Healthy Holiday Spice Cookies

Rocco DiSpirito’s recipe for healthy holiday spice cookies uses palm sugar (also called coconut sugar). (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)AP

The holidays are here, and my bathroom scale is getting nervous.

Packing on pounds used to be one of my holiday traditions ... until I figured out how to put certain holiday foods on a diet. And that is the trick to navigating the holidays in a way that lets you enjoy yourself without scaring your scale.

Holiday cookies are a great example. One typical sugar cookie can weigh in with as many as 150 calories. For perspective — you'd have to shovel snow for 30 minutes to work off a single cookie. And who can stop at just one cookie?

When you put holiday cookies on a diet, it's not just a matter of swapping out all the sugar with artificial sweeteners. In baking cookies, sugar does a lot more than sweeten. It adds volume, and it caramelizes. It also makes your cookies moist. Artificial sweeteners can't do that.

In this recipe, I've opted for a natural sugar — palm sugar (also called coconut sugar). Resembling brown sugar, it's made from the sap of palm trees. Palm sugar contains tiny amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and thiamin, as well as trace amounts of protein. It's widely available in international and natural-foods stores.

For a punch of crunch, the flour base is whole-wheat pastry flour. And there's virtually no fat in these cookies. You won't miss it, thanks to a blend of sweet potato and egg whites, which help stretch the butter. And because it is the holidays, we can't leave off the icing (made healthy with fat-free cream cheese).

The result? A typical spice cookie can have 220 calories and 12 grams of fat. Mine has just 2 grams of fat and 55 calories.

Tips:

For best results, bake these cookies on the oven's upper rack.

For even baking, use clean baking sheets. Brown or burned sheets will affect the browning of the cookies.

If you prefer, use ground cinnamon instead of the nutmeg and cloves.

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Makes 12 cookies

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 tablespoons unrefined palm sugar or jaggery

3 packets stevia sweetener powder, divided

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch ground cloves

2 tablespoons pureed, cooked and peeled sweet potato

2 tablespoons liquid egg white

2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided

1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1 tablespoon flaxseed meal

2 tablespoons fat-free cream cheese, softened

Directions:

Heat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the butter, palm sugar, 2 packets of the stevia, the baking powder, nutmeg and cloves. Mix until well-combined. Add the sweet potato, egg white and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla, then mix until combined. Beat in the flour and flaxseed meal.

Shape dough into a round, flat disk. Place disk between 2 sheets of waxed paper. Use a rolling pin to roll dough to 1/8 inch thick. Place dough on a baking sheet and place in freezer for about 10 minutes, or until dough is very firm.

Remove dough from freezer and peel off top sheet of paper. Use 2 1/2- to 3-inch cookie cutters to cut out 12 cookies. If necessary, place dough back in freezer after making cutouts. This will help dough firm back up, making it easier to transfer cutouts from paper to prepared baking sheet.

Place dough cutouts on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, or until tops are just dry and edges are just starting to brown.

Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.

To make frosting, in a small bowl combine the cream cheese, remaining packet of stevia and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Whisk until smooth. Spoon icing into a piping bag fitted with a small open tip. Decorate cooled cookies with icing.

Nutrition information per cookie (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 53 calories; 2 g fat (37 percent calories from fat) (1 g saturated); 5 mg cholesterol; 7 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber; 45 mg sodium.



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