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    Tweaking Christmas Cookies

    December 14, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    I first started playing around with recipes for my baked goods when we had the food allergy issue in our family. One child was so allergic to dairy that he couldn’t even eat butter without a reaction! Later, I started reading about healthful alternatives, and I figured I’d try them and see what happened. The result was fewer sugar highs, and contentment with smaller servings of sweets. That isn’t so bad, especially since it all tasted great. I was thinking today that it’d be good to list out my substitutions somewhere.

    Might as well do it here, hm?

    Refined white flour

    • If you read the links in the assigned reading widget, you’ll know that perhaps the merits of whole wheat have been overemphasized. If you are interested in that, check here and also here for food for thought. In most of my recipes, I just use white flour, with no guilt.
    • If I’m feeling motivated, I grind my own wheat flour, and sift out the bran. I feed it to our garbage disposals duck flock, where it magically becomes eggs.
    • If you are using wheat berries for your baked goods, know that soft is better than hard for baked goods like cookies and pies, and white is better than red if you want that white-flour look. With that said, I just ordered 50 lbs. of hard white wheat, which I plan to use for everything because I think it is practical to just use one favorite and stick with it, and I want hard flour for my sourdough endeavors.

    Refined white sugar

    • The vast majority of time, I substitute white sugar with sucanat and call it a day. Sucanat is simply cane juice that has had the liquid evaporated out of it. It is completely unrefined, still containing measurable trace minerals.
    • Lots of times, the other liquids in the recipe can be tinkered with so that other whole-food sweeteners like maple syrup or honey can be used. Many folks tout the benefits of raw honey, but I tend to save my raw honey for uncooked items, like sweetening hot tea or a frosting. Why spend the extra money, only to cook the enzymes to death anyhow? Raw honey cooked in a baked good is no longer raw.
    • I am trying to learn to use dates and figs as a substitute. I read a story about how an old homesteader actually cooked pears down into a homemade sugar syrup that she used in a whole host of kitchen goods.
    • A substitute I haven’t tried, but is supposedly great, is coconut sugar. This is a traditional sugar made from the sap from the flower of a coconut palm tree, not from a coconut fruit. It comes in paste; dry lumps are another option. Unlike sugars from sugar cane or beets, this sugar is slow-burning, low glycemic-index, and mostly sucrose. In its unrefined form (which both the paste and lump typically are) it actually has…vitamins and minerals. Whoa! My problem is the price tag. Watch your labels, though. Sugar coming from the fruit of the tree, though tasty, will not have the same low-GI quality.

    Vegetable shortening (aka “Crisco”) and other fats and oils

    • My number-one substitution for vegetable shortening is my beloved Spectrum shortening. This is a 100% palm product, and palm oil is a much better option when compared to vegetable shortenings. It is non-hydrogenated, and much higher in saturated fat, while containing no trans fats at all (because saturated fat is shelf-stable on its own). I use Spectrum in all of my frostings, measuring it exactly like regular shortening.
    • In pie crusts, a saturated animal fat works as the best substitute. If you read really old recipes, you see they use lard. A lot of lard on the shelves at your grocer’s are processed, though. I use grass-finished beef tallow (I buy the 5-gallon drum from US Wellness and it lasts forever).
    • For vegetable oils, I use olive oil. Olive oil is heat sensitive, so make sure you watch your cookies and don’t burn it!
    • If you are trying to avoid the dairy in butter, try refined coconut oil (this highly stable oil can handle the slight refining used to remove the strong coconut flavor). I use Wilderness Family Naturals brand. Another, usually pricier option is to use ghee from Pure Indian Foods. Ghee is a super blessing from God, full of fat-soluble vitamins. It is essentially butter that is slow-heated in a traditional manner that results in separation and eventual removal of the dairy proteins. The end result is a butter oil commonly known as ghee. This is a great way for children to attain the health benefits of butter without the complications from a dairy (casein or lactose, to name a couple) allergy.

    Baking powder

    • I used to buy aluminum-free baking powder, and I got tired of it. Then, my then-allergic children began reacting to it and I realized that there was cornstarch in my baking powder! Corn is highly allergenic! Anyhow, I know use either equal parts or a 1:2 ratio of baking soda and cream of tartar. I know there are other options out there, but I happen to be quite fond of cream of tartar. I no longer need to do this, but it is a habit.

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  • Reply Mystie December 15, 2010 at 2:47 am

    When my son was sensitive to corn I mixed up baking soda & cream of tartar ahead of time and measured it just like baking powder. It worked great!

  • Reply sara December 15, 2010 at 12:22 am

    Great! Thank you!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts December 14, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    When most of us clarify butter, we don’t simmer it long enough to (1) cause all the water to evaporate and (2) allow all of the milk solids to separate out. Honestly, I don’t know how it is done without reaching the smoke point, but apparently it’s been done for thousands of years! My guess is that what your friend does is pretty similar, but probably has a higher water content.

    As far as mixing the soda and tartar ahead of time…well, I never thought of that! It seems like a good idea, though, and then you could just dip in a measuring spoon according to recipe. I don’t know if one of the two would separate after awhile, but it seems like a good idea, especially during winter when there is so much baking going on.

    Brilliant, Sara! 🙂

  • Reply sara December 14, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    Can you mix the baking soda and cream of tartar ahead of time?

    Also, I have a friend who makes her own ghee at home for use in Indian cooking. Could this possibly be the same thing? I’m assuming there’s more to it than just clarifying the butter???

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