Tag Archives: treats

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.

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Olive oil shortbread with lemon and rosemary

Last weekend I came home to find a bag full of lemons and limes by the back door. Can I just brag about how awesome it is to have friends who leave you gifts like this? Very awesome. I always love to have these little citrus fruits on hand. A quick squeeze of lemon or lime is perfect in so many things. But when I have a bounty of lemons like I did last week, it’s time to do more than just squeeze a little lemon over my salad or into a water glass (plus, the best way of ensuring future citrus gifts is to follow up with baked good gift, no?)

And so, my lemon bounty led me to this bright little shortbread. I had been tinkering with a recipe for olive oil shortbread with rosemary, and the addition of lemon juice and zest was just what it needed for a light and summer-appropriate flavor. A mix of cornmeal, and white whole wheat flour makes for a wholesome and rustic crumb. Mostly I have been enjoying these shortbread wedges alongside an afternoon cup of Darjeeling, but on hot evenings when I crave a cool glass of almond milk after dinner, it turns out that a little shortbread is quite nice in that setting also.

This recipe is also another one of my low-sugar experiments; just 1/4 c. for the whole recipe. I’ve been thinking of doing an occasional series of posts on my strategies for baking less sugary treats, some of the things I’ve tried that have worked well (or not), recipe makeovers, that kind of thing. Thoughts? Interest? Just post the shortbread recipe already?

Olive oil shortbread with lemon and rosemary
makes one 9″ pan of shortbread (8-12 wedges)

Ingredients
1/2 c. olive oil
1 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour (or a 50/50 mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flours)
1/4 c. yellow cornmeal
1 tbsp. flax meal
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. lemon juice
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp fresh rosemary

Method
Preheat oven to 300F and grease a 9″ pan. In a food processor fitted with the metal s-blade, combine and thoroughly blend all ingredients except the rosemary. Add rosemary and process for 10 seconds. Press dough into greased pan and slice into 8-12 wedges, depending on your preference. Use a fork to make decorative pricks in the surface.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until just beginning to brown. Turn off heat in oven and leave shortbread to sit for 15 minutes before removing.

Chocolate hazelnut truffles (vegan)

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This past weekend I felt like a big “Christmas is coming!” light finally went on. Sure, the retail sector has been pushing Christmas for the past month, but I’ve managed to remain fairly oblivious. On Sunday, things conspired to remind me: it was the beginning of Advent, Trader Joe’s positioned a huge display of peppermint hot chocolate prominently by their front door, and both of my parents demanded that I provide them with flight information for our planned visit back East later this month.

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Anyway. One thing I love to do each December is to make a few edible treats to gift to friends or just bring to parties as needed. For a long time, I stuck with my mother’s trusted ginger cutout recipe (which I think I’ll be trotting out again this year for a cookie exchange). There was also the year of the church window candy (cute, but a little ho-hum), the year my German teacher assigned me the task of making pfeffernusse and I turned our hand mixer into a hot smoky mess (never again), and the year of the custom hot cocoa mixes (which was a major hit).

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This year, one of my projects is these little vegan “truffles”. Technically they aren’t really truffles, since they’re vegan and don’t involve a cream-based ganache, but they are rich and intensely chocolatey, which to me are two of the essential qualities of any chocolate truffle. Loaded with cocoa powder, spiked with hazelnut liquer, and of course, finished off with a chocolate shell coating. These are absolutely a treat to be savored. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to call them a health food, they’re fairly low in sugar compared to a lot of traditional holiday treats.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles
makes 24 small truffles

Ingredients
1 1/4 c. hazelnuts
1 tsp hazelnut extract or liqueur, such as Frangelico
1/2 tsp coffee extract, or strong espresso
2 dates, pitted and roughly chopped
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

For the chocolate coating
2 oz dark chocolate
2 tsp coconut oil

Method

1. Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Place the hazelnuts in the pan and toast, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes, until the skins have turned a very dark brown. Remove nuts from heat and transfer them to a clean cloth. Fold the cloth up to make a bag around the nuts and shake vigorously. This step should remove most of the skins from the hazelnuts. Set 12 hazelnuts aside (these will be used for decorating, so try to pick nice looking ones).

2. In a metal food processor fitted with the s-blade, grind the remaining hazelnuts into a rough butter. This step will likely take ~10 minutes.

3. Add the extracts, dates, and cocoa powder to the nut butter. Process until smooth, pausing once or twice to scrap down the sides of the processor.

4. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a large baking sheet. Roll the truffle mix into 24 balls. Each ball should be slightly over 1 tsp of the truffle mixture. Place in the fridge to cool for 20 minutes.

5. While the truffles are cooling, cut each of the 12 reserved hazelnuts in half. Then make the chocolate coating: place chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave at 50% power for 1 minute. Stir and continue melting in 30 second increments if needed. When chocolate is melted, stir in the coconut oil.

6. Dip the truffles in chocolate. I used a small wooden skewer to spear each truffle and dip it, then let the chocolate coating drip off for a few seconds. Place each dipped truffle back on the parchment paper and top with a hazelnut half. When all truffles are dipped, return to the refrigerator and cool until chocolate has hardened.

Store in a cool location.

Recipe: Sweet Potato Chips

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One of the recurring meal requests in our household is “crunch”. A little something crispy, like the nicely browned edge of a quinoa burger, or a biscuit, a few chopped nuts, or today’s recipe: sweet potato chips. Yes, you can make chips (American variety) at home, in your kitchen, with just a few basic kitchen tools. No deep fryer or other fancy gadgets.
Continue reading Recipe: Sweet Potato Chips