Sweet & Natural Holiday Baking

 

Now there’s no reason to leave anyone off your holiday baking list.

Enjoying special homemade desserts during the holiday season is a long-standing tradition, yet it can be frustrating at times. How can one possibly bake for everyone from a vegan friend to an aunt with food allergies? After all, healthful means different things to different people, and when it comes to dessert, most people still want rich and delicious.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone in a single dessert. If you try to turn your favorite recipes into wheat-free, dairyfree, sugar-free, nonfat surprises, you may just end up with a mess. Instead, make one sinful treat, like my Almond Crescents, and amaze everyone by using organically grown flour and no sugar. Complement it with some lighter offerings, like the vegan Holiday Jewel Cookies or the low-fat Cranberry-Orange Mousse. With this inclusive outlook on health, you’ll not only accommodate all your friends and family, you’ll leave them asking for more.

Almond Crescents

These cookies are worth every calorie.

1½ cups blanched almonds
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup unbleached flour
1¾ sticks unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated maple syrup or brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place oven rack in center of oven. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade or a blender, pulse almonds with 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour until finely ground. (You may need to process in two batches.) Transfer mixture to a large bowl; add remaining whole wheat flour and unbleached flour. Mix until blended.

Cream butter with handheld beaters or in a tabletop mixer. Add granulated maple syrup or brown sugar; mix 2 minutes. Add flour mixture in 2 batches. Dough will be crumbly but should form a ball. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time if ball doesn’t form.

Moisten hands with a little water to prevent dough from sticking. Break dough off into walnut-sized balls; form into crescents. Place crescents on a cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake until edges are light brown, about 20 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 30 cookies.

PER SERVING: 131 CAL.; 2G PROT.; 10G FAT; 9G CARB.; 15MG CHOL.; 3MG SOD.; 1G FIBER. LACTO

Cranberry-Orange Mousse

The festive pink color of this frothy dessert brightens any holiday table. For a firmer mousse, add another egg white.

2½ cups cranberries
1¼ cups frozen orange-juice concentrate, thawed
20 oz. silken tofu
1 tsp. orange zest
2 egg whites
nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack in center of oven. Boil cranberries and 1 cup juice concentrate 10 to 12 minutes. Strain through a wire-mesh strainer to discard skins. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming; cool. Reserve 1/4 cup sauce for garnish. In a food processor or blender, blend tofu and orange peel until creamy, scraping sides when necessary.

Whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Add remaining juice concentrate; whip again until peaks form. Stir cranberry sauce into tofu mixture. Fold cranberry-tofu-mixture in small amounts into egg whites.

Spray a large ovenproof glass bowl or pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour mousse mixture into bowl or pan; smooth top. Bake 18 to 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature, about 1 hour; refrigerate several hours before serving.

Before serving, heat reserved cranberry sauce in double boiler or microwave, whisking in 2 to 3 tablespoons water to thin if necessary. Drizzle over mousse. Makes 8 servings.

PER SERVING: 136 CAL.; 6G PROT.; 2G FAT. 24G CARB.; 0 CHOL.; 48MG SOD.; 3G FIBER. OVO-LACTO

Ginger people

This dough can be refrigerated for several hours or days before rolling out, or frozen for future use.

12 Tbs. butter
¾ cup granulated maple syrup or   brown sugar
½ cup white grape or apple fruit-juice   concentrate
1 egg
2½ cups unbleached flour
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbs. ground ginger
1½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
raisins or currants for decoration

Using a handheld mixer or a standing bowl mixer, cream together butter, granulated maple syrup or brown sugar, juice concentrate and egg. Mix well to aerate mixture. (You will notice a color change to a softer, lighter hue.) Sift to-
gether flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add to butter mixture; mix until dough forms a ball. Remove from bowl; knead a few times until dough seems elastic. If dough is sticky, add 2 to 4 tablespoons extra flour.

Wrap dough loosely in plastic wrap; flatten to about 1-inch thickness for faster cooling. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place oven rack in center of oven. Remove dough from plastic; roll out on a board generously sprinkled with flour. (Knead dough a few more times, and add a sprinkling of water if it breaks easily.) Roll to 1/4-inch thickness.

With a cookie cutter, press gingerbread shape through dough. Remove scraps of dough from around cutter; carefully lift cookie (with a metal spatula if necessary) to a cookie sheet. Repeat, keeping cookies 1 inch apart and kneading scraps together until all dough is used.

Soak raisins or currants in water for a while if they are dry. Push raisins or currants into dough to make sure they stay on and will not dry out.

Bake cookies until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet after about 10 minutes; cool on wire rack. Makes 12 5-inch gingerpeople.

PER COOKIE: 247 CAL.; 3G PROT.; 13G FAT; 33G CARB.; 48MG CHOL.; 281MG SOD.; 1G FIBER. OVO-LACTO

Holiday Jewel Cookies

These cookies are wheat-free, egg-free and dairy-free. Try to use barley flour, as it lends a unique flavor and texture to the cookies.

nonstick cooking spray
2 cups barley flour
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ cup plus 2 Tbs. canola oil
¾ cup white grape or apple fruit-juice concentrate
raspberry jam or conserves as needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack in top third of oven. Lightly spray 2 baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking soda, making a well in center. In a separate bowl, whisk oil and juice concentrate until combined. Pour into mix to form sticky dough.

Transfer dough to a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip, such as Ateco No. 5. Holding top about 1/2 inch above baking sheet, press out 2-inch wide stars of dough, spacing about 1 inch apart. If you don’t have a pastry bag, roll dough into walnut-size balls. Moisten hands if necessary to prevent sticking. Place dough on baking sheets about 2 inches apart; repeat.

Using your thumb, press an indentation in the center of each cookie. Drop 1/2 teaspoon raspberry jam into each indentation. Bake cookies until edges are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven; let stand on cookie sheets 3 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets; cool on wire rack. Makes 24 cookies.

PER SERVING: 121 CAL.; 2G PROT.; 5G FAT; 19G CARB.; 0 CHOL.; 71MG SOD.; 2G FIBER. VEGAN

Christmas Coffee Cake

The crunch of the streusel in this cake is much more pronounced when the cake has been cooled. Cut into rectangles to serve.

butter and flour, or nonstick cooking spray
3 cups unbleached flour
½ tsp. salt
1½ tsp.  baking soda
1 tsp.  cinnamon
½ tsp.  ground ginger
3  eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
1 2/cups white grape or apple fruit juice concentrate
(see note)
½ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 cup cranberries
1/ cup golden raisins

Streusel:
½ cup granulated maple syrup or brown sugar
1/3 cup rolled oats 
1/3 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts or pecans
3 Tbs. softened butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack in center of oven. Lightly butter and flour an 11- by 17-inch jelly roll pan, tapping out excess flour, or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger into a medium bowl; make a well in center. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, buttermilk and juice concentrate together. Pour into well; whisk until barely combined. Fold in yogurt (do not overbeat). Stir in cranberries and raisins. Transfer to pan; smooth top.

Streusel: In a small bowl, work maple granules or brown sugar, oats, nuts and butter with fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over top of batter just before baking. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan. Makes 12 servings.

Note: Concentrated frozen fruit juices can be used as a sugar substitute. When using concentrates, pick a mild flavor, such as white grape or apple, so other flavors in the dish are not overwhelmed. When replacing sugar with juice concentrate, you may need to reduce other liquids.

PER SERVING: 289 CAL.; 7G PROT.; 7G FAT; 52G CARB.; 61MG CHOL.; 329MG SOD.; 2G FIBER. OVO-LACTO

Mani Niall is the author of Sweet and Natural: Sugar-Free and Flavorful Desserts From Mani’s Bakery, (Chronicle Books).

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