How to Bake Healthier Cookies
More and more people are now concerned with their health and what they put into their bodies. People are fighting to prevent conditions such and diabetes and obesity while still trying to satiate their sweet tooth. There are many ways to make a cookie that is not only healthier than the traditional version, but also very delicious.
1. Learn what gluten is and what to use in its place.
2. Learn how to choose the best substitutions for gluten, dairy, and processed sugars
3. Learn a recipe that is healthy but just as delicious as your old favorites.
Gluten: what is it and why do people avoid it?
Gluten, which comes from the Latin "gluten" (glue), is a protein composite found in wheat and wheat-related grains such as barley and rye. It is what gives dough rise and elasticity. More and more people are developing sensitivities, allergies, and intolerance to gluten. Others, such as William Davis, MD, assert that gluten causes a host of problems for everyone and is the key component of the obesity epidemic. Many people choose to avoid gluten due to these sensitivities and the possibility of weight loss.
Almond flour is made from finely ground blanched almonds and is sometimes known as almond meal. It is used in the French macarons and will add calcium, Vitamin E, and rich fatty acids to your diet. Almond flour is hearty and filling, so cookies made with almond flour are much more likely to fill you up faster than those made with wheat flour. Almond flour works best when combined with another gluten-free flour options which add smoothness since the almond flour can sometimes have a rough texture.
Brown Rice Flour:
Rice flour has a milder flavor than most other gluten-free options and is very adaptable to a variety of recipes. It is made from finely ground rice-kernel hulls. It is a great source of calcium, iron, B vitamins, fiber, and protein. Rice flour can be combined with other gluten-free flours to replace the traditional wheat flour.
Hempseed flour is made from ground hemp seeds. It packs twice as much protein and three times as much fiber as wheat flour. Hempseed flour contains all of the essential amino acids (needed to form complete protein). It tends to be nutty in flavor and grainy in texture. You can use hempseed flour as you would use oatmeal to add texture and hearty flavor to a cookie.
Quinoa is a seed grown primarily in Bolivia and Peru. It has all the essential amino acids plus large amounts of iron, zinc, fiber, and folate. Quinoa flour is a great choice for a cookie, but it must be supplemented with a milder flour in order to counteract some of its robust flavor.
Coconut flour is made from the dried and ground meat of the coconut. It is high in protein, healthy fat, manganese, auric acid, and fiber. Coconut flour does not have an overpowering flavor of coconut, and is great coupled with other gluten-free flours. Coconut flour absorbs moisture in much larger quantities than wheat flour, so recipes with coconut flour must be altered to include more eggs and liquids.
Note on gluten-free flours: All gluten-free flours have tastes, textures, and rates of water retention that are different from those of wheat flour. In order to successfully bake with a gluten-free flour, it is best to find a specific gluten-free recipe in order to attain the correct ratios of flour to liquid, eggs, and sweeteners.
Dairy is another food group that is avoided by large portions of the population, due to sensitivities and issues with animal hormones. There are many available substitutions for dairy products.
Coconut Milk, Coconut Oil, Coconut Butter:
The coconut. A wonder of nature. This fruit can be used for a huge variety of tasks from skin and hair to diary replacement. It is high in monounsaturated fats which are easily converted into fuel by the human body. It is a good dairy substitution because it offers roughly the same texture as a traditional dairy product without too intense of a flavor.
Almond Milk, Almond Butter:
Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water. It is a great alternative to traditional dairy. It is high in calcium, protein, and healthy fatty acids.
Soy Milk, Tofu, Soy Butters:
Soy is a legume traditionally consumed in Asia. Whether it is harmful or beneficial to humans is currently a highly debated topic. Soy is high in plant estrogen which, in high amounts, can cause problems for males and young women. Soy is high in protein, and due to its extremely low fat content some believe it to be a healthy substitute for high fat dairy.
Processed Sugar Alternatives:
Processed sugar is another hot-button ingredient of late. It is known to increase insulin production and resistance which leads to a huge spectrum of disorders such as diabetes and obesity. There are many sweet substitutions for processed sugar that are much lower on the glycemic index. These sugar alternatives are still sugars, but since they are unrefined they pose less of a risk for insulin-related disorders.
Coconut is the one ingredient which has shown up in all three substitution categories because of the diversity of the hard, juice-filled fruit. Coconut sugar is a good alternative to white table sugar because it is versatile, not too intense in flavor, and low on the glycemic index.
Agave nectar is extracted from the agave cactus, the same plant used to produce tequila, and is a light to dark golden colored syrup. Agave is 1 ½ times as sweet as table sugar, yet has a much lower glycemic index. Recipes using agave instead of sugar must take into account that it is much sweeter than processed white sugar.
Honey is a light to dark brown syrup collected from bee hives. It varies greatly in composition depending upon the location and the diet of the bees it is made by. Honey is not as sweet as agave nectar but it is thicker in texture. Honey has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
Pure maple syrup is the xylem sap of the red maple, sugar maple, or black maple tree. It tends to be more expensive than honey or agave but its rich flavor makes it worth the expense. When purchasing maple syrup, you should always verify that it is pure, otherwise it could contain a large amount of high-fructose corn syrup.
Artificial sweeteners, or "fake sugars", are chemically created and processed. They pose many health hazards and are not recommended for baking.
Putting it Together:
There are quite a few recipes that are gluten-free, dairy-free, and processed sugar free. The following is a prime example that is delicious and easy to follow.
Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 ½ cups almond flour
½ cup unsweetened natural cocoa
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup coconut butter cubed
1 cup coconut sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: ½- 1 cup chopped walnuts
Optional: ½ - 1 cup dried cherries (unsweetened)
1. Preheat the oven to 350° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine almond flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cocoa, and sugar in a food processor. Pulse together 3-5 times until well mixed.
3. Add coconut butter to the mixture and continue pulsing until the mixture looks like coarse, wet cornmeal.
4. Add vanilla and eggs to the mixture and pulse again until smooth.
5. Pour into a large mixing bowl and fold in chocolate chunks and optional cherries and walnuts. The dough should look thinner than traditional cookie dough (more like brownie batter).
6. Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto the parchment paper.
7. Bake for 8-10 minutes. The cookies should be soft when you pull them out of the oven and they will firm up as they cool.
Now that you have made a batch of delicious cookies, it is time to present them in a way that they appear to be a deliciously inviting work of art. Cookies that are thrown haphazardly onto a plate might be fine when you are planning to eat them fresh out of the oven, but any time you plan to make cookies for a special event it is a good idea to take a few extra minutes to arrange a pretty platter, a gift basket, or a few goodie bags.
1. Learn which types of presentations fit certain events.
2. Learn the basics of arranging beautiful party platters, gift baskets, and goodie bags.
Each event and occasion calls for its own kind of cookie and its own way of presenting them. Match flavors with events and seasons. The winter holidays call for warm spices (like vanilla and cinnamon) and richly colored icing on sugar cookies. Summer time is great for hints of coconut and ginger. Whatever cookie you decide to make, the most versatile part is how you present it.
Baby Showers and Children's Birthday Parties:
These events usually have plenty of cakes and cookies, but you can make yours special by making little goodie bags for each guest. This is great for children because it ensures that each child gets the same amount which should alleviate some competition and bickering. It is wonderful for baby showers too because you can add little personalized gift cards and decorate the cookies with pastels, flowers, baby item designs and block letters.
Dinner Parties and Pot Lucks:
The good and bad part of a pot luck is that there is generally so much food. If your dish stands out as elegant and beautiful, then more people will be willing to try it over something else. You can make sure your cookies are the chosen favorite every time by plating them carefully and beautifully.
Visiting and Greeting:
There are many times when we have to visit someone in the hospital and it is always nice to bring something with us to show we care and we support that person. Cookies are always a good choice because they can bring back good memories and a little sweetness to someone who may be otherwise ill or injured. A gift basket looks like a gift and can feel all the more special to the person receiving it. Other times we take gift baskets to people are when they are new to the neighborhood for instance, and cookies are a good way to welcome new neighbors without being too excessive or overwhelming.
Party Platter Ideas:
The type of platter you choose depends upon the type of cookie you make. Sometimes a simple spiral is best for traditional cookies such as peanut butter or chocolate chip, but other more decorated cookies, such as iced sugar cookies, may do well with more display.
Sugar Cookie Platters:
Sugar cookies can be made in a variety of shapes and designs. Try to limit your platter to a maximum of three designs (just one or two is even better) or your platter begins to look like a haphazardly thrown together tray. Choose to either face all of your cookies in the same direction on a rectangular tray and fan them out, or use the center of a circular plate as an axis around which all the cookies circle. You can also make designs out of sugar cookies. For instance, you can make the majority of your cookies in the shape of leaves, color them with the same color icing and use a circular cookie with a different color to place in the middle. Then you go from having a bunch of different cookies to one big and beautiful flower. Try red petals for a poinsettia in the winter or yellow petals for a sunflower in the summer.
A basic spiral is the go-to cookie plating technique. It is simple, elegant, and inviting. Start your spiral working around the outside of the plate, gently layering one cookie on top of the last. You can alternate cookie flavors or divide the plate into different flavor sections.
Accents are a great way to spice up a tray of cookies. A sprig of holly berries is great for the winter or fresh mint in the summer. You can also choose one of the telltale flavors of the cookie and accent your cookie platter with a little of the ingredient itself: cinnamon sticks, raw or roasted nuts, candied pecans, coarsely chopped dark chocolate, candied ginger, etc. Just a few little accents will make your cookie platter so much more special and eye-catching.
Goodie Bag Ideas:
Goodie bags are a great way to show your creativity. You do not have to be an excellent artist to make a goodie bag fit for a boutique bakery window. The first step to a great goodie bag is the bag itself, choose one that just fits two or three cookies without a lot of extra space. Also, a flat bottom bag will prevent your cookies from tipping over if you want to display them upright. Be creative with your goodie bag. You can use cardstock (scrapbooking paper) as a background that you can cut to fit the bag and slip it right in. You can write personal messages on the paper or one cute saying to represent the entire event. Also, don't be afraid to add sprinkles to the bottom of the bag and always finish with a ribbon.
Gift Basket Ideas:
The first step to creating a welcoming cookie gift basket is to choose the right basket. Pick one what will fit a heaping batch of cookies. It is fine if you have a little extra space to begin with, as you can make it look fuller with shredded paper. After choosing your basket, choose two to three (optional: colored) sheets of clear plastic gift wrap. Lay the plastic in the basket with enough to cover the cookies. Shred some colored paper and lay it on top of the plastic in the bed of the basket. Think of this as a bed of straw for your cookies. Lay your cookies in the basket, preferably in a spiral pattern, and close the plastic over the top of the cookies with a ribbon bow.
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