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How To: 4 Healthy & Happy Holiday Cookies

CHRISTINA PIRELLO

It’s that time of year: The air is crisp and cold. We’ve packed away our flip flops and brought out our boots. The lights are untangled and ready to adorn trees, windows and doorways, warming our hearts and our homes and welcoming everyone to celebrate with us. The holiday season is here. And with it, the joy of sweets! 

Thick and chewy or thin and crispy—who doesn’t love cookies? We think of this classic dessert as sweet, casual and homey, a treat to enjoy at a party or a simple weeknight dinner. They are easy to make and rustic, and they’re small enough that you can enjoy a few without guilt. 

Baking soothes the senses. A whiff of the fragrance of chocolate chip cookies, apple pie or cinnamon buns brings a smile to our faces every time, filling us with nostalgia. Touch, hearing, sight and taste are all stimulated as you knead dough, stir batter, measure ingredients and, of course, sample your work along the way.

Still, cookies made from white flour and refined sugar, no matter how yummy and gorgeous, will rob you of your health—and, thus, holiday joy. After eating them, you’re more likely feel lethargic and depressed, instead of rosy-cheeked and celebratory. You’ll want to hibernate on the sofa, not party with your friends.

Breathe. I am not recommending you grimly endure the holiday season with no treats, just to hang onto your wellness. Au contraire! Good quality sweets make us happy; they help us manage stress and relax. Nothing says, “It’s the holidays!” quite like a platter of yummy, healthy cookies.  

THE ULTIMATE COOKIE DOUGH BASE

(YIELDS ABOUT 36 COOKIES)

With few exceptions, I use one cookie dough base for all my cookie-baking. It results in perfect cookie texture and flavor and allows me to create endless variations. So, here it is:

Ingredients: 

  • 8 tablespoons vegan butter substitute
  • ½ cup brown rice syrup
  • ¼ cup coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions: 

  1. Whip the base until creamy. (You can keep this base in the fridge in a sealed container for 1-2 weeks.) 

From this base, you can create chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate cookies, peanut butter cookies, sugar cookies—the list goes on and on. Here are a few favorites below:

THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES

(MAKES 36-38 COOKIES)

No kidding, the best—ever. Vegan, not vegan, healthy or not, everyone who tastes these says they are the best.

Ingredients:

  • 1 recipe Ultimate Cookie Dough Base
  • 1 ½-2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • Pinch sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 (3.5-ounce) bar vegan dark chocolate (70% or more), coarsely chopped 

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Using a hand mixer or a whisk, create Cookie Dough Base as per recipe.
  3. Mix in flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda/powder to form a stiff cookie dough.
  4. Fold in nuts and chocolate until incorporated through the batter.
  5. Wet a teaspoon and your fingers and spoon cookie dough onto the lined sheets, allowing room for the cookies to spread (about a dozen cookies per standard sheet).
  6. Bake for 13-14 minutes. Remove from oven and allow cookies to stand for 2 minutes on the sheet tray. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

CHOCOLATE-WALNUT BISCOTTI

(MAKES 30-32 BISCOTTI)

This Italian classic cookie is made with eggs, lots of eggs. It’s hard to create a crisp, crunchy biscotti without them; some would say impossible. Enter chia seeds. Not only nutrient-dense, hydrophilic and loaded with fiber, these wee seeds function like eggs do in baking. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon chia seeds soaked in 2 tablespoons water for 30 minutes
  • 1 recipe Ultimate Cookie Dough Base
  • 2-2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Generous pinch ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped walnut pieces
  • 1 cup vegan dark chocolate chips

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Using a hand mixer or a whisk, whip soaked chia with Cookie Dough Base.
  3. Mix in flour, baking powder/soda, salt and cinnamon to form a stiff dough.
  4. Fold in nuts and chocolate until well-combined.
  5. Divide the dough in half and knead each half in your hands 3-4 times.
  6. Form each half into a long log, the length of the baking sheet and about 2-3 inches wide. (Both logs will fit on the baking sheet.)
  7. Bake for 30-32 minutes, until the log is firm, but springs back to the touch.
  8. Allow to cool on the sheet for 5 minutes.
  9. Carefully transfer the baked logs onto a dry cutting board.
  10. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs into wedges (about 13 per log) and lay the cut cookies cut-side up on the parchment lined baking sheet.
  11. Bake for 6 minutes.
  12. Turn the cookies so the other cut side is up and bake for 6 minutes more.
  13. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. 

 

SESAME COOKIES

(MAKES 18 TO 24 COOKIES) 

My husband is a pure-blooded Sicilian and loves all the treats that are a part of that rich culture. His favorite dessert is light and crispy, not too sweet sesame-coated cookies. After many failed attempts, I got them just the way he likes them. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • Generous pinch sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • Scant pinch cinnamon
  • ¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut 
  • 1 recipe Ultimate Cookie Dough Base
  • About 1 cup tan sesame seeds

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder/soda, cinnamon and coconut in a mixing bowl. Whip Cookie Dough Base. Mix into flour mixture to form a soft dough.
  3. With moist hands, roll the dough into 1-inch spheres.
  4. Place the sesame seeds in a small bowl.
  5. Roll each cookie in the sesame seeds, covering completely.
  6. Arrange the cookies about 1-inch apart on the lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake for 13 to 16 minutes, until the cookies are firm to the touch.
  8. Allow to stand, undisturbed, on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes.
  9. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

The cookies will turn crisp as they cool.

 

BUTTERY PECAN SHORTBREAD

(MAKES 24–36 COOKIES)

Shortbread cookies are moist, buttery, lovely—and loaded with calories and saturated fat. In these cookies, we use a healthier fat and protein-packed pecans to make them all the better for you. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • Generous pinch sea salt
  • Generous pinch ground cinnamon 
  • 1 recipe Ultimate Cookie Dough Base 
  • Chocolate glaze (optional)
  • 6 ounces non-dairy dark chocolate, coarsely chopped 

Instructions: 

  1. Mix pecans with flour, salt and cinnamon.
  2. In a separate bowl, using a hand mixer, whip the butter substitute, syrup and vanilla until smooth and fluffy—2–3 minutes.
  3. Combine with flour mixture to create a soft dough. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 1 hour before proceeding.
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Divide the dough in half. Rewrap one half and return to the fridge. Roll the other half between 2 sheets of parchment into a ¼-inch-thick circle.
  3. Dip a round cookie cutter or a glass into flour and cut the dough into round shapes.
  4. Arrange on baking sheet. You do not need room for the cookies to spread, so you can fit a lot on the sheet.
  5. Re-roll dough to use it up. Place the filled cookie sheet in the fridge while rolling out the other half of the dough.
  6. Bake the cookies until deeply browned, 13–15 minutes for a crisp shortbread, 11–13 minutes for a softer cookie.
  7. Remove from oven and immediately transfer to a wire rack. 

To make the chocolate glaze:

  1. Simply melt the chocolate over a double boiler, whisking until smooth.
  2. Dip one end of each cookie into the chocolate and return them to the wire rack to cool and for the chocolate to set.

COOK’S TIP: To bring out the best in pecans, spread them on a baking sheet and toast them at 300°F for 20-30 minutes, until golden and fragrant.