Having our cake and eating it, too
By Anna-Kristine Flones
Guilt-free desserts are not only possible but delightfully delicious
The very phrase “guilt-free desserts” conjures up the image of whipped tofu with a sprinkling of some sawdust-like substance, two carob chips and a raisin or two on top. Why waste a good spoon on that? Desserts, as we all know, are confections, delights, fondants, sweets, tutti-frutti petits fours, gateaux, pastries, apple pies, bonbons, cookies, sugarplums, puddings, and magical ice cream potions — all frequently made of chocolate, cream and/or butter.
If there is such a thing as guilt-free desserts, can they meet our criteria? Will it be the stuff dreams are made of? Sounds like a quest although I’d much rather be writing an article on “rich, chocolate desserts to die for.” So let’s start with some nutritionists, even though the very word scares me. It calls to mind a thin-lipped, critical, institutional individual with squinty eyes and no sense of humor, let alone sweet tooth.
But Certified Nutrition Counselor Holly Anne Shelowitz recently introduced her new business into the Woodstock and New Paltz areas like a breath of fresh air. Immediately notable for her exuberant style and sense of humor, she also LOVES good food. Within the first five minutes on the phone together, we were laughing ourselves silly, discussing favorite recipes from different backgrounds and enthusiastically proclaiming merits and delights of butter, yes butter.
Holly teaches hands-on group and private cooking classes, which focus on seasonal organic healthy foods that are simple to prepare. Elaborate cooking is fun and has its place, but we have so much, well, on our plates these days, she believes, noting, we need to find ways of nurturing ourselves with loving attention to the food we eat. “I want people to feel empowered in regard to food,” suggests Shelowitz. “My classes are hands-on, fun, and community centered. It’s easy to get into a rut with cooking and to feel victimized by the required cooking regime. Let’s take the judgment out of the food chain and replace it with compassion, love, nourishment and comfort.” I can hear her stirring up something tasty as we speak.
Sugar and fat are the two ingredients that give desserts their wicked reputation. Holly recommends using real foods in their natural state. She uses butter, cream and yogurt in their full-fat state. Low-fat versions have to add stuff like stabilizers, thickeners and fillers. Sometimes, the amount of sugar is increased to compensate for the taste that was removed with the fat. The irony is that we buy low-fat foods, but we can’t stop eating ice cream and other a whole range of other very high-fat “comfort foods.” Our bodies need some fat, especially women’s bodies. Butter, yogurt and cream are nutrient dense foods that provide calcium and protein. The best butter is the organic variety made from cows that graze on unsprayed grasses. It is naturally a yellow color. The Organic Valley sells a cultured butter in which the cream is lightly fermented. The taste is the same and this butter has the added benefit of including healthy enzymes for the body.
If one is going to avoid anything, avoid hydrogenated fats, advises this nutritionist. These are oils that have been heated to a very high temperature, which causes the hydrogen bonds to change. This chemical process converts the oil into a solid. The process is done to extend shelf life of processed foods. Unfortunately, our bodies can’t handle the hydrogenated fats. In additional, bleaches, artificial colors, and other chemicals are added to give the products shelf appeal. This hydrogenated oil gets stored in our tissues and in our arteries. It is a direct contributor to heart disease and other degenerative diseases, such as diabetes. Other healthy fats besides dairy products include olive oil, coconut oil and full fat coconut milk.
Okay, let’s cut to the chase. What about chocolate? Have your tried any of the chocolate in the health food stores lately? asks Shelowitz. All of it, I think to myself.
Shelowitz points out that natural chocolate is sweetened with unrefined sugars and uses cocoa beans that are consciously raised. More often than not, the environment was also considered. This chocolate, like the Rapunzel brand, according to the nutritionist, “melts in your mouth,” slipping down your throat with an intense and delicious taste.
“When you talk about chocolate, you always end up talking about sex. I think chocolate has the same vibe as sex,” says Shelowitz. I’m nodding my head, thinking of the Endangered Species Chocolate Company’s dark chocolate and raspberry bar (the one with the grizzly bear on the front.) There is definitely a physical feeling from chocolate. It is high in magnesium. Some people must have it every day. Note that when people meet their needs for sensuality, comfort and self-nurture, then the craving for chocolate and sweets often decreases. Shelowitz makes a chocolate biscotti dipped in Rapunzel chocolate, which will satisfy the most out-of-control chocolate cravings.
1 c. almonds, ground into coarse meal
1 c. sliced or coarsely chopped almonds
1 c. oat or spelt flour
1 c. rolled oats, ground into flour in your blender
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
½ c. coconut oil
½ c. maple syrup
5 oz. chopped dark chocolate
Combine ground and sliced almonds, oats, flour, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl blend wet ingredients. Add wet to dry ingredients. Mix well. Form into two loaves. Bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes, and let cool for five minutes. With a sharp knife, carefully cut into 1/2-inch thick slices. Spread out on a baking sheet, and bake another 10-12 minutes, until loaves begin to brown. (Caution: they burn easily.) Allow biscotti to cool completely before dipping into chocolate. Place chocolate into a Pyrex measuring cup, and creating a double boiler, place the measuring cup into a pot of boiling water. Lower to a simmer, melting the chocolate.
Allow chocolate to cool about three minutes. Tilt the measuring cup so the chocolate gathers in a pool, and use a rubber spatula to get every bit of chocolate from the sides! One at a time, dip each piece of biscotti about one inch into the melted chocolate. Lift out and drag the underside of the cookie on the lip of the measuring cup to remove excess chocolate. Place on a waxed paper lined baking sheet. Refrigerate or let cool until firm. Enjoy with your favorite cup of tea!
If refined sugar is a problem, there are other options. These days, there are many choices among sweeteners. Consider changing to another form of sugar that is less processed. Some possibilities are rapidura, which is cane sugar in its least processed form. It has a strong molasses/maple taste, which is good for some recipes. It can be used 1:1 as sugar. Sucanat is another form of sugar cane that can be substituted, along with the old favorites: maple syrup, honey, molasses and also brown rice syrup. You may have to experiment with your recipes to find the sugar that works in combination with the other ingredients.
What about artificial sweeteners? Those are toxic and Shelowitz makes no bones about it. We are better off eating refined sugar unless one is diabetic, she believes strongly. Artificial sweeteners can cause problems that mimic multiple sclerosis and lupus symptoms. They contribute to insomnia because of the way they mess with our serotonin levels. Among folks diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibro-myalgia, it is very common to find that they have been using a lot of these artificial sweeteners.
The evening before, a private cooking client of Shelowitz’s wanted a dessert with dried fruit. “I thought, hmmm…..then we started assembling ingredients and, pretty soon, we were cooking up some dried apricots with apples and pears. This ended up as a soft pudding to which we added cashew cream.”
The recipe and a few others courtesy of Shelowitz seem like the perfect place to close. Bon appetit.++
Dried Fruit Compote with Cashew Cream
Handful of dried apricots
2 pears sliced
1 apple sliced
Dash of cinnamon
Combine all fruit with enough water to cover in a pot. Bring to a boil, and then lower to simmer. Add cinnamon, and cook until soft (about ten minutes.) Pour off the juice and put the softened fruit into a blender with a tiny bit of juice. Purée until soft. (You want a pudding consistency. If there is too much liquid, you will have puddles, not pudding.) Save the juice. Pour it into a beautiful little glass and save it until you have finished the pudding. Then drink a toast to wildly improbable combinations of food that titillate the tongue and make us laugh.
Handful of cashews soaked for ten minutes or more, then drained. (Don’t drink this one unless you want a truly improbable drink.)
2 T. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
dash of apple juice to thin out cream
Cream together in your blender, taste and add extra amounts of ingredients as necessary.
Raspberry Thumbprints (Or maybe Chocolate Thumbprints)
1 c. almonds, ground into coarse meal
1 c. oat or spelt flour
1 c. rolled oats, ground into flour
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
½ c. coconut oil, melted
½ c. maple syrup, raspberry jam, or 2 ½ of your favorite chocolate bars broken into 1-inch squares per cookie (enough for 16-18 cookies.)
Combine almonds, oats, flour, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, blend wet ingredients. Make a well in dry ingredients; add wet ingredients. Mix well. Roll into walnut-size balls. Place on an oiled sheet, flatten with the palm of your hand, press with thumb and fill with jam or chocolate square. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 C combination of maple syrup and molasses
1 1/4 C. spelt flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/3 C melted butter or coconut oil
1 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt
Handful of crushed walnuts
Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9×5-loaf pan. Mash bananas on the side of a bowl with a fork. To that bowl, add all wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Pour wet into dry and stir until blended (not too much stirring). Pour into buttered baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until fork comes out clean.
Anna-Kristine Flones is off whipping up a batch of apricot-apple-pear pudding with cashew sauce even as you read this. Her only dilemma, how to combine it with chocolate? Where there’s a will…