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Eating Wisely

Baking Sweet (and Healthy!) Treats

By Rebecca Konegen
Riverside CA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 6, November-December 2007, pp. 266-267

Like so many other mothers, I'm very concerned about what goes into my children's bodies. One of my concerns is how much sugar is included in my family's diet. I have to admit that we haven't entirely eliminated sugar from our food choices, but, for the most part, I prefer to offer foods that pack a little more nutrition. But I also love to bake, and while breads can be lovely and satisfying, during the colder months I sometimes crave a little richness -- something warm, sweet and full of flavor. Cookies fit the bill admirably, but bring me right back to my concern about sugar. Over the years I have developed a small repertoire of tricks and recipes that allow me to offer some occasional sweet choices to my family.

Whole wheat pastry flour was a revelation to me. Pastry flour is made from a softer, milder wheat than bread flour. Bread flour is made from a harder wheat with a more assertive taste and a higher gluten (protein) content that affects how easily the bread rises; all-purpose flour is a mix of the two. The same is true of white or whole wheat flours, and the same set of choices is available with each -- although finding the whole wheat choices can take a little more searching. Whole wheat bread flour is wonderful in yeast breads. But the softer texture and milder taste of whole wheat pastry flour work beautifully in sweet recipes, allowing other flavors to shine while giving my children some fiber to slow the sugar rush, as well as a few B vitamins.

My two favorite baking tricks are actually pretty simple. Whisking dry ingredients together rather than sifting them mixes the ingredients more thoroughly and aerates them just as well. And a whisk is both easier to store and easier to clean than a sifter. Also, if your mixer can handle it, start with cold butter instead of softened button to make a softer cookie. When you use cold butter, the cookie sets in the oven before the butter melts. When the butter melts, it leaves pockets of emptiness and makes a more tender cookie. I find that the softness helps to compensate for the somewhat heavier texture of whole wheat flour, even whole wheat pastry flour.

I also try to look for recipes that incorporate an ingredient I do want my children to have. Oatmeal is an obvious choice, as is dried fruit (see the recipe for cranberry-chocolate chip oatmeal cookies). Spices have been in the news lately, too, for their antioxidant benefits. I also like them for their potential to further develop my children's palates. Molasses offers iron, too, so with the whole grains and spices in molasses cookies, I think I've got a good nutritional combination. And even chocolate is having its nutritional day, although I might be stretching the point a little too far -- but at least there's still whole wheat in the chocolate crinkle cookies!

With healthier ingredients, especially whole wheat pastry flour, and better techniques, such as the cold butter, I find it easier to occasionally indulge both my love of baking and my family's desire for something sweet. I don't offer my children sweets all the time, but when I do, it's nice to offer them something with a little more balance and a little more bang for my nutritional buck.

Recipes

Cranberry-Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

2 C. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 C. unsalted butter
1 C. sugar
1 C. brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 t. vanilla
2 ½ C. old-fashioned rolled oats
1 C. dried cranberries
2 C. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium-sized bowl, gently whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar together; then add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla. To this mixture add the flour mixture and the rolled oats, and beat just long enough to fully incorporate dry ingredients. Mix in cranberries and chocolate chips. Drop by large spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets and bake about 10 minutes, or until set around the outside but still soft in the center. Allow to cool briefly on cookie sheets before removing to a cooling rack.

Molasses Cookies

1 C. sugar
¾ C. unsalted butter
¼ C. molasses
1 large egg
2 C. flour
2½ t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
½ t. ground cloves
¼ t. ground cardamom
¼ t. salt
granulated sugar, for rolling

Heat oven to 350°F. Combine sugar, butter, molasses, and egg. Beat at medium speed until well-blended. In a medium bowl, gently whisk together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Add to butter mixture and beat at low speed until a soft dough forms. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll balls in sugar to coat. Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-12 minutes or until set (and according to your preference for soft or crisp cookies). Cool completely before serving.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

1 2/3 C. flour
½ C. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ t. baking powder
¼ t. salt
½ c. unsalted butter
1 ¼ C. sugar
2 large eggs
½ t. vanilla extract
½ C. powdered sugar in a small bowl

Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease two baking sheets. In a medium bowl, gently whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla, mixing well with each addition. Add the flour mixture and beat gently just until incorporated. Roll dough, a tablespoon at time, into balls, and roll each ball in powdered sugar until covered. Place balls about 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until tops puff and crinkle. Cool several minutes on cookie sheets before removing to a cooling rack. (Adapted from Kids Baking, c 2003, by Abigail Johnson Dodge.)

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