ADVENTURES IN BAKING

As long time readers here know, I have a standing promise to provide ten types of home-baked cookies for the holidays. For the most part, we’ve been evolving a series of family favorites, and year on year are moving those closer to perfection. But this year we’ve opted for a disruption.

Keto baking. Kind of.

We’ve decided to slim down the annual carb-fest that is the holidays. We were not dogmatically inflexible about it, but we did try to make the cookie plate a bit leaner this year, without sacrificing the comforting festive level of indulgence, and leaving some unaltered so we could share them with nut-allergic friends. Some recipes were standards we modded with our own substitutions. Some were new – cognates of known faves, but composed and published specifically for no carb/low-carb baking. Not all were entirely successful, but we did have some very pleasant surprises.

Among our discoveries were the handling properties of the various flours, a disagreement with a claim of 1:1 equivalency for the sugar substitute we used, and what Xanthan Gum actually does. This post may be helpful to others who want to try this adventure. I know it will help me remember this year’s pitfalls if/when I try it again.

As usual, I was greatly aided in this endeavor by Younger Offspring, whose baking acumen now far surpasses mine. The padawan has truly become the master.

First, the group portrait:

1. Earthquakes – more commonly called Chocolate Crinkles. Full octane. We didn’t play with this recipe, this one used standard all purpose flour and real sugar. There are many variations of this recipe out there. Ours, from long time pal Kathryn, uses butter and not shortening. I now use Dutch process cocoa in it for an extra cocoa-kick. Very much like one-bite brownies and much loved.

2. Orange Marmalade cookies. Also not slimmed. After all if the recipe calls for half a jar of marmalade to begin with, there’s very little point in making emendations around that. This is a burst of fresh sunshine, sweet but not overpoweringly so, and a nice contrast to the others. I use this recipe, and with it polish off the jar of marmalade that also contributed to the apple-orange Anonymous Apple Pie back at Thanksgiving.

3. Oysters. My own invention. A hazelnut spritz so named because the first time I did them I didn’t grind the nuts fine enough, and they were weirdly blobby in shape. This year’s are slimmed down from my original recipe, with Swerve sugar substitute standing in for the granulated white sugar, and 3/4 cup of almond flour being substituted for one of the two cups of all purpose flour. I didn’t tinker with the ganache filling with a splash of Frangelico, but we did whip it to make it more airy, mousse like and less dense than usual. The result was very light, delicate, and cake like, much softer and tender than the normal spritz cookie texture. The dough however was a nightmare to put through the cookie press, with three tries and extensive profanity needed to achieve one useable cookie shape. If I do this again next year I might introduce a bit of Xanthan Gum to add more structure to the dough. Even with that painful birth, the result is quite pleasant. Worth further exploration.

4. Keto Linzers. This one is new this year. Although we substituted a reduced sugar, no fructose, whole fruit mixed berry/cherry preserve for the home-made filling, we followed this recipe. We reduced the amount of sugar substitute a bit because we are finding that it is in fact sweeter than cane sugar. The dough was very sticky and rolling between pieces of baking parchment or waxed paper is an absolute necessity, along with lots of extra coconut flour to keep the dough from adhering to the paper. The resulting cookies are delicate (this seems to be a standard characteristic of these alternative flour baked goods). These turned out nicely. A do-over if we bake keto again.

5. Mexican Wedding Cakes. A family standard, this year slimmed down. Except for the confectioner’s sugar on the outside. I used the family standard recipe, much like this one, but substituted 3/4 of a cup of almond flour for one of the two cups of all purpose flour, and Swerve buzzed down in the food processor for the powdered sugar in the dough. They flattened out a bit more than usual in baking, making buttons instead of more rounded/domed usual shapes, but are still as tasty, fitting the bill for this must-have.

6. Cocoa Macarons with White Chocolate Ganache Filling. I was just a observer on this creation. I am very impressed by Younger Offspring’s ability to leap into Fine Baking, and the associated display of piping skills. These by their nature are almond flour and egg white. The results of this recipe are spot-on in taste, with the occasional crackled top being a product of our very imprecise kitchen scale (note to self – this thing is due for replacement). The white chocolate ganache was enhanced by a dollop of raspberry liquor.

7. Cinnamon Swirls. Another specialty of Younger Offspring, these are thin and light, with a profound cinnamon kick that benefits from the addition of orange zest to the dough. Full octane – this one had no subs. The Offspring uses this recipe but leaves out the glaze – the cookies don’t need it.

8. Lemon cut-outs. In previous years we have made the Joy of Cooking sugar cut-outs, with lemon zest in the cookie, and icing made from confectioners sugar and lemon juice. This year we did a total keto cookie instead – this one, complete with icing made from the Swerve sugar substitute and lemon juice. This is the cookie that really demonstrated the difference that Xanthan Gum can make. Although the dough was slightly sticky, the gum gave it structure much closer to that of a dough with gluten-bearing flour in it. It was much easier to handle, roll, and cut than the similar no-gum dough for the Linzers. This dough also retained the cut-out shapes better during baking than the Linzer dough, which spread a bit more.

9. Not Your Average Toll House Cookie. This was our own minor modification. We start with the classic Toll House cookie dough, and we used real sugars and all purpose flour, but instead of loading them with semi-sweet chocolate chips, we used unsweetened cocoa nib chips from Trader Joe’s, plus a handful of the semi-sweet chips, well chopped. The result were these zebra-striped buttons. They are more cocoa bitter than sweet, and intense. An excellent “grown up” chocolate chip cookie that’s delicious with coffee, tea, or wine. I hope TJ’s offers the nibs again next year so we can engineer a do-again (they do have a habit of introducing something wonderful that then vanishes.)

10. Triple Gingers. Again, the ones I invented a couple of years back, but slimmed, with Swerve brown and white sugar substitutes, plus using 1 1/3 cup of regular flour plus 1/3 cup of coconut flour in place of the 2 1/3 cup of flour in the original. I also upped both the powdered ginger and ginger juice a bit. This was one of the first sub-in cookies I tried, and the one in which I discovered that the sugar substitutes are sweeter than real sugar. If I do these again, I would dial back the amount of both brown and white sugars because I prefer a lower sweetness level. (Side note – this was one cookie I had made surplus of last year and froze, so I was able to compare the full octane version and the modded version side by side. The difference was profound, so I do now firmly doubt the Swerve claim of “1:1 substitute for regular sugar in cooking and baking.”

11. Peanut Butter Cookies. Yes, we lost count along the way and ended up with eleven kinds this year. This was a new keto recipe, and by far the least successful of any we attempted. I used this one, with poor results. I used Teddy natural chunky peanut butter, an excellent local product I’ve used in baking for years (ingredients are just peanuts and salt). Note that the recipe did specify a natural style peanut butter. I followed the directions exactly, and used the amount of coconut flour indicated. The resulting dough was a bit softer/stickier than my usual, but not unreasonable to handle, and I was able to roll small balls and press them, although I ended up marking them with a fork as indicated instead of being able to use my usual cookie press (they stuck to that). BUT when I baked these, they exuded gushers of oil – so much that the cookies floated around and oven-fried rather than baked, and the oil overflowed the cookie sheet. I took them out just when they were cohesive and just a tiny bit brown on the edges, and rack cooled them – they were still dripping. After all of the oil lost in baking the result was dry and unappealing, with surprisingly little peanut flavor. I do not recommend this recipe, and don’t think it’s worth any further effort. If we go keto again next year I will look for a different peanut butter cookie.

Bonus Panforte: To round it all out, we did rescue from the freezer the second of the two panfortes I made last year. Obviously not keto – not by a long shot. Younger Offspring again demonstrated piping skills, using the leftover dark and white chocolate ganaches to adorn the top. We didn’t serve it on Christmas Eve, but we will certainly cut into it now, and save a goodly part for New Years Eve dinner as well.

So to sum up – some hits, some with room for improvement, and some misses. And yes – we do now have enough cookies to last forever. Again.

3 responses

  1. Your baking exploits are truly impressive. Everything looks so delicious – pity I can’t eat almonds!

    I must see if Swerve is available in Oz. The Mr (diabetic) uses a sweetener in his coffee that is made with maltodextrin and sucralose and claims to be a 1:1 substitute. The lemon mousse I attempted with it was horrible. (Not the recipe’s fault – it’s great with real sugar.) It was far too sweet and the flavours did not blend at all. These days if I want to avoid sugar in a dessert I just serve fresh fruit with pure cream on the side. (Yes, I know there’s sugar in the fruit but it’s not at a level that should cause anyone problems.)

    1. There may well be an equivalent product marketed under a different brand name. Swerve is an erythritol based sweetener with oligosaccharides, marketed (so far) only in the US and Canada. It purports to measure, cook, and bake 1:1 for real sucrose sugar, but I find it is a bit sweeter and cut back quantity by 10 to 20 percent. They make it in several formulations, including one molasses-free variant that mimics US brown sugar, and a finer milling that mimics confectioner’s sugar (but without the added corn starch, so it’s not a straight sub for that sugar form).

      Thankfully we are not doing this out of health vulnerabilities other than the general wish to cut some calories and carbs from our diet, but I do imagine that this “new generation” of substitutes would come in handy for those with fewer options.

      Just be aware that these options are not cheap. This stuff costs about 67 cents per ounce, compared to about 5 cents per ounce for cane sugar. That cost factor alone is enough to reconsider wanting to make anything containing sugar at all. But it’s the holidays, and holiday festivity allows for some splurges.

  2. As one who succumbed to the temptation to buy a tabletop melanger the instant I found out such a thing existed, I have been buying cocoa nibs from chocolatealchemy.com, where everything sold has been ethically produced and you get a full description of the particulars of the chocolate.

    Which you then could put into cookies.

    Which I roast, throw in my melanger with just a little sugar, and 24 hours later pour out my homemade chocolate bars.

    One thing to know: raw cacao nibs are an excellent source of salmonella. Don’t. Make sure they’re roasted. John Nanci at that link gives you the option to have them be pre-roasted.

    In case that’s of any help.

    For us, it all started with buying the book by Dandelion for our daughter that we didn’t know was about making your own chocolate–we just knew it was by the owners of our daughter’s (and now our) favorite chocolate shop in San Francisco.

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