More so than most holiday desserts, cookies are the perfect portion controlled treat that — when enjoyed in moderation — can be a better option than a big wedge of pie or cake.
But in case you plan on eating more than one, there are some strategies for baking a healthier holiday cookie.
For starters, you can add fiber and nutrients by replacing some or all of the white flour with whole wheat. In most cases, up to half of the all-purpose flour can be replaced with whole wheat without significant changes to flavor and texture.
If you do replace all of the white flour with whole wheat, you may need to adjust the liquids, too. Whole-wheat flour absorbs more liquid than white, though this shouldn’t be a problem with 50-50 ratios. Also, consider trying different varieties of whole-wheat flours, some of which work better for sweet baked goods better than others.
For 100 percent whole-wheat cakes, cookies, quick breads or muffins, you might try whole-wheat pastry flour, which is made from soft wheat. This flour (look for it in the natural foods section at your market) is low in gluten, the protein that gives dough elasticity.
You might also consider white whole-wheat flour, which has all the nutrition of standard whole-wheat flour, but with a lighter color and milder flavor.
White whole-wheat flour is milled from a hard white winter wheat berry, rather than the hard red spring wheat berry of traditional whole-wheat flours and is especially good for blending with all-purpose flour.
Of course, the add-ins for a cookie can also be its nutritional downfall, so rather than mixing in chocolate chips or other bits of candy, you might want to add healthier ingredients, such as nuts or dried fruits.
This recipe for pecan-cinnamon wafers is an award-winning entry from EatingWell Magazine’s annual holiday cookie contest. These classic, crispy cookies are made with 100 percent whole-wheat pastry flour and are laced with healthy, monounsaturated fat-rich pecans.
Start to finish: 2 hours 15 minutes (30 minutes active), including 1 hour chilling time
Makes 48 cookies
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3⁄4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1⁄4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
11⁄4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped pecans
11⁄2 teaspoons cinnamon
In a bowl, use an electric mixer on medium-high to beat the butter, 1⁄2 cup of the granulated sugar and the brown sugar until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat well.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt, then add to the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until combined. Stir in the pecans.
Divide the dough in half and use lightly floured hands to shape each portion into a 6-inch log. Wrap each log in waxed paper and place in the freezer until firm, at least 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 350 F.
Unwrap the dough and let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes. On a shallow plate combine the remaining 1⁄4 cup of granulated sugar and the cinnamon. Roll the logs in the sugar mixture, then slice each into 24 (1/4-inch-thick) cookies. Place the cookies about 21⁄2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
Bake, one batch at a time, until lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool.
Nutrition information per cookie (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 58 calories; 34 calories from fat (59 percent of total calories); 4 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber; 23 mg sodium.
(Recipe from the November/December 2010 issue of EatingWell Magazine)