The holiday season is a tempting time to give up on healthy eating. All those roasts, turkeys with gravy and countless sides, buffets and cocktails. And, of course, the cookies.
But holiday cookies don't have to be the enemy. More so than most other desserts, they are the perfect portion-controlled sweets that -- when enjoyed in moderation -- can be a better option than a big slice of pie or cake.
When baking holiday cookies, there are several strategies for making healthier treats.
Most cookies not only are high in total fat content, they also are high in unhealthy saturated fats (usually from the butter and shortening). By replacing some of these solid fats with canola oil or nut oils, such as almond and walnut, you can reduce saturated fat and increase healthier monounsaturated fats.
Another technique for reducing fat is to cut some or all of the yolks out of recipes that call for eggs. Most recipes can stand having half the egg yolks removed. Replace every two yolks with one white. Fat-free egg substitutes also can be used.
To add fiber and nutrients, consider replacing some or all of the white flour with whole-wheat flour. In most cases up to half of the all-purpose flour can be replaced with whole wheat without significant changes to flavor and texture.
Cookies also can be made more wholesome by adding healthy ingredients such as nuts and dried fruits.
This recipe for intensely chocolatey low-fat Lava Rock cookies from EatingWell magazine uses only egg whites and no added oil. The recipe does call for two specialty ingredients: vanilla paste and cocoa nibs.
Vanilla paste is equivalent to 1 whole vanilla bean and can be found in specialty baking shops. If you like, you can use vanilla extract instead. Cocoa nibs are bits of roasted and hulled cocoa beans. They can be found at larger grocers and gourmet shops.
The pecans in the cookies are toasted, giving them an extra rich and nutty flavor. Toast pecans in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 2 to 4 minutes.
Start to finish: 50 minutes (25 minutes active)
2 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Generous pinch of salt
3 large egg whites
3/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 ounces pecans (about 2 cups), well chopped and toasted
1 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated
4 teaspoons cocoa nibs
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.
In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, flour and salt. Using an electric mixer set to low speed, beat in the egg whites, one at a time.
Add the vanilla paste (or extract) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes on high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl several times. Fold in the pecans, chocolate and cocoa nibs until evenly incorporated.
Spoon the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.
Bake the cookies in the center of the oven until dry and glossy on the surface but soft at the centers when pressed, 15 to 17 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.