September 2008 archive

Holding on to Summer: Blueberry Muffins

The leaves are just starting to turn in North Carolina, with a bit of a chill in the air as the sun goes down. Being the Florida girl that I am, I dread the proposition of trading in my flip-flops for actual shoes, my cool button down shirts for unwieldy coats! Mid terms have passed, and school is in full swing. The local Whole Foods market has had berries on sale for the past few weeks, which I have been partaking in as often as possible. Berries are the food that epitomizes summer for me–not too sweet, with a lovely tartness and enough juice to quench your thirst. They are even better straight from the freezer, like miniature natural popsicles. I digress!

Snap up those last few boxes of fresh berries from your local market and toss them into a batch of these light, perfectly moist muffins. Simple ingredients and simple preparation yield a cross between a cupcake and a muffin that is gluten-free, sugar-free, and even dairy-free for all of your lactose- and casein-intolerant folks. The lemon flavor is very faint, just detectable enough to add some intrigue and complement the olive oil. The topping forms a crunchy crust over the tops. Just a word of warning: These are not your average “healthy” muffins, loaded with whole wheat flour (sugar), applesauce (sugar), bran (a processed waste product made of insoluble fiber), bananas (sugar), and other low fat ingredients yielding un-muffiny flavors. Nourish the body and the soul with these flavorful, nutrient-packed muffins, full of protein from the almonds, antioxidants from the berries, and a dash of omega-3s from the flax meal topping.

Take note of the key ingredient–olive oil, as the liquid fat in these muffins. Now don’t wrinkle your nose just yet! The fruitiness of extra virgin olive oil pairs so well with the citrus zest and lemon extract. I am the first person who would balk at the idea of olive oil coming anywhere near a perfectly good sweet treat. I loathe the stuff, and prefer to keep my distance from it 99% of the time. And yet, you really can’t use anything else in this recipe to get the same complexity of flavors. Tasting is believing!

You might notice that the muffins in the photographs have flat tops! Their perfect peaks fell because I piled the batter right up to the brim of my trusty silicone muffins cups, hoping for a massive meal-in-a-muffin. Bad idea! These mammoth muffins didn’t fluff up properly, and remained undercooked on the bottoms. Stick with the 12 dainty muffins the recipe is supposed to yield, and you will have fluffy, attractive breakfast pastries to go with your morning cup of a coffee.


Blueberry Crunch Top Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:
2 cups blanched almond flour
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cage-free organic eggs
1/2 cup erythritol or preferred sugar-free sweetener
1/2 teaspoon NuNaturals pure stevia extract
1 teaspoon lemon or vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup lite coconut milk (or half n’ half if you can use dairy)
1 cup blueberries or raspberries
oat flour, for dusting (optional)

For Crunch Topping (optional):
2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated shortening or unsalted butter
2 tablespoons coconut milk
1/2 cup blanched almond flour
2 tablespoons golden flax meal
2 tablespoons erythritol
1/4 teaspoon blackstrap molasses
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon stevia extract

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mash together the ingredients for the topping with a fork, then stick it in the freezer while you make the muffins. Whisk together wet ingredients plus the erythritol in one bowl. Stir together the dry ingredients in a different bowl. Add the wet to the dry ingredients, whisking until incorporated. Coat berries with a light dusting of oat flour (to keep them from sinking), and gently fold 3/4 of them into the batter. Fill muffin cups 3/4 of the way full, and sprinkle remaining berries over the tops. Pinch off bits of the cold topping, dropping them over the tops of the muffins. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Let cool until lukewarm, then turn muffins out of the silicone muffin cups (if using) so the tops are facing down. After completely cooled, store in baggies or tupperware with paper towels.

~3.5 grams net carbs per muffin (using bluberries)

Taking a Study Break with Chocolate Chip Cookies

UPDATE: I had a friend try these with Splenda, her preferred sweetener, and they turned out well. She said they could have been sweeter, but the sweetness level was just right for her taste.

Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I’m stressed, I bake. There’s something comforting about the mindless measuring, the systematic method of the steps, and of course, the instant gratification. Not that I’m too uptight this time of the semester. It’s just really nice to step away from my reading material a few moments for a sweet reward. Cookies fit the bill nicely!

After working and re-working this all natural sugar-free gluten-free chocolate chip cookie recipe, I am now satisfied with the results. Cookies without real sugars (including natural sugars–agave, honey, etc.) OR artificial sweeteners are a tough nut to crack! I really try to avoid both because of the metabolic response caused by sucrose and fructose (e.g. agave nectar!), as well as the artificial nature of manmade molecules such as Splenda. This may be an overly cautious approach, but being the science junkie that I am, stevia and erythritol seem like the safest options for now. If you like Splenda and other artificial sweeteners, and they help you to stay on your low carb plan, use ‘em. You’re likely healthier than you would otherwise be eating “real” sugar. You have find what works for you.

These fabulous cookies are flavorful, soft, and just sweet enough. The recipe was inspired by this wonderful basic cookie by Batspit at the Active Low Carber forum. If you can tolerate dairy, definitely use butter in this recipe for the most flavor. The slight cooling from the erythritol is not distracting, but “refreshing,” as my roommate and faithful tester phrased it in her lovely British accent. That was the problem with every cookie recipe I had tried before–the erythritol would make the pastry feel like a mint the minute it hit your tongue. Not very chocolate chip cookie-like. The key ingredient here is xanthan gum, so if you haven’t invested in a bag, do it now. I mean it! Grab your keys, drive to the health food store, and make a positive change in your life by buying this miraculous gluten replacer. It keeps the erythritol from causing its mischief, leaving you with a tray full of pleasantly sweet chocolate chip cookies instead of icy pucks.

Other reasons to buy xanthan gum: It thickens smoothies, ice cream, homemade salad dressings, keeps your gluten-free quickbreads from crumbling, and stabilizes whipped cream for longer term storage. A little bit of it goes a long way, so use a light hand or you’ll end up with barbeque sauce flavored pudding… not that I would know!

If you want to save time, pick up some 73% cacao chocolate disks from Whole Foods. I used El Rey’s Apamate Chocolate, but Dagoba makes a nice product as well. No, the chocolate isn’t super low carb, but you’re only using a touch of luxurious chocolate in these adorable drop cookies. Just remember that it’s not a healthy indulgence if you eat the whole batch at once! I recommend just baking these cookies as you’d like to eat them, both to aid in portion control and to experience them at their peak–warm from the oven. Like most gluten-free baked goods, you don’t want to wait around to indulge. A quick zap in the nuker can also restore these cookies to their former glory. Keep the dough in a ball in the fridge and pop a couple of cookies in the toaster oven when you need a sweet escape from the madness.

Flourless, sugar-free, dairy-free… flavor-FULL!
Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies, 2

BLOG PHOTOS choc chip cookies3

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 18 large cookies

Ingredients:
1/2 cup unsalted organic butter OR coconut oil
2 cage-free organic eggs
3/4 cup erythritol OR 1/2 cup preferred sugar-free sweetener
3 cups blanched almond flour (can replace 1 cup with unsweetened coconut)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon organic blackstrap molasses
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pure stevia extract (omit if you use Splenda)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (not necessary if you use Splenda)
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 heaping cup homemade chocolate chunks OR a chopped Lindt 70% cacao bar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Powder erythritol with sea salt in coffee grinder or magic bullet (use the flat blade). Melt butter or oil in mixing bowl with the microwave, using 15 second intervals. Whisk in eggs and vanilla. Whisk in erythritol, sea salt, stevia extract, and blackstrap molasses. Pulse coconut flakes into a powder in magic bullet, if desired. Mix the rest of the dry ingredients together and stir into wet ingredients, adding nuts and chocolate chunks after the dough comes together. Shape dough into balls and squish on an ungreased cookie sheet with the clean bottom of glass–these cookies will not spread. If you are making the drop cookies, omit the blackstrap molasses and press chocolate drops into the tops of your cookie dough rounds, smoothing the edges with your fingertips if they crack.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until barely brown on the bottom. You don’t want to overcook these and dry them out! Let cool completely on the cookie sheet without touching, then remove from the pan and store in an airtight tupperware container. Nuke in the microwave before consuming for maximum enjoyment and gooeyness! Serve with unsweetened almond milk, flavored with a touch of stevia.

~3 grams net carbs per big cookie (with homemade chocolate chunks included)

Dairy-Free Option: Use coconut oil or palm oil based shortening (shortening NOT recommended, as it doesn’t add any flavor) in place of butter. Use full fat coconut milk in place of the cream added to the chocolate chunks.

Dainty little drop cookies wearing cute chocolate buttons. Aren’t they adorable?
healthy-chocolate-chip-cookies

Sugar-Free Milk Chocolate Chunks (updated recipe HERE):

Ingredients:
1-3.5 oz 85% cacao chocolate bar (Lindt or Ghirardelli)
3 tablespoons erythritol, powdered
1/8 teaspoon pure stevia extract

Preparation:
chop chocolate bar and add powdered erythritol. Microwave for 30 seconds on HIGH and stir. Mixture will be clumpy. Heat for 15 more seconds and stir until chocolate is smooth. Microwave in 10 second intervals to melt completely if necessary. Stir in stevia and pour into a pan lined with parchment paper. Quick set in the freezer for 10 minutes. Chop into chunks and store in a zip top baggy.

BLOG PHOTOS choc chip cookie bite