Guilt Free (Holiday) Baking

Nothing smells more like the holidays than warm pies and fresh baked goodies.  Unfortunately, nothing feels more like the holidays than the extra baggage that comes with them.  Now your favorite desserts can be just as yummy and healthier, too – any time of year.

Photo by Mark Thomas

Photo by Mark Thomas

The Pastry Part

Whether you’re making cookies or pies, cakes or breads, there are more healthy options available to us than ever before.  Many store bought pie crusts are laden with trans fats and made from refined white flour.  Since whole grains are highly encouraged as a great source of fiber in our diet, let’s see how we can incorporate them here.

Unless you are sensitive to wheat (as in gluten intolerant), whole wheat flours are widely accessible – even at Trader Joe’s.  King Arthur and Bob’s Red Mill are two popular brands, or you can save by purchasing in bulk from your favorite health food store.

Another option is spelt flour, which can be substituted one for one to white flour.  Spelt is a distant cousin to wheat but can usually be tolerated by those with allergies.  Just like whole wheat, spelt has a high gluten content which is the protein that binds it all together.

You might also substitute oat flour, nut flours (by simply grinding nuts to a fine texture) or cornmeal in recipes. Other whole grain flours may be combined with all-purpose flour, but make sure you read up on it first to get the right lift and density.

The Inside Scoop

Pie filling is so versatile, but in keeping with my theme of seasonality, let’s talk apple and pumpkin (again.)  As mentioned in my post on pumpkin muffins, you can opt to roast your own, or use store-bought puree.  And when using apples, I tend to leave the peel on (only when organic) – as the skin contains more fiber and nutrients than the flesh.

Invariably recipes call for waaay too much sugar, which I not only reduce in half, but substitute with healthier sweeteners that don’t spike the blood sugar. Agave nectar is a wonderful plant-based variety which comes from the same plant as tequila (no wonder I love it!)  No processing chemicals are used in its production, keeping its integrity as a whole food. One big advantage to using agave nectar over other sugars (even honey) is that it takes longer to reach our blood stream.  Controlling these levels is an important factor in lowering risk for heart disease and diabetes, reducing cholesterol levels, and managing our weight.  Wow.  And you can find it almost everywhere now.

Agave nectar can be used in almost every baking recipe, but since it’s a liquid, reduce the ‘sugar’ amount by 25 percent. You should also cut back other liquids in recipes by same amount.  And again as a liquid, it will cook faster so reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

In addition to baking, agave nectar is delicious in coffee, tea and…margaritas, of course.  Or hot mulled wine this time of year – another holiday scent which is timeless.