Holiday baking should be fun - not stressful! Use these tips to help take the stress out of holiday baking, and to sneak in a few healthier baking alternatives as well!
Essential tips for baking
• Purchase fresh baking powder, baking soda and yeast for best results
• Use parchment paper, and rimless baking sheets
• Measuring cups, spoons: Use liquid measuring cups for oils and liquids. Use nested measuring cups for flours and solids (* Important! Fluff your flour before measuring )
• For best quality and flavor use: large-sized eggs, unsalted butter and nuts, and pure extracts of vanilla or almond
• Do not over-mix or over-bake cookie dough or quick bread batter
• Pre-heat oven before baking
• Chill dough for cut-out cookies. Soften at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling out (roll 1/4" for easy to handle cookies)
• Freeze cut cookie dough prior to baking to help cookies retain shape
• Leave about two inches of space between cookies on baking sheets so they don't spread into each other
• Cool baked cookies completely before decorating
Shhhh...make it healthier, they will never know the difference!
• Use Meijer white whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose flour (whole grain bonus)
• Bake with healthier fats: Smart balance butter blend sticks, Land O' Lakes Canola oil-butter blend, trans-fat free margarine
• Replace part or all of oil with fruit puree (applesauce or plum puree)
• Sneak in a ground flaxseed and / or oats
• Boost the flavor and nutrition by adding chopped dried fruit such as apricots, cherries, cranberries, dates, prunes or raisins
• Add small amounts of chopped nuts; lightly toast the nuts first to really enhance flavor
• Reduce sugar by 25% (no one will notice). If using sugar substitutes, consult the package or manufacturer's website for the correct substitution amounts for granulated sugar
Storing your baked goods
• Most cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 3-4 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 3-6 months. Store frosted cookies and cookies containing highly perishable ingredients (i.e., cream cheese) in the refrigerator.
• If stored cookies harden, place a slice of bread in the storage container and the cookies will soften.
• Store cookies in food storage containers with tight fitting lids. Use wax paper to separate cookie layers. Always cool cookies completely cooled before storing.
• If preparing multiple types of cooking, store each type separately to preserve the cookie's unique flavors.
• When baking cookies in advance for holidays, select cookies that are easy to store. Fragile cookies and iced cookies do not freeze well. For cookies that call for frosting, freeze them unfrosted and then frost after completely thawed.
Shortcut Sugar Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen
1 (17.5 oz. pkg.) Sugar cookie mix
2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed
1/2 cup Smart Balance Butter
Decorator writing icing, String licorice, Mini-candies (mini-M&Ms), White icing (canned), Colored sugar and sprinkles
1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. In medium bowl, stir cookie mix, flaxseed, butter and egg until soft dough forms. Cover and refrigerate dough for 1-2 hours (or more.)
2. Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes. Lightly dust rolling pin and rolling surface with flour. Roll a "handful" of dough 1/4" thick and cut shapes using cookie cutters. Place on cookies sheets lined with parchment paper. Add leftover cut out dough to the batch of remaining dough. Repeat rolling and cutting until all dough is used. Tip: Freeze cut cookies, bake from frozen state to help retain shape.
3. If desired, lightly brush cookies with egg white. Bake 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely. Decorate as desired.
Holiday Cherry-Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 3 dozen cookies
2-1/4 Cups Meijer White Whole Wheat Flour ("fluff" flour with a spoon prior to measuring)
1/2 Cup Oatmeal
1/4 Cup Ground Flax Seed (Flax meal)
3/4 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking Soda
3/4 Cup Loosely Packed Meijer Brown Sugar
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Smart Balance Butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 tsp. McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Pkg. (12 oz.) Chocolate Chips
1/2 cup dried cherries
Optional: 1 Cup chopped nuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, oat bran, flax meal, salt and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.
2. Cream butter, add brown sugar and beat until smooth. Add granulated sugar and beat until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and beat again until smooth.
3. Add half of the mixed dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix well. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix well. Add chocolate chips and dried cherries (and nuts if desired) and mix until well blended.
4. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets (line with parchment paper for easier clean up). Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Makes approximately 5 dozen 2" cookies. (For best results, refrigerate dough for 1 to 2 hours before baking.)
Chocolate Dipped Figs and Apricots
Makes 8 servings
8 oz. dark chocolate
Approx. 12 fresh or dried figs and 12 dried apricots
1. Chop or break chocolate in pieces and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Place microwave on 50% power and melt for 30 seconds. Stir thoroughly and microwave at 15 second intervals until chocolate is melted.
2. Holding the fruits by the stem or one end, dip into the chocolate, covering the bottom 1/3 of the fruit. Place on waxed-lined sheet and refrigerate until set.
Shari Steinbach, MS RD, Meijer Dietitian and Healthy Living Manager