Baking Substitutions for Healthy Cookies

Good cookies contain calories for a snack to energize you throughout a sport event or a day's work. They can also provide fiber for healthy digestion and nutrition if they contain the right ingredients. The secret is to choose cookies that are more than fat-filled creams between layers of flavored fat. To be nutritious, cookies should have some substance besides the sweetness. Homemade raisin oatmeal cookies, for example, are a better choice than store-bought sandwich cookies.

You can alter most recipes to be healthier by making a few substitutions in the ingredient list or adding wholesome ingredients like wheat germ, oats and dried fruit for a delightful boost to the system, rather than a deterrent to heath.

A little experimentation is necessary to discover which substitutions are successful for your favorite recipe and the tastes of your family. Start by reviewing your recipe and testing one substitution at a time.

Shortenings and Oils
The shortening, oil or margarine in most cookie recipes is used to shorten strands of gluten in baked goods and make them have a more tender structure.

Oils and fats are not all bad. We need some fats in our diet. Try using better oils or shortenings like those made from vegetable fats rather than animal fats, or a lower-fat margarine.

Oils

  • Try canola oil (from rapeseed) as a healthier oil.
  • Grape, safflower and sunflower oils are high in polyunsaturated fats, so they are good oils to use in baking.
  • Cottonseed oil is highly saturated and is best avoided.
  • Sesame oil has as strong smell as does peanut oil.
  • Olive oil has too strong a taste for most cookie recipes.
  • Pecan oil, however, has no taste of its own and so will work well in many more recipes.
  • Poppy seed oil is used in French kitchens and is a good choice for its clarity.

Note: If oil is labeled "virgin," it means it is pressed raw rather than drawn from the seed, fruit or nut by heat or solvents.

Lard, butter, margarine
The choice to use lard, butter or margarine is often debated in cooking circles. Lard is 100% rendered animal fat. Despite its reputation for containing high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, it actually contains less than butter does when measured pound for pound.

Margarines are combinations of vegetable fats with hydrogen. The combining of the two produces transfats that can raise blood cholesterol. Margarine made from vegetable oils can be the healthiest of three, if you purchase one with a low transfat content.

Though butter is also made from animal fat, which means it contains cholesterol and high levels of unsaturated fats, many prefer butter simply because it is made from whipped cream, has few additives and adds a distinctive flavor to a recipe. If you choose to add butter to your cookie recipe, be sure to choose unsalted varieties.

One surprising substitute for oil is applesauce. Applesauce can be used to replace oil in breads and cookies. It also replaces part of the sweetener, as fruit contains natural fructose.

Sugars
Most substitute sugars are not healthier than raw white sugar but are an option for diabetics and others who must avoid sugar. Raw sugar and turbinado sugar are readily available and can be used in the same measurements as white sugar in a cookie recipe, whereas artificial sweeteners are to be used only in small amounts.

Generally, brown sugar should not be used as a substitution for white sugar. Each gives a cookie recipe a distinct texture. Brown sugar is used to make cookies chewier, and white sugar produces a crisper cookie. Other sweeteners that may be substituted are molasses, corn syrup and honey. Be careful when using molasses as a sugar substitute as it has a distinctly strong flavor. It is good in gingersnaps and other cookies with plenty of spice but has the potential to overpower a milder cookie.

Milk and Egg Substitutes
Sweetened condensed milk. To reduce the high calories and sweetness of a recipe that calls for sweetened condensed milk, cut out part of the other sugars in the recipe to compensate.

Heavy cream. Use light whipping cream in place of heavy cream. It will give the same result with fewer calories. Goat milk is lower in cholesterol, but higher in fat. Goat milk works well for lactose-intolerant people and those with allergy to cows' milk.

Whole milk. Substitute skim milk,1% or 2% milk where your recipe calls for whole milk. Use the same measurements.

Eggs. Eggs give the dough body. They help with rising during baking and hold ingredients together. Look in the dairy section for egg substitutes in a liquid form that can be added to cookie dough. Dried egg powder can be used, but a small amount of liquid must be added to compensate. Also, you may lower calories a bit may using the egg whites only.

Peanut Butter Substitutions
You can replace peanut butter with soy butter or sesame butter, which are healthier and more nutritious. The soy butter has a similar flavor to peanut butter and is an alternative for children allergic to peanuts.

If you realize that peanut butter is simply ground peanuts, you will see how you can produce similar creams from roasted or raw nuts. The nuts all contain some natural oils. For instance, ground pecans, called pecan meal or pecan butter, are not as strong as peanut butter and are delicious in cookies. You can also whip up a batch of flavorful and healthful tahini butter by blending sesame seeds.

Sneak in Some Healthful Goodness
Whole grains. Oatmeal, wheat flour, wheat bran, flaxseed and wheat germ can be used in cookie recipes for added fiber and nutrients. It's a great way to sneak in the benefits of the whole grain without the children noticing.

Dried fruits. The addition of dried fruits and nuts greatly enhances the nutritional value of a cookie. If the texture of dried fruits such as prunes, raisins, cherries, and cranberries is not preferred, they can be boiled and mashed to add sweetness without sugar. Or they can be ground and added as a puree to the cookie dough.

Use your creativity in cookie baking to find healthy substitutes to old favorites. Producing a cookie you can enjoy as a healthful part of a diet is the reward.

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