If the thought of holiday cookies already has you planning your diet for the new year, take a deep breath and remember that a cookie on its own is a relatively minor dietary sin (small and already portion controlled).
That's assuming, of course, that you eat just one or two.
But if you're setting out to bake a batch of cookies, says Jessie Price, food editor at EatingWell magazine, there are a few ways to make your favorites a little healthier.
Start by replacing up to half of the butter, margarine or shortening with heart-healthy oils, such as canola or olive oil. Price cautions, however, that cookies that use oil instead of butter can be crispier and dry out sooner, so be sure to store them in airtight containers.
Fruit purees, such as applesauce, pear butter, prune filling (found in the baking section of most grocers) and even canned pureed pumpkin also can be used to replace fat.
Using fruit in place of fat will result in a cakier or chewier texture, so it works well in naturally softer cookies, such as oatmeal. Whether using fruit or oil, Price says it's best to start with a small amount and experiment.
Price also points out that you can reduce the overall fat in a cookie recipe with some nontraditional ingredients, such as nonfat yogurt, buttermilk or even fruit juice, all of which will help keep baked goods moist.
Try using 1 to 4 tablespoons of any of these liquid ingredients to replace up to 4 tablespoons of butter or other solid fat.
These orange spice molasses cookies are one of the award-winning entries in EatingWell magazine's annual cookie contest. The festive flavor stands up to the whole-wheat flour, while applesauce keeps the cookies moist while reducing the fat.
Start to finish: 1 hour 25 minutes
Makes 40 cookies
For the rolling sugar:
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
For the cookie dough:
11⁄2 cups rolled oats
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1⁄3 cup granulated sugar
1⁄3 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1⁄2 cup light or dark molasses
7 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
11⁄2 teaspoons cinnamon
11⁄2 teaspoons ginger
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves
1⁄4 teaspoon allspice
1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
21⁄4 cups whole-wheat flour
Heat the oven to 375 F. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.
To prepare the rolling sugar: In a food processor, pulse the sugar and orange zest until well combined. Transfer to a shallow dish.
To prepare the cookie dough, in a blender, grind the oats until they are reduced to a fine powder, about 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the sides as needed. Set aside.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer on medium-high to beat together the butter and granulated sugar for 5 minutes. Add the brown sugar and orange zest, then beat for another 2 minutes.
Add the molasses, applesauce, egg yolk, vanilla, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, pepper and salt. Beat on medium-high until incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed.
Turn the mixer to medium and slowly add the ground oats. Scrape down the bowl. With the mixer on medium, slowly add whole-wheat flour. The dough will be moderately sticky.
Using a slightly rounded tablespoon of dough, roll into balls, then roll in the rolling sugar to coat. If necessary, wet your fingers to help roll without sticking. The zest will make the mixture slightly wet and it will clump. Lightly brush off any excess so that just a thin coat remains on the cookie. Place cookies about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.
Working in batches, bake the cookies until the edges are set and the tops are cracked, but the centers are still soft and puffy, about 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 8 minutes. Serve warm or transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Nutrition information per cookie (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 85 calories; 2 g fat (1 g saturated); 9 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber; 48 mg sodium.
Recipe from December 2009 issue of EatingWell magazine.