Barry: Substitutes make holiday baking healthier

Published 8:00 am Friday, December 7, 2012

Kat’s Hot Talk

With Christmas around the corner, I thought I would share some of my healthy baking tips. Substituting plant-based ingredients and natural sugars for traditional baking “essentials” makes holiday goodies lower in sugar and, best of all, creates cholesterol-free, yet decadent, desserts. People ask me how to master vegan baking, so here is a breakdown of what I substitute for what:

• Egg substitutes: It depends on what you’re baking. A good all-purpose substitute is milled flax seed. 1 Tbs. milled flax seed + 3 Tbs. water = 1 egg. Milled flax seed is available at most grocery stores. In some cakes, I use vinegar + baking soda as an egg substitute. The chemical reaction causes the cake to rise a bit, making it nice and fluffy. In denser baked goods, such as muffins or breakfast breads, the egg is just for moisture, so you add either bananas or apple sauce, silken tofu or more non-dairy milk.

• Butter substitutes: I use canola oil or Earth Balance spread. Earth Balance is a 100 percent natural vegetable oil margarine that tastes a lot like butter. It’s the best substitute for butter I’ve found. It is available at health food stores and some major grocery store chains. You can also use grape seed oil in baking and for cookies. I especially like coconut oil. If your favorite recipe calls for shortening, I suggest palm oil shortening.

• Milk substitutes: I prefer almond milk, which has very little sugar and a similar consistency as skim milk. If your recipe calls for something richer, use soy creamer (plain) or coconut milk. Soymilk creamer is great for making frostings. I use coconut milk in almost all my breads and cakes as it has a similar richness and consistency to whole milk. All these milk substitutes are available at most local grocery stores.

• Alternative sweeteners: Refined sugar is not good for you. Many sugar manufacturers use bleach and animal bones as filler in their sugars.Try for raw, dehydrated cane juice, or even better, a low glycemic sweetener such as agave nectar. Agave is awesome because it’s the consistency of honey, it’s sweeter than honey or sugar, and it doesn’t cause as much of a spike in your blood sugar. Agave nectar is available at most grocery stores but be sure to look for raw organic agave. Molasses and pure maple syrup are other favorite sweeteners and are also lower on the glycemic index than traditional sugar. I especially opt for pure Michigan maple syrup.

Here are a couple recipes to accent your holiday table.

Amazing apricot-pecan bread
1½ cups dried apricots, sliced
1½ cups water
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup wheat bran
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup chopped pecans
3 Tbs. vegetable oil spread, such as Earth Balance, softened
1 cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup plain soy milk creamer
1 tsp. all natural vanilla
½ tsp. grated fresh orange rind

Cook apricots in water for 10 minutes. Cool and add vegetable spread and syrup. Beat in vanilla and soy milk. Sift together the dry ingredients. Fold everything together using an electric mixer, adding more syrup and vegetable spread if necessary to obtain proper moistness and consistency. Spread into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Let bread cool 10 minutes before removing from pan. Yields one loaf.

Basic sugar cookie
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (can use unbleached all-purpose flour for more traditional look)
½ tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup organic palm oil shortening
¾ cup raw cane sugar
1½ tsp. Ener-G Egg Replacer and 2 Tbs. water
2 Tbs Silk Nogg
1 tsp vanilla

Whip shortening in an electric mixer until creamy and smooth. Add sugar and combine, scraping sides of mixer bowl often. Next, add remaining ingredients except for the flour. Combining thoroughly with mixer. Add flour slowly, scraping sides often. Lay out a pastry mat and lightly flour. Place half the dough on pastry mat and put the rest in the fridge. Flour a rolling pin and roll out to about ¼ inch. Use cookie cutters to make desired shapes.

Using a thin turner, pick up cookies and place on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. Sprinkle with topping, if desired, and bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Keep a careful eye on the cookies as they burn easily. When they come out of the oven, remove the parchment from the pan and place on a cooling rack. Repeat until all remaining dough is used.