Five tips for healthier holiday baking

Posted December 15, 2011

This year, take a cue from Jolly Old Saint Nick and enjoy some holiday treats guilt-free. Suzzette Shaw Goldmon, who is on the culinary faculty of The Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham, shares some simple tips and recipes to make your holiday baking healthier.

1) Substitute whole wheat flour for regular flour, up to 20 percent of the original recipe

  • Staying under 20 percent means that you don’t have to adjust anything else, and it won’t give your pastries that dense texture that plagues many all whole wheat recipes.
  • Using whole wheat increases dietary fiber, contributes a variety of micronutrients and slows down the absorption of sugars into the blood stream.

2) Dial in the dairy

  • It’s easy to sub lower-fat milk for whole milk. Most recipes work great with 2 percent or fat free milk instead of whole.
  • Substituting buttermilk or yogurt for sour cream also works well.

3) Emphasize fruit whenever possible

  • Fruit, even if it has a bit of sugar in it, is a great food and adds great color for your holiday table.
  • Emphasizing fruit can be as simple as pulling out the apple pie recipe instead of the chocolate cake.
  • Fruit is full of anti-oxidants, fiber, and any time you are eating fruit, it means you are not eating stuff that’s worse for you, such as sugar, fat and starches.

4) Use butter rather than trans-fats like shortening or margarine

  • Of course too much butter is bad. But trans-fats are much worse, since they contribute to cardiovascular disease. Butter does something few other foods do – it melts in your mouth. This means that is adds moisture and flavor in a way that no butter substitute can. With more flavor per bite you can use less, and you might even eat less.
  • For muffins, pancakes and other quick breads, you can substitute healthy oil like canola in place of the melted butter. Don’t try this with cakes or a flakey pastry like pie dough. The butter in these recipes serves a structural function that can’t be replicated with a liquid fat.

5) Go nuts

  • Nuts are great for you. Not only do they contain many trace minerals like selenium that are hard to get in other foods, but they are also full of fiber and good cholesterol.
  • Any time you are eating nuts for dessert it means you are not eating flour and sugar.
  • Nuts that are finely ground can be added to most cookie recipes in place of up to 5 percent of the flour weight. They add moisture, tenderness, delay staling, and add a wonderful background flavor.
  • Nuts also can be featured as the standout ingredient in many desserts. See the modified pecan pie recipe.


Linzer Dough

We can take some clues from the classic European desserts that rely on fruits and nuts for sweetness and moisture rather that the fat and sugar. A great case in point here is the classic linzer cookie. The dough is made with ground hazelnuts which keep the dough moist and tender by using the healthy fat in nuts instead of trans fats or butter. The filling between the layers of cookie is raspberry jam, perhaps not quite a health food in and of itself but worlds ahead of the shortening and sugar layer in an Oreo cookie.

  • Butter 8oz
  • Sugar 6oz
  • Nuts 4oz
  • Eggs 1
  • All Purpose Flour 9oz
  • Whole Wheat Flour 2.25
  • Cinnamon 1 T
  • Vanilla extract ½ t
  • Baking Powder 1t


  • Grind nuts with half of the sugar in a food processor.
  • Cream together ground nuts, remaining sugar, and butter.
  • Add eggs one at a time to form an emulsion.
  • Add vanilla.
  • Add sifted dry ingredients.
  • Let chill overnight before working as the dough will be very soft. The dough must be worked cold to avoid sticking.
  • Roll out, cut into desired shapes and bake at 325 f.

Health Dessert notes:
This cookie dough is used in the classic Linzer cookie. Hazel nuts are traditional, but you can also use pecans. Cut out cookie sized rounds, and cut a smaller whole in half of the rounds. Bake the cookies and sandwich them together with raspberry jam for a cute peek a boo effect. You can substitute any jelly or jam you like. The same ingredients can be used to make a full sized tart.



Apple Filling for Croustade

  • Granny Smith Apples - Large Dice 6
  • Butter 1 oz
  • Granulated Sugar 4 ½ oz
  • Dried Cranberries 5 ½ oz
  • Toasted Walnuts 2 ½ C
  • Ground Cinnamon ½ t


  • Assemble all ingredients and equipment needed to prepare the recipe.
  • Cook the Apples in a sauté pan with the Butter, Sugar and Cinnamon.
  • Remove from heat and add the Walnuts and the Dried Cranberries.
  • Let cool until the dough for the Croustade shell is ready. (See recipe for Pate Sucree)

Healthy dessert notes:
This is a great fruit filling with minimal amounts of fat and sugar. The filling can be made several days ahead. This tart is excellent served warm or at room temperature. If you roll the Pate Sucree recipe into 5-6” rounds you can then add a few tablespoons of the filling and fold up the edges for a free form tart. Be sure to do this on the pan that it will be baked on since the unbaked tart is a bit too fragile to move. A dollop of plain yogurt on top adds moisture and provides a great contrast to the sweet dough and fruit.


Pate Sucree

  • Almond Flour 1 oz
  • Powdered Sugar 3 ½ oz
  • All Purpose Flour 7 oz
  • Whole Wheat Flour 2 oz
  • Butter 4 ½ oz
  • Eggs 1


  • Combine all dry ingredients in mixing bowl.
  • Cut in butter with a paddle till thoroughly combined.
  • Add egg and mix until a dough forms.
  • Wrap and chill before rolling out.

Healthy desserts notes:
This is a simple crust for tarts of all sorts. It can be baked with the filling, as with the apple walnut croustade or pre-baked and filled with an already cooked filling. This classic sweet dough keeps well in the fridge and the scraps can be easily re-rolled.


Pecan Pie Fill

  • Eggs 4
  • Sugar 1c
  • Corn Syrup 1c
  • Vanilla Extract ¾ t
  • Salt pinch
  • Melted Butter 4oz


  • Mix all ingredients except the butter.
  • Add the melted butter while whisking constantly.
  • Can be stored under refrigeration for up to 10 days.
  • Bake at 325 f.

Healthy Dessert Notes:
If you make a pecan tart rather than a pecan pie, most of the dessert can be nuts. The filling is then used in small enough amounts that it serves merely to sweeten and bind the nuts together, lowering the calorie and fat count and increasing the amount of nuts per serving. Teamed with the pate sucree dough, this makes an elegant tart that belies its country origins. Use as a filling and binder for any kind of nut or even dried fruit. Don’t stick to just pecans, roasted cracked almonds make for a seductive dessert.


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