this butter, the color, the texture, you can tell it's different from the stuff you buy at the supermarket.  The benefits of choosing grass-fed- to your health as well as that of the environment, the cows, and arguably the economy- can be found, among other places, in my post What's So Bad About Corn? from earlier this year.

1. Pecan meal.
As with all the other ingredients on this list, pecan meal adds a rich flavor and texture to the cookies, and this one made the number one slot because of how ridiculously healthy it is.  Replacing a highly processed grain with a minimally processed nut?  It doesn't get much better than that!  You can order it and other tasty treats from Sunnlyand Farms.  One note on pecan meal, however:  The texture isn't exactly the same as that of all-purpose flour, and when I tried to use it by itself the cookies just didn't hold together, instead flattening out and melting into each other.  I suggest using half pecan meal and half whole wheat flour.

Have other baking tips you'd like to share?  Leave them in the comments.  Happy holidays, everyone!