Sweet Deal

You can make holiday desserts without refined sugar or artificial sweeteners—
thanks to these natural alternatives.

November/December 2010

by Lisa James

There’s something about the holiday season—the bustle, the parties, the chill in the air—that brings out the sweet tooth in everyone. So it isn’t a matter of whether you’ll be indulging in tasty treats but how much and, just as importantly, what ingredients they contain.

“Removing white sugar and other refined sweeteners from your diet is easier said than done,” says Debra Lynn Dadd, who blogs at www.sweetsavvy.com. She adds that artificial sweeteners bring their own health concerns.

As a result, a number of naturally derived sweeteners are now available. “I prefer them to refined sugars, and so do my friends and family,” Dadd says. Here’s some of the better-known sweetening agents on health food store shelves.

Agave Nectar

You don’t have to like tequila to use agave nectar, taken from the same aloe-like Mexican native that produces the intoxicating brew. As with maple syrup, agave nectar (sometimes called agave syrup) comes in both light and dark grades. The light version is paler and has a milder flavor that won’t throw off flavor balances in recipes.

It is 1 1/2 times as sweet as sugar, which means you won’t need to use as much. Thanks to its ability to hold moisture, agave “is ideal for creating breads and baked goods with a light and fluffy texture,” says chef Ania Catalano, author of Baking with Agave Nectar (Celestial Arts). “It also works to keep them fresher for a longer period of time.”

Unlike either maple syrup or honey, agave nectar will not form crystals as it ages. Agave isn’t as
thick as either of those sweeteners, which means it can be dissolved in cold liquids.

There are concerns regarding how raw “raw” agave actually is because of the way it is processed. Your best bet is to contact the manufacturer and ask how their product is made.

Fluffy Lemon Bars

1/4 cup each oat and barley flours
1 cup raw almonds, ground to a fine meal
1/4 cup light agave nectar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp canola oil

1 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup light agave nectar
2 large egg yolks
juice & fresh zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup barley flour
1 cup evaporated skim milk
3 large egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil an 8” baking pan with canola oil spray. In a large bowl, mix crust ingredients. Press into prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes, or until slightly browned.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together butter, agave nectar and egg yolks. Add lemon juice and zest, flour and evaporated milk; whisk until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix egg whites at medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into lemon mixture until combined.

3. Pour mixture into crust and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until top turns golden and filling sets. Cook completely on wire rack before cutting into bars. Store, covered, in refrigerator.

Yields 16. Analysis per bar: 168 calories, 5g protein, 7g fat (1g saturated), 3g fiber, 24g carbohydrate, 35 mg sodium

Reprinted with permission from Baking with Agave Nectar, copyright © 2008 by Ania Catalano
(Celestial Arts, a Ten Speed Press imprint, a division of Crown Publishing Group, Berkeley, CA);
photo credit: Lara Hata




Date Sugar

Dates have been eaten as a sweet treat for centuries in the Middle East. Now this fruit’s subtle flavor—to say nothing of its considerable mineral and fiber content—is available
in date sugar, in which dates are ground into a coarsely granulated powder. You can even grind your own dates into sugar (after baking them to a dry consistency in the oven). According to Dadd,
date sugar can be used as a substitute for standard brown sugar on a cup-for-cup basis in all sorts of recipes. It doesn’t dissolve very well in even hot liquid, a point to keep in mind as you work with it.

Oatmeal Harvest Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup date sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup applesauce
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
pinch allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/4 cups oatmeal
3/4 cup dried raisins and chopped dates
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, with a mixer, cream together the butter and date sugar. Add the egg and mix until blended; add the vanilla and applesauce and mix well.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Add to butter mixture and mix well. Fold in remaining ingredients by hand.

3. Drop by tablespoons 2” apart onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or onto a silicone baking sheet. Flatten with your fingers.

4. Bake about 15 minutes until slightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Yields 24. Analysis per cookie: 121 calories, 2g protein, 7g fat
(3g saturated), 2g fiber, 14g carbohydrate, 69 mg sodium

Source: www.sweetsavvy.com by Debra Lynn Dadd, author of
Home Safe Home (Tarcher/Penguin, http://us.penguingroup.com)



Winnie the Pooh may be the most famous lover of honey, but he hasn’t been the only one: This golden nectar was the world’s standard sweetener for thousands of years before being overtaken by refined sugar in the 20th century. While honey can be substituted for sugar in recipes, you need to adjust for its extra water content. One rule of thumb says that for every cup used reduce the amount of other liquid in the recipe by three tablespoons. Honey also browns more quickly than sugar,
so reduce oven temperatures by 25°F. Remember, though, that honey comes in different flavors, so you’ll have to match the honey you’re using thedish. On the other hand, honey creams more readily with butter, which improves the texture of baked goods, and provides a rich, deep color.

Brown Rice Pudding

1 2/3 cups water
2/3 cup uncooked brown rice
2 large eggs
1/3 cup honey
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1 cup plain yogurt
nutmeg or cinnamon,
to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In medium saucepan, bring water to a boil; stir in rice. Cover and reduce heat; simmer until the rice is tender (about 35 minutes).

2. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, honey, salt and milk. Stir in yogurt and hot rice. Pour into 1-quart baking dish; sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon.

3. Set dish in pan of hot water. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until barely set.

Serves 6. Analysis per serving: 153 calories, 5g protein, 3g fat (2g saturated), 1g fiber, 29g carbohydrate, 149 mg sodium

Source: The National Honey Board (www.honey.com)



Dieters are always on the lookout for sweet stuff with few calories, and right now the low-cal sweetener of choice is stevia. Taken from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, a South American herb, stevia is intensely sweet—one teaspoon has the sweetening power of a cup of sugar. Using too much can result in an herbal aftertaste. Stevia’s intensity can create a problem if you’re adapting it to an existing recipe because “it does not have the ‘bulk’ of white sugar, which is often as crucial to the recipe as the sweetness,” says Dadd. That’s why stevia is often sold in blends that include other natural ingredients that help take the edge off of stevia’s sweetness.

Low-Glycemic Sweet Potato Pie

1 1/2 cups almond meal or flour
3 tbsp melted butter
3 tbsp powdered stevia/erythritol* blend

2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup powdered stevia/erythritol blend
1 tbsp whole grain or soy flour
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 can (12 oz) evaporated fat-free milk
*A naturally derived sweetener

1. Mix crust ingredients in an 8” pie pan and pat into place with your fingertips. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. In a large bowl, mix sweet potatoes until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour mixture into shell and bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until filling is set and sharp knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cook completely on a wire rack and refrigerate until serving time.

Serves 8. Analysis per serving: 135 calories, 8g protein, 15g fat
(2g saturated), 7g fiber, 47g carbohydrate, 618 mg sodium

Source: Steviva Brands, Inc. (www.steviva.com)

Note: Not even naturally sourced sweeteners are always appropriate for people with diabetes or other significant health issues. Always consult a nutritionally aware practitioner for dietary advice
tailored to your needs.


Cranberry Oat Jumbles

1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup light agave nectar
1/4 cup firm silken tofu
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 cup sprouted spelt flour
1 cup regular rolled oats
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup juice-sweetened dried cranberries
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Place canola oil, agave nectar, tofu and both extracts in a food processor and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, flax seeds, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add tofu mixture to dry ingredients and mix well; stir in remaining ingredients.

4. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.

Yield: 24. Analysis per cookie: 120 calories, 2g protein, 5g fat (none saturated), 2.5g fiber, 19g carbohydrate, 67 mg sodium

Reprinted with permission from Baking with Agave Nectar, copyright © 2008 by Ania Catalano (Celestial Arts, a Ten Speed Press imprint, a division of Crown Publishing Group, Berkeley, CA)



Apple Crisp

1 large or 1 1/2 medium ripe apple, sliced
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp whole wheat flour
pinch salt
pinch cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1 tbsp date sugar
6 pecan halves, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place apple slices in 3” ramekin.

2. In small saucepan, melt butter; add flour and mix well. Add other ingredients, mix and crumble over apples.

3. Place ramekin(s) on a cookie sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, or until bubbly.
Yield: 1 ramekin. Analysis: 499 calories, 5g protein, 33g fat (9g saturated), 10g fiber, 55g carbohydrate, 181 mg sodium

Source: www.sweetsavvy.com by Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home
(tarcher/penguin, http://us.penguingroup.com)


Easy Honey Oat Bars

1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats, uncooked
1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 egg whites
2 tbsp wheat germ
2 tbsp wheat flour
3 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
1/4 tsp kosher salt

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl; mix well.

2. Spread mixture evenly into 8” pan. Bake for about 25 minutes. Cool and cut into 2” squares.

Yield: 4 squares. Analysis per square: 426 calories, 9g protein, 12g fat (6g saturated), 6g fiber, 77g carbohydrate, 172 mg sodium

Source: Wee Bee Honey, Inc. (www.weebeehoney.net)





Key Lime Pie

1 cup ground pecans
3 tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp stevia/erythritol blend
1/2 tsp coconut extract

1/2 cup heavy cream*
2 tsp stevia/erythritol blend
3 pkg unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup boiling water
1/3 cup cold water
3 oz unsweetened key lime juice
2 (8 oz) packages low-fat cream cheese, cut into pieces and softened
1/2 tsp coconut extract
2 tbsp ground pecans
* For a lighter filling, substitute half-and-half or milk

1. In a medium bowl, mix together crust ingredients. Press firmly into bottom and up sides of an 8” pie plate; refrigerate until firm.

2. In a small bowl, whip the heavy cream stevia/erythritol blend until soft peaks form. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl with high sides, mix the gelatin with boiling water until all the gelatin has dissolved. Then stir in the cold water and key lime juice. With an electric mixer, slowly beat in the cream cheese. After all cream cheese is added, stir in coconut extract, and beat at high speed until smooth. Carefully fold in the whipped cream.

4. Use a spatula to scrape mixture into the pie pan and spread around. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons ground pecans on top. Refrigerate several hours or overnight to allow gelatin to set thoroughly.
Serves 12. Analysis per Serving: 244 calories, 5g protein, 24g fat (10g saturated), 1.5g fiber, 4g carbohydrate, 194 mg sodium

Source: Steviva Brands, Inc. (www.steviva.com)

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