In Defense of Fat

This is a follow up to the previous post on keto-friendly Tomato Sauce.  In the process of developing and writing about the sauce from a higher fat, low carb perspective I realized my approach to fat has changed.

There was a time when fat was considered the enemy and popular nutrition made a shift away from fatty foods to no-fat, fat-free, and low fat alternatives. It took quite a while before we could accept that this wasn’t a solid nutritional solution and substituting fat for sugar or other chemical derivatives had its own problems. So I avoided fat as much as possible.

Somewhere along the line I finally grasped the concept that fat serves a purpose. I knew that fat made things taste better, but still held out, looking for ways to up my flavors without fat.  Then, I slowly and selectively eased unsaturated oils (and yes, butter) back into my cooking and noticed improved appearance, texture and flavor—in everything from salad dressing to cookies and cakes.

Fats serve many purposes. Current science tells us we need good fats for energy, that some vitamins and minerals actually need fat for the body to absorb and process them; that fatty acids can fight depression, improve eye care, and brain health.  Fats can improve blood cholesterol levels, protect our organs, and decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

It gets confusing when sorting out the good from the bad fats. Rule of thumb on daily intake: 20-35% of total calories. Other than manufactured trans fats, it’s all good in moderation. Moving from best to worst: monounsaturated fat (15-20% of daily calories), polyunsaturated fat (5-10%), saturated fat (less than 10%), trans fats (none).

Take tahini for instance.  It’s a nut butter made from sesame seeds that’s high in omega-6 fatty acid, a polyunsaturated fat.  (1 tablespoon has 89 calories, 3 grams protein, 3 grams carbs, 8 grams fat, 2 grams fiber.)

It is all relative.

Tahini is not an oil, but it is oil-rich and a fortress of nutritional value. It is loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins B and E, and minerals including copper, phosphorous, selenium, iron, zinc, calcium. It’s good for the blood, bones, and the body, plus it aids in fighting heart disease and cancer.  Call it pro-active.

Here’s a quirky example of a bar that turns a simple sweet into an nutritional powerhouse.

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

It’s built with bland white beans, rich in minerals including potassium, and fiber for structure. Tahini is included for nutty richness, fiber, and moisture.  Chocolate looks like a candidate for flavor, but we opt for a small amount of cocoa powder.  It’s all we need, we can utilize tahini’s flavorful oil base to enrich the cocoa and bring it fully alive.

The result: a moist, mysterious fiber-rich bar with all the charm of a light butterscotch-amped blondie laced with cocoa nuttiness for sex appeal. What’s not to love?

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

Ingredients
⅓ cup AP flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
15 oz can white beans, rinse & drain, @ 1 cup mashed
1 Tbsp butter
⅓ cup each brown and granulated sugar
½ cup tahini
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp demerara sugar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Line 8×8” pan with foil and spray well.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa power, baking powder and salt, set aside
  3. In 1 cup microwaveable measure, melt butter, stir in sugar, heat 30-60 seconds to melt. Transfer to mixing bowl and cool briefly.
  4. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  5. Meanwhile, mash beans well and set aside.
  6. Stir the tahini into the cooled butter/sugar mixture. Whisk in the eggs, then vanilla. Stir in the beans. Mix in the dry ingredients to lightly combine.
  7. Evenly spread batter into baking pan and sprinkle top with demerara sugar.
  8. Bake 20-30 minutes until set in center. Cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove foil and bars to rack and cool 10- 15 minute longer. Cut into bars; these should be light and moist but not gooey. Store lightly covered in fridge. Yield 12-16 bars

Mushroom Cookies, seriously

If you like playing with your food, here is one entertaining cookie.  I’ve made them several times now and find them totally irresistible, both to eat and to make.  Similar to a sand cookie, these pale small batch bites have a light flavor and texture—and yes, they visually resemble fresh mushrooms.

Mushroom Cookies

This version is inspired by Turkish Mushroom Cookies found at the resourceful blog, My Excellent Degustations.  This past spring I liked including a few as a charming surprise tucked amid a basket of assorted cookies.

The dough mixes up easily into a soft pliable dough. There is a simple trick to forming their quirky mushroom shape—one that kids of all ages can pull off.

First, locate a small glass beverage bottle with a screw top. Dip the bottle rim into water, then in cocoa powder, and gently punch into the center of a small round of dough. Remove the bottle and you will have created a freshly harvested mushroom, stem and all.

That’s it!  These are best when kept to under a 1” sized round as they will spread; a batch should yield 18 cookies. They hold very well when stored airtight.

Mushroom Cookies, Small Batch

Ingredients
¾ cup AP flour + 2 Tbsp
¼ cup + 3 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
¼ cup + 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
1½ tsp vanilla
½ cup water
1 Tbsp cocoa
Tools/Props: 1 small screw topped glass beverage bottle

Instructions
1.  Sift flour, cornstarch, and baking powder and set aside.
2.  Cream the butter and beat in the sugar until light, then the egg.
3.  Mix in half the dry ingredients; then mix in the vanilla. Add the remaining dry. It should form a soft smooth dough. If sticky chill for 20
minutes.
4.  Line 1-2 baking sheets with parchment. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll dough into 1” rounds, using rounded teaspoon, and set 1-2” apart; these will
expand.
5.  Place water and cocoa in 2 small bowls. Dip the rim of bottle in water and then in cocoa. Press the rim into each round to form the stem and mark
it with cocoa/dirt.  Repeat with all. Wipe the bottle top to form clean bond between cookies.
6.  Bake 14-18 minutes, until set but not colored. Cool on rack. Makes 18 cookies.

Holiday Bon Bons and Changing Times

There was a time when shipping was a reasonable part of the Christmas gifting equation.  I would create schedules for preparing, baking, wrapping, and shipping elaborate holiday gift baskets for friends and family. Often there was a theme; once everything was smoked: from cheeses, to sausages, salsas, jerky, and nuts.

As shipping rates escalated, packages got smaller. Now, I’ve pretty much abandoned the whole shipping idea. Instead I turn to Amazon Prime and send something obscure and generic—no doubt these gifts are appreciated just as much as previous crumbled cookies or the occasional exploding jar.

truffle-postThis year I really wanted to share my latest discovery of high flavored sweet treats made with raw (paleo approved) all natural ingredients featuring dried fruits, nuts, flavorings, and no additional sugar.

Of the two I made, I can’t decide whether I like the chocolate or the apricot more, but it doesn’t matter because they complement each other beautifully. The Raw Truffle Bites have high quality unsweetened cocoa powder, pulverized roasted hazelnuts and Deglet Noor dates, and rolled in cocoa powder. They are a bit like an adult Nutella nugget.

Their companion Apricot Almond Balls, are made with dried apricots flavored with grated lemon zest, pulverized almonds plus a few dates for sweetness, and then rolled in desiccated coconut for contrast. Use the best dried apricots you can find, the lemon zest really brings them to life and the almonds are the perfect counterpoint. You’ll find more on the apricots in my next post coming up.

Much like fine bon bons, I reasoned less is more here and the smaller quantities would certainly suffice. Thus, I settled on US Postal Service small flat rate boxes which meant in round numbers, 8.5”x5.5”x1.5” box/postage at $7.00 each; about as reasonable as it gets.

Marginally reminiscent of a candy box, it also meant that the box would likely hold only one layer deep.  After the complicated packaging of previous baskets this would be pretty straightforward; I was more concerned with the strength of the box to do its job.

The raw balls came together in a hurry and in no time I was filling individual candy cups. Next I strategically packed them in colorful beribboned cellophane bags along with gift ingredient labels. The packages were then snuggly bound in bubble wrap and slipped into their waiting boxes—no rattling or shifting here. According to all accounts they arrived safely and fairly unscathed.

Raw Truffle Bites

Inspired by Raw Brownie Bites at paleogrubs.com

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups roasted hazelnuts (walnuts or pecans) light chop
pinch of salt
1 cup pitted Deglet Noor dates (or other excellent quality), chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

  1. Add roasted hazelnuts and salt to food processor and process until nuts are finely ground.
  2. Add the dates, vanilla, and cocoa powder and process until mixture begins to come together. If necessary, add a couple drops of water at a time.
  3. Transfer the mixture into a bowl. Using a slightly rounded teaspoonful, roll with hands into small round balls and chill well. Roll in cocoa powder if desired. Yield: 17 – 20 truffles.

Note:  These are best eaten cold. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for about 1 week.

 

Ultimate Chocolate Cookie

Many of my friends have a perennial list of holiday cookies that they religiously prepare consisting of heritage recipes and family favorites.  They are tried and true treasures that everyone looks forward to receiving.

I have a few regulars, but I also like to throw in a little variation, too. Often there is some sort chocolate cookie, since an assortment is not complete without at least one, and I can never settle on one that completely thrills me.

That could have all changed this year.  In One Sweet Cookie, Tracey Zabar offers a Flourless Chocolate Cookie from Francois Payard Patisserie that speaks my language.

choc stack Granted, I’m probably one of the few who is not completely knocked out by chocolate.  For most folks, the more chocolate, the more intense, the better.  I have absolutely no problem with the delicious flavor and nuances of chocolate, it is that heart arresting wallop that most chocolate sweets seem to offer.

ice cream sandIf you had to categorize this cookie, I suspect it would fall close to a macaroon.  The beauty of Payard’s cookie is that it simply consists of  a few egg whites, dutched cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, a big hit of vanilla extract, and plenty of nuts.  With the addition of egg whites no further leavener is required. And much like an old-fashioned macaroon the whites are not beaten into a fluffy mass, they are simply stirred into the batter.  This recipe mixes up in a hurry!

The beauty of using cocoa powder is there is no melting or tempering of chocolate.  Dutched cocoa powder also produces a well flavored, darkly colored product.  In the dutching process much of the fat is removed and alkali is introduced to adjust resulting bitterness and acidity.  You get a big chocolate hit without the damage.

Thanks to the hefty amount of nuts (I substituted pecans for the suggested walnuts) the final cookie turns out rounded, very moist and chewy—much like a brownie.  I can’t imagine this cookie without the nuts.  I also reduced the humongous size of Zabar’s cookie to a manageable 2-1/2 to 3 inch cookie.  It is still a heavenly mouthful!

Flourless Chocolate Cookies

Inspired by Francois Payard Patisserie, from One Sweet Cookie, Tracey Zabar

Ingredients
1/2 cup + 3 Tbsp cocoa powder, Dutch-process, (I used Guittard)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 3/4 cups walnuts, toasted, roughly chopped (I used pecans)
4 large egg whites, room temperature
I Tbsp vanilla extract (I used 2 Tsp vanilla paste)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place racks in upper and bottom thirds of oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
  2. Combine cocoa, sugar, salt, and walnuts in bowl of electric mixer with paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed for 1 minute.
  3. With mixer running, slowly add the egg whites and vanilla.  Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes until it has slightly thickened.  Do not over mix, or it will thicken too much.
  4. Using 1 oz scoop or large tablespoon, scoop the batter onto the sheets to make 2-1/2 to 3″ rounded cookies, about 2″ apart.    If there is extra batter, wait until first batch is baked before scooping 2nd batch.
  5. Place cookies in oven and immediately lower temperature to 325 degrees.  Bake 10 minutes and rotate the sheets, bake an additional 8 to 10 minute until cracks begin to form on surface. Don’t over bake.  Carefully remove cookies with spatula onto baking rack to cool.  Yield: about 20, 2-1/2 to 3” cookies.