Mmmm. Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice
This is the season that makes me want to bake. Nothing says "cozy home" to me more than the smell of cinnamon drifting from a warm kitchen.
But, I'm here to tell you that all that sugar, especially during cold and flu season (did you know that sugar suppresses the immune system for up to 6 hours after ingesting it?), is not really the healthiest thing you can do for your family. So I'm here to give you a few tips for how to healthy-up but still enjoy baking for your family.
Bake from scratch. Baked goods from a great bakery are a real time-saver, but if you want to control the amount of sugar in a special treat, you're going to have to make it yourself. The amounts of sugar and America's taste for sweetness has increased over the years, and that is highly reflected in goods even from an excellent bakery. Grocery store-bought bakery goods probably have an even higher sugar content, because sugar is used as a preservative, not just a flavoring, and the more sugar an item contains, the longer the item can sit on the shelf. If you are using a modern recipe, you can probably cut the sugar a bit and still get a good result. But, if you can find a cookbook from the 1940s, the sugar content in the recipes will generally be more conservative. Maybe your grandmother's old cookbook?
My main reason though, for baking at home from scratch is that you can also control what doesn't go into your baked goods. I don't suppose you usually add 1/4 cup of dextrose (which is added sugar, by the way), or a teaspoon of soy lecithin, or the dreaded high fructose corn syrup (another sugar) to your baked goods at home. Not to mention all the artificial colors and flavorings. When you bake for your family, you add quality ingredients and lots of love.
Bake something besides sweets. I know, I know. It's the holidays. But who doesn't love homemade bread? Or soft pretzels? Bagels are also really fun to make from scratch and they are so delicious. And if you must have a sweet, try biscotti or scones. They usually have less sugar than other sweets and they are nummy.
Use really excellent ingredients. Real vanilla instead of imitation vanilla (which is an artificial flavoring). Organic fruits. Real butter (margarine and shortening are full of trans fats). Fresh eggs from your cousin's chickens. You get the idea. You can rest assured that your baked goods will taste light years better than anything you can get at a big box bakery and maybe even better than a professional bakery because they all have to cut corners to contain costs.
Sometimes, you can substitute whole wheat flour, which contains more good-for-you nutrients than white flour. Or even better, search for a recipe that uses whole wheat flour in the first place. To make white flour, manufacturers scrub away the outside bran of the wheat kernel and remove the interior wheat germ. The bran and wheat germ are the good guys which contain vitamin B6, vitamin E, phosphorus, magnesium, antioxidants and fiber. All that's left is the starch in the middle, which doesn't have much nutrition for your body, but contains loads of carbs. Using whole wheat does change the consistency of baked goods, but to me the nutty flavor is worth it.
Baked treats should be special. Make them and eat them in moderation. Sugar and all those carbs aren't that great for your body, but a special treat once in a while is ok. At our house, we try to only have sweet treats on birthdays and holidays. This makes those days extra-special and keeps us healthier in the long run.
Enjoy your holiday season. I hope you will be inspired to look at different ways to treat your family while also watching out for your health .
Chocolate Pumpkin Snack Cake
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cocoa
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 whole eggs
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk dry ingredients in a small bowl to blend.
2. Put butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and then cream together on medium speed for about 1 minute. Use the butter wrapper to butter an 8 x 8 inch pan. Add eggs to the butter mixture and beat until light in color. Mix in pumpkin and then mix in dry ingredients.
3. Spread the batter in the pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the cake’s center comes out clean.
4. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Store any extra cake covered at room temperature or wrapped well and frozen.