Healthy Northwest Holidays: Health(ier) Holiday Cookies

Healthy Recipes Wednesday, December 17, 2014 Written by

Holiday cookies are nearly impossible to resist. Dessert trays at work, holiday cookie swaps among friends and decorating parties with your kids are all fun, annual traditions this time of year. But all those cookies can spell trouble for people looking to maintain a healthful diet this holiday season.

Fortunately, you don’t have to forego the annual baking parties or shun all sweets to stay healthy over the holidays. We’ve outlined a few simple tricks for navigating the cookie tray, plus some delicious recipes that can even help make your holiday cookies a bit healthier.

A few ways to make healthier cookie choices:

  • Look for cookies made with oats, fruit or nuts, which add fiber and healthy fats, and help temper blood sugar spikes.
  • Avoid cookies with thick frosting or sprinkles, which are high in sugar.
  • Meringues, macaroons and nut-flour cookies are often healthier options, made with eggs, sugar, coconut and/or nuts as the primary ingredients.
  • Limit your consumption of bar and sandwich cookies, which are often much larger and more caloric than thin, rolled cookies.

 holiday cookies

A few tasty (and smart) substitutions you can make to cookie recipes:

  • Applesauce can be substituted for up to half the butter (cookies will be slightly chewier).
  • Sugar can be cut back by up to 1/4 called for by the recipe (cookies will be slightly puffier).
  • Use coconut, canola or safflower oils for up to 1/2 the butter called for (cookies will be a bit more dense).
  • Use whole-wheat flour for up to 1/2 the recommended all-purpose flour (add 2 tablespoons water or milk for every cup of whole wheat flour to prevent drying out).
  • For your wheat-sensitive friends, substitute gluten-free all-purpose flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill; gluten-free flour produces a more tender, crumbly cookie).

Looking for some new, healthier cookie recipes to try? Below are some favorites:

Recipe: Traditional Italian Biscotti

holiday cookiesUnlike the buttery, sugary bars sold at your favorite coffee shop, traditional biscotti are more like crisp biscuits, meant to be dunked into coffee or tea. “Biscotti” translates to “twice baked,” describing the signature crunch of these cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole almonds, roughly chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

 

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375°. Beat eggs and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in almond extract. In a separate large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until blended. Fold in nuts. Divide dough into two equal portions. Place each half on a well-greased baking sheet and form into a 2-inch-wide, 8-inch-long log. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack, then, while still warm, cut each roll crosswise into 12 slices (1/2 inch each). Bake 15 more minutes, flipping over once midway through. Remove from baking sheet and cool completely on a wire rack.

More biscotti variations:

Cherry-Pistachio Biscotti
These red-and-green-specked cookies are perfect for the holidays. Simply sub 2/3 cup each roughly chopped shelled pistachios and dried cherries for the almonds, and swap 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for the almond extract.

Oregon Hazelnut Dark Chocolate Biscotti
Dipped in decadent dark chocolate, these are a real treat! Simply substitute 1 cup roughly chopped Oregon hazelnuts for the almonds, and swap 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract. Then, melt 3 oz. high-quality dark chocolate in a double boiler until melted. Dip cookies, cut-side-down, in chocolate, then place on a wire rack to set (approximately 1 hour).

Recipe: Flourless Almond Butter Spice Cookies

These delicious cookies are gluten free, made with heart-healthy almonds and low in sugar. If there was such thing as a “virtuous” cookie, here it is!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup homemade almond butter (or organic almond butter from the store)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions:
Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, and stir until well incorporated (dough will be sticky). Form the dough into ping pong-sized balls, rolling them gently with wet hands to form. Place them on a cookie sheet, and press them into circular patties. Bake at 350° for 8–9 minutes until golden brown on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.

Recipe: Healthier Ginger Bread People

holiday cookiesThese are perfect for decorating with the kiddos. This recipe swaps applesauce for some of the butter, making for a softer cookie that is just as delicious as the original.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup dark molasses
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Icing:

  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

holiday cookiesInstructions:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar and applesauce until smooth. Add the egg and molasses and mix well. Divide the dough into two flat balls; cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Preheat oven to 350°. Generously dust the surface of your working area with flour before rolling out the dough. Work with one ball of dough at a time, keeping the other refrigerated while you do so. Roll dough to a 1/8-inch thickness on a floured surface. Cut with a 3-inch boy- or girl-shaped cookie cutter. Place cookies 1/2 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350° for 10–11 minutes, or until edges of cookies are lightly browned. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

For the icing: Combine milk and sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Add more milk or sugar to desired consistency (should be spreadable but not runny). Spoon the icing into a heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag. Snip a tiny hole in a bottom corner of bag to pipe onto cookies for decorating.

Have a favorite healthy holiday cookie recipe? Share with us in the comments below!