Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sugar-Free Christmas Baking Recipe

Well, I was quite frustrated this Christmas, as I mentioned in a previous post. I gave up on even thinking of baking a variation on sugar cookies, I didn't attempt gingerbread, and I just went ahead and made the truffles like always, complete with sugary coating. (But they're a favourite of friends and family alike, and I just couldn't disappoint them! To make up for my indiscretion, I only ate 3 over the entire course of the holidays. Not bad, eh?)

But... drum roll, please: I came up with a crazy variation of shortbread that doesn't really taste much like shortbread at all, but was quite delicious in its own right. Here's the recipe. I shall call it:

Christmas-Spice Buttery-Goodness Cookies

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup butter
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp. poudre douce spice (or a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves)

Cream butter in a mixer until fluffy. Gradually add in honey until nicely combined. (Honey and butter make a bit of a weird, lumpy texture instead of a smooth sugary texture. Not sure what's up with that, but it still tastes good.)

Add in the dry ingredients and mix until blended and a nice dough forms.

This dough will flatten and spread all over the pan if you try to make little cookies. (Kind of yummy, but not what I was going for. If you decide you want very thin, crispy cookies, place them really far apart on the pan and bake them just until they're golden, which isn't really long. Maybe 5-7 minutes?) I was going for a thicker, Scotch-shortbread texture, so I spread the dough in a spring-form pan (a shortbread mold would be nicer, I think, but I don't have one yet), poked it with a fork in a pretty pattern, "cut" the dough with a knife into little wedges so it'd break apart easily after it was baked, and then I baked it at 325 F until it was lightly browned all over.

Sorry I don't have proper baking times! I tend to bake by smell -- when it starts to smell great, I peek in at it, then it's usually a couple more minutes until it's nicely browned and done-looking.

Feel free to experiment with the spices -- I bet some cardamom would be a nice addition. Also, I tried about a tsp. of cornstarch in one batch to see if it'd make the dough crispier, but it was hard to tell with the spring form pan. And don't skimp on the butter!! That's what makes these cookies taste vaguely like shortbread. :)

Let me know if you come up with any delicious variations, okay?

Another strategy I discovered for sugar-free holidays was baking spicy nut mixes! Obviously, this won't work if you or your family are allergic, since a trip to the emergency room isn't really very festive, but if you've got the all-clear, a spicy nut mix is just the right thing for a tasty Christmas snack. (Why is special food such a big part of a holiday that celebrates a labour without a mid-wife in a cave full of animals? I wish I knew.)

Anyway, here's my recipe for the nut mix:

4 cups or so of Shreddies (or equivalent, like the PC version) cereal
A big (1 kg), yummy bag of nuts, like pecans. (Be generous -- the more nuts, the more special and yummy the recipe. Pick your favourite kind and treat yourself.)
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup butter
1 tbsp. - 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup, or a combination of the two (depending on how sweet you want it. I prefer it with less sweet and more salty.)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda

Preheat the oven to 325 F and cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the cereal, nuts, and cranberries.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter, then stir in the honey and spices. Let it get all bubbly, then take it off the heat and whisk in the baking soda. It'll get all foamy and light, and that's when you pour it over the nut mixture. Mix it all up and coat everything nicely. Pour the mixture onto the two baking sheets and spread it all out in an even layer.

Bake until it starts to turn golden, just about 5 minutes.

Once the pans are out of the oven, sprinkle the nut mixture lightly with salt (optional), and stir everything around. Let it cool down on the pan, then store it in an airtight container, preferably glass. (It's better for you, and it doesn't lend a plastic-y taste to the food.)

There! I know it's a little late to be giving out Christmas recipes, but maybe these will help all of us be more prepared next year -- so you won't be scrambling to come up with sugar-free Christmas baking at the last minute, like I was!