By: Dana Zia
December is bake till you pop month. We all know this. Visions of sugar cookies begin to dance in our heads and brainwash us into baking not just two dozen of them, but 6 or 10 dozen of them to spread the cheer. (Or the waist lines.) In my experience, it is very difficult to avoid all the Christmas cookies and other delights, but there is a way to mitigate the spread by baking lighter and with healthier ingredients.
First off, let’s debunk a myth that can be restricting when you start to experiment with changing your favorite recipes — baking is not an exact science. I know, I know, we’ve all heard how you must be precise in your baking but, I’m here to tell you, I am a first-class experimenter on baked goods and rarely do they totally bomb. Ok, now that we have that cleared up, let’s get experimenting!
One of my favorite simple ways to make a healthier baked good is to replace white flour with whole wheat pastry flour. It will make a slightly chewier cookie that has a bit of a nutty flavor, but I personally like that better. Whole wheat pastry flour is milled from soft white wheat so has a tender crumb, whereas regular whole wheat flour is milled from hard red wheat. Whole Wheat Pastry Flour is a good source of dietary fiber; 28 grams (1 ounce) provides 4 grams of fiber per serving and white flour provides only 1 gram. I also like to add 1/4 cup of flax seed meal or wheat germ and reduce the flour by that same amount for even more fiber. Now that we have more fiber, let’s tackle the fat in baked goods.
Most cookies are high in saturated fats with all that jolly butter that they are baked with. It is very easy to reduce that by replacing half the butter with heart healthy light tasting olive or avocado oil to lower the saturated fat content. Neither you nor Santa will notice the difference.
Another option that works great is to replace half the butter with a fruit puree like apple or pear butter. This makes for a moist and tasty cookie but you will see a difference in the oven, they don’t flatten on their own while baking. To fix this, all you have to do is to squash them with the palm of your hand before baking them. (If you lightly wet your palm before doing it the cookie dough won’t stick to your hand.) Fruit puree replacement lends itself more to cakes, muffins and drop cookies but not so much to cut out cookies.
The last tip I’ll leave you with is simple but effective; make your cookies smaller. We are so use to having HUGE cookies served to us that small cookies seem like a rip-off. Adjust your mind set and cut calories by a remarkable amount just by reducing the size of your cookie. I bought a little mini ice cream scoop and use that size when baking so I keep them small. If you are making cut out cookies, use the smallest cookie cutters you have to limit size.
Here is my favorite light sugar cookie recipe that is delicate of flavor and texture. They tend to puff up a bit when cooking so will be a little different when baking but they are so worth it. Have a very merry cookie season
Light and Lemony Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Cooking light
1 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of butter, softened
1/4 cup of light cream cheese, softened
1 large fresh egg
1/2 of a lemon’s zest
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup of wheat germ or flax seed meal
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
First, play your favorite holiday music. (Very important!) Beat the sugar, butter and cream cheese with mixer till soft and fluffy, then add the egg and beat some more. Next add the lemon zest, and vanilla and mix till well blended. In another bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together with a wire whisk till happily combined. Add the dry ingredients together with the sugary ingredients and stir together, by hand or blender, till the dough is well formed. Shape the dough into two disks and tuck in the fridge for a few hours or preferably overnight, to firm up.
When you are ready for the magical cookie making time, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Roll out one disk on a floured board or between two sheets of wax paper, till about a ¼ inch thick. Cut cookies out with your favorite cookie cutters and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes till they are golden brown around the edges and the center is set. Don’t move the cookies for a few minutes while they set, they tend to be a bit fragile when hot. Decorate with icing and festive sprinkles.
2 cups of powdered sugar
1 tablespoon of low fat milk
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon of lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
Stir all the above ingredients together in a small pretty bowl till well blended. If it seems a bit thick, add a bit more lemon juice till you get the consistency that you want. Spread the icing on cooled cookies or squeeze through a pastry bag or a small zip lock bag, with a tiny corner cut off. Dust the cookies with your sprinkles immediately so they will stick. Ho Ho Ho!
Nutritional information if you make 20 cookies with icing; calories 125 , fat 3.5 grams, fiber, 2 grams.
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