Tag Archives: snacks

Low sugar baking #1: Ginger softies

As promised (or threatened), I’m working on a little series of posts focused on baking with less sugar, which, if you’ve perused this blog much at all, you probably know is a quasi-obsession of mine. My goal with this series is not just to share recipes, but also some general tips for using less sugar, and to also describe some of my less-successful attempts at sugar reduction (so you don’t do the same thing!).
So for the first post, let’s start off with a few of the key things to remember when you start to tinker around with a recipe to reduce the sugar content.

You don’t need much sugar to make things sweet
Seriously. Many commercial baked goods use a lot more sugar (or whatever their sweetener of choice is) than is needed to achieve sweetness. I have found that I can usually use less than half sugar called for in a “regular” version of something and still have the final result taste perfectly sweet. Also, with less sugar in a recipe, other flavors (vanilla, spices, etc.) become more prominent, giving a more complex tasting experience. Elana just happened to mention the same thing in a post she wrote earlier this week, so you know it’s not just me. However…

Sugar does affect texture and structure
One of the characteristics that sugar brings to baked goods is, broadly speaking, crispness or crunch. In some cases, the sugar is critical to the structure of the finished product (think meringue kisses, florentines, etc.). I don’t spend much time trying to re-make recipes that really need sugar for structure. Instead, I focus on recipes where a slight change in texture is not going to be such a problem. For example, today’s ginger cookie recipe is softer, less chewy, and more cake-like than a ginger cookie from the local store or bakery, but it is still delicious, full of spice, and completely recognizable as a cookie.

Is there a “best” or “healthy” sweetener?
My personal opinion is that for the most part, whole fresh fruit is the “best” sugar and the only sweetener that can really be considered “healthy”. After that, I believe it’s better to simply focus on using less sweetener, no matter the source. To that end, I use the sweetener I think will work best in a recipe (for reasons of either taste or texture), be that fruit, white sugar, brown sugar, honey, dates, or molasses. A while back, health-bent wrote an extensive post about sugar vs. more “natural” sweeteners and it really captures a lot of my thoughts on the topic.

And now, a recipe! Today’s recipe is a pretty easy one, a lower sugar version of the classic ginger cookie. Ginger cookies generally rely on two sweeteners: regular white sugar and molasses. Since molasses does actually lend a distinctive flavor I focus more on slashing the white sugar content. This recipe has 1/4 c. each of sugar and molasses–most recipes with a similar yield would use around least a cup of sugar, plus 1/4 or 1/3 c. of molasses. What the cookies do not skimp on is the spices: each bite is bursting with ginger flavor, plus undertones of cinnamon and cloves. I hope they will become a favorite in your baking repertoire!

Ginger Softies
makes about 30 plump 1″ cookies

Ingredients
2 c. white whole wheat or all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon and cloves
1/2 c butter
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c molasses
1/4 c milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Method

Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Stir in molasses, then work the dry ingredients into the mix in 3-4 batches. Add milk and vanilla extract and combine.

Preheat oven to 350F. While the oven is heating, pinch off ~1″ lumps of dough, roll into balls, and place on cookie sheets. When oven is heated, place cookies in oven and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool, then enjoy fresh or store in an airtight container. Cookies will keep at room temperature for several days.

Lavender biscuits (Recipe Redux)

June’s Recipe Redux challenge was flowers. As soon as I saw the theme, I knew what I wanted to experiment with: a floral, oh-so-slightly sweet twist on the high-protein crackers I’ve been making on and off since January, when I devised my Sesame nori crackers. I’ve come up with several different savory versions, but had been thinking it would be nice to have an option to pair with an afternoon cup of tea (and a novel–my current choice is The Goddess Chronicle, which so far has managed to suck me in pretty thoroughly).

Lavender seemed like the perfect addition to the mix, so I bicycled over to the local natural foods store to get some food-grade dried flowers, and got busy. These biscuits have a lovely crumbly texture, and a light, subtle flavor. There are definite coconut undertones, which mix with vanilla and lavender for a lovely afternoon treat.

I’ve been on a slow but steady mission to eliminate (or really, drastically cut) sugar out of my diet for a while now. I was hoping the coconut flour and oil in this recipe might be just enough sweetness on its own for this recipe, but it really did benefit from the addition of those two dates to the mix. If you are determined to make a completely sugar-free version, a pinch or two of stevia could probably be used instead.

Lavender biscuits
makes 20 biscuits

Ingredients
1/4 c. coconut oil
2 dates, finely chopped
1/2 c. blanched almonds
1/2 c. pea protein powder
1/4 c. coconut flour
1 tbsp. ground psyllium husk
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp dried lavender buds

Method

1. In a food processor fitted with the metal S-blade, combine the dates and coconut oil, and process until blended. Add the almonds, protein powder, coconut flour, and psyllium husk, and process to a coarse meal. Add the egg, vanilla extract, and water, and process until the dough begins to stick together in a cohesive lump.

2. Remove dough from food processor and place on a sheet of parchment paper. Flatten slightly, and sprinkle about half of the lavender buds on top. Work the lavender into the dough by folding and flattening several times, then flatten the dough slightly and repeat with the remaining lavender.

3. Preheat oven to 350F. When the lavender has been worked into the dough, cover with a second sheet to parchment paper and roll the dough to ~1/4″ thickness. Using a 2″ round cutter, cut out rounds of dough and place on a baking tray. The recipe should yield ~20 biscuits. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until biscuits are lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing from the tray.

Sesame nori crackers (vegan, gluten free)

Sesame nori crackers

I love reading other food blogs. Often, it’s just because I love seeing (and trying) other people’s great recipes. But sometimes another food blog also kicks me off towards trying something new of my own. Case in point, last week Gena put together a great post on packing your own healthy and vegan lunch. The post included some photos and descriptions of her lunches, and one of the items was described as a raw cracker with nori. I’d been having salty crunchy foods on the brain all week, and the mention of nori immediately sent my mind over to those little puffed rice snacks that sometimes come wrapped in nori. Obviously, my Friday afternoon was going to be spent making some nori crackers (un-raw variety).

Sesame nori crackers

I’m doing a pretty strict elimination diet right now in a bid to wean myself off sugar (for the curious, I’m using the diet plan outlined in Alejandro Junger’s book Clean as the template), so crackers with wheat flour were going to be right out. Also, no eggs to bind things together. I’ve tried making vegan crackers with straight almond flour in the past and they’ve always lacked structural stability (I probably need to use a finer grind of almond flour instead of cheaping out and making my own all the time). I went looking for some other ideas and lo and behold, another of my favorite bloggers has a recipe for vegan gluten free crackers that use a mix of rice flour and almond meal. I didn’t have any rice flour, but I did just become the proud owner of this massive container of rice protein powder. That could work, right? High protein, salty, crunchy snack food, here I come!

It took a little playing around, but I did finally wind up with a cracker with that salty, tangy flavor I was going for. Using the rice protein powder also worked out really well–the crackers weren’t as grainy as some of my previous all-almond crackers, and they held together really well too (I’m sure the flax meal also contributes to that). They aren’t quite like crackers made from wheat (obviously), but I’d say they compare favorably with any of the store-bought gluten free crackers I’ve tried. P

Sesame nori crackers

Sesame nori crackers
Makes aproximately 30 crackers

Ingredients
1/2 c. unflavored brown rice protein powder
1/2 c. raw almonds
2 tbsp ground flax seed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
3 tbsp tamari sauce
1/4 c. + 1 tbsp water
1/4 c. sesame seeds
2 sheets dried nori seaweed, cut into small strips or pieces

Method
1. In a food processor fitted with the metal S-blade, combine all ingredients except the sesame seeds and nori. Grind until mixture takes on the consistency of a thick paste. Add the sesame seeds and incorporate with a few quick pulses. Remove dough from processor and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes (this step will allow the flax meal to absorb excess liquid and make the dough less sticky).

2. Press dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper, forming a rough rectangle about 3/4″ thick. Spread 1/3 of the seaweed pieces across the dough, then fold dough into thirds. Repeat this step twice more to incorporate the remaining nori. Continue pressing and folding dough until nori is incorporated throughout dough.

3. Preheat oven to 400F. Layer a second piece of parchment paper across the top of the dough and roll to desired thickness (mine were a little over 1/8″). Use a butter knife or a pizza cutter to cut dough into squares. Transfer the bottom sheet of parchment paper, with crackers on it, to a baking sheet. Bake at 400F for 8-12 minutes, until crackers are slightly browned. Remove from oven and allow too cool. Crackers will firm up and become crisper with cooling.

Recipe lust: Snacks, Salads, and Sweets

Happy Saturday! This morning was one of our batch cook days (more on that on Monday), so I’ve been up all morning filling the fridge and freezer with good things for the next month or two. One of the nice things about batch cooking is that it makes cooking on other weekends more relaxed–I feel a lot freer to experiment with new recipes or ideas knowing that the basic stuff is taken care of. When it’s not a batch weekend, I usually like to make a recipe that we wouldn’t do during a batch cook (because it won’t freeze well), or a treat/dessert for us to enjoy over the coming week. Right now I’m already thinking about some new things I’d like to try, here are the five at the top of my list:
Continue reading Recipe lust: Snacks, Salads, and Sweets