Healthy Christmas Baking
Brown Butter Cake with Cocoa
This impressive-looking dessert takes only 15 minutes to throw together, making it a great last-minute dessert for entertaining. There's no need to pull out the stand mixer either. A whisk is all you'll need to mix ingredients. A good bit of salt enhances all the flavors here.
Salted Caramel Apple Pie
A quick homemade caramel sauce that’s folded into fresh apple slices and baked in a whole-grain crust takes this classic holiday pie to the next level. A hint of salt in the sauce intensifies the apple flavor and balances the sweetness. Apples contain a natural thickener called pectin; grating some of the fruit will ensure a gooey, cohesive mixture once baked. Crisp, sweet Fuji apples bake beautifully and will contrast the salty caramel. You can also use Cripps Pink or Honeycrisp apples.
Our 100% whole-grain pie shaves more than one-third of the sugar and calories off the classic, and it cuts saturated fat in half. Toasting the pecans intensifies their flavor and adds notes of caramel.
Eggnog Banana Bread
These whole-grain mini banana bread loaves are a great alternative to cupcakes, and much easier to package without a dome of messy frosting. If you don't have mini loaf pans, you can use 12 muffin cups lined with cupcake liners. For a kid-friendly drizzle, you can swap the alcohol for fresh orange juice.
Think of these tasty little tassies as your own personal pecan pie. They're both salty and sweet, with a hit of oaky bourbon. Whole-grain rye flour adds the perfect touch of sour to the shortbread-like crust, while toasted pecans do double duty in the crust and in the maple-splashed filling. As if that weren't enough to jingle your bell, we drizzle warm bittersweet chocolate over each bite to ensure maximum satisfaction.
Apple Spice Bundt Cake With Cider Glaze
Don’t be afraid to go 100% whole-grain with desserts; we use all spelt flour here with amazing results. The nutty flour boosts the taste of the butter, spices, and vanilla, unlike all-purpose flour, whose bland nature would dilute those flavors. Be sure to weigh the flour for accuracy; using too much will make the cake dry.
If you can’t decide between pecan and pumpkin pie, this dessert will give you a taste of both in one slice. A quick brown sugar–pecan streusel tops the pie after it bakes; the topping will set into a crunchy layer as the pie cools. Be sure to use a standard 9-inch pie plate rather than a deep-dish one to ensure an evenly baked crust.
Parsnip Spice Cake with Caramel Icing
We took a look at the original recipe published in 2003 and decided to update it with less sugar and more whole grains. Instead of boiling the parsnips, we roast them to concentrate their sweetness; this allows us to use less added sugar. We also switched from refined all-purpose flour to whole-wheat pastry flour, and simplified the format to a sheet cake. A few tweaks later, we had a moist, tender, tastier spice cake capped with an indulgent caramel-flavored cream cheese icing.
Molasses Crinkle Cookies
These soft, chewy, beautifully spiced gingerbread cookies look like they just took a romp in fresh snow—a holiday look that saves you the trouble of having to ice each one. A dual coat of granulated and powdered sugar will help the slightly sticky dough balls hold their shape and get that crinkled texture.
This nuanced, modern take on a holiday favorite calls on you to think outside the box when it comes to style and decoration – but tastes even more amazing than you would remember.
Iced Gingerbread Biscotti
For an elegant spin on a cookie cutter favorite, transform your gingerbread people into classy sticks of iced biscotti. With just the right amount of crunch, these are the perfect after-dinner snack that you should definitely dunk in a cup of coffee or hot cocoa. Be sure to let the cookie logs cool after the first bake so they slice cleanly and don't crumble.
Chocolate Yule Log
We've managed to transform naughty into nice with this rich dark-chocolate sponge cake filled with a delicate, yogurt-lightened whipped cream. We cut the amount of sugar in half, letting the intensity of the chocolate in the sponge cake shine—go ahead and splurge on a higher-quality bar. The thick, creamy texture of Greek yogurt complements the whipped cream quite perfectly, with a fraction of the sat fat and calories. Skip the powdered sugar dusting, and use fresh raspberries, mini pinecones, fresh pine needles, or even fresh mint to decorate. Add 1⁄4 teaspoon peppermint extract to the whipped cream filling for a cool, minty kick.
Fresh Gingerbread Squares
Teff flour is a soft, almost-fluffy whole-grain flour with an intense nuttiness that makes it excellent for baking. But the beauty of fresh gingerbread is finding the perfect texture—delicate yet dense—so we add a bit of hearty whole-wheat flour to give this treat a heftier, more winter-worthy base. Stout beers adds a pleasantly earthy bitterness that complements the molasses, fresh ginger, and cinnamon; any frothy leftovers will pair nicely with a still-warm baked square. If you don't have any stout on hand, simply use 1/4 cup additional buttermilk instead.
Spiced Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Glaze
Delicata squash is a great choice for dessert recipes. It is characterized by yellow flesh that tastes similar to sweet potatoes. Roasting it in this recipe intensifies the sweet flavor. If you can't find delicata, substitute butternut.
Iced Whole-Wheat Sugar Cookies
Whole-wheat flour adds a layer of complexity to these cookies that all-purpose flour can't achieve; the wheat in the whole grain actually enhances the flavors of butter and vanilla. Unlike classic royal icing, which starts with a pound of powdered sugar, we use just 1/2 cup and thicken it with Greek yogurt. Looking for festive colors without the chemicals? Try naturally colored sparkling sugars (such as those from India Tree), which use colorants derived from plants.
Modify the recipe for our Honey Whole-Wheat Pull-Apart Rolls by stirring in Asiago cheese and chopped rosemary. Substitute 1 tablespoon sugar for honey and reducing butter to 1 1/2 tablespoons. Add 1/4 cup grated Asiago cheese and 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary to milk mixture with butter, sugar, and eggs in step 1. Sprinkle 1 tablespoons grated Asiago over rolls before baking.
Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls
For those concerned about losing flavor when baking with whole-wheat flour, rest assured. Brown sugar sweetens the filling of this breakfast treat, and powdered sugar dissolves into a milky glaze that's drizzled over the top. Your mind might think you have something to feel guilty about after indulging in one of these.
Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes
We had the greatest success using a pan with 2 1/2-ounce cups, such as Chicago Metallic's 12-Well Mini Cheesecake Pan ($25). This pan has removable bottoms (similar to a tart pan) so that you simply push each cheesecake up to remove it. You can also bake them in a standard muffin tin; line it with foil liners for easier removal.
Red Velvet Beet Cupcakes
Elegant and rich, this supermoist pillow of chocolate cake gets its color and texture from the vibrant-red, naturally sweet beet. There’s nothing artificial about this dramatically hued holiday treat coated in a dense cloud of creamy white frosting. We purée the tender beet root with buttermilk and vanilla to create a luscious cream that not only adds a light, velvety texture to the cupcake but also allows us to use less sugar, oil, and butter in the batter, saving fat and hundreds of calories. You simply can’t “beet” it.
These traditional German Christmas cookies are made with chopped nuts, citrus, and a variety of warm spices, including the pepper that gives the cookies their name. Greenspan provides ingredient weights in grams, an approach we love because it's more precise than using ounces; a scale is key here.
Fudgy Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies
When a soft, fudgy cookie meets crunchy candy cane shards, it's a match made in heaven. These rich cookies pack all the signature flavors of the holidays into one glorious, minty cookie. Clocking in at a shy 101 calories, this is a dessert that your holiday guests will love, and it's one that you can feel good about serving them.
Tender almond cake surrounds a raspberry filling in this playful riff on classic linzer torte.
HOW TO DOUBLE UP: Double the muffin batter only if you have two (12-cup) pans. Alternate pans on the middle and top oven racks, and rotate halfway through baking. (You'll need to bake them an extra minute or two.) Ship these muffins without worry by dividing a batch between two large zip-top bags and cushioning them with tissue paper in a box.
Whole-Grain Apple Cake with Yogurt Cream
Apple cake has delicious versatility: It's a fall family favorite that not only satisfies that between-the-meal and post-dinner sweet spot but also works wonders in the wee hours of the morning with a warm cup of coffee.
There's no need to spend Christmas morning with your mixer; these orange-scented pinwheels freeze beautifully, reheat in just 25 minutes, and make your kitchen smell fantastic. Recruit little ones to help make the icing and spread over the rolls just before serving. To round out the morning meal, serve the rolls with a simple fruit salad and a frittata or soft-scrambled eggs.
To Freeze: Cool unfrosted rolls completely. Remove from baking dish; wrap together in foil. Wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze up to one month.
To Reheat: Remove plastic wrap. Bake in foil at 350°F for 25 minutes. Remove foil. Prepare icing as directed in step 7, halving the amount if icing just one pan.
Almond Coffee Cake Muffins
Tropical Gingerbread Cake
Skip the cookies or time-consuming houses this year and go straight for a sky high layer cake that has that same great, holiday-inspired spices of your favorite gingerbread recipe. For taller layers, use two (eight-inch) pans and bake just until a toothpick comes out clean. You can also swap the orange marmalade for lime or ginger preserves.
The peppermint candies should be coarsely crushed in a large zip-top plastic bag by lightly tapping them with a rolling pin or heavy skillet (a food processor would just pulverize them). You can substitute regular unsweetened cocoa powder in the cookies.
This aromatic, spice-filled gingerbread loaf cake is even more moist the next day, so it's well suited to make ahead for a bake sale.
Gingerbread Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
This spicy confection is topped with a rich cream cheese frosting. In place of a traditional lemon sauce, a dollop of Lemon Curd adds the finishing touch.
Lemon Sugar Cookies
The stark contrast between the sweet sugars and the tart lemon juice gives these cookies personality and bite. They're a great afternoon treat with coffee or tea.
Peppermint Ice Cream Cake
Why go out and buy an ice cream cake when you can make one? The peppermint ice cream makes this cake unique, and the crushed peppermints on top make for a pretty presentation. Surprise a friend on their birthday or bring this festive cake to a Christmas party.
Chai Carrot Pie
Staple spice-rack spices create all the depth of classic chai tea in this luscious, carrot-packed, whole-grain dessert. It's a cross between a play on pumpkin pie and carrot cake: The texture and flavor are reminiscent of the former, and the layers—cream cheese mixture on the bottom, spiced carrot filling on top—are inspired by the latter. To get a big head start, you can make and freeze the crust up to a week ahead. A combination of butter and shortening in the crust is ideal—butter for its rich flavor, and shortening to create a flaky texture. We recommend Earth Balance shortening (found with the other shortenings in large supermarkets or health-focused stores) because, unlike most other shortenings, it contains no trans fats.
Lemon Cheesecake Bars with Gingersnap Crust
Fresh ginger in the cookie crust really kicks up the flavor—yum!
Pomegranate-Orange Tart with Pistachio Shortbread Crust
A handful of blueberries boosts the color of the filling and deliver irresistible sweetness.
Nutty Carrot Flatbread
We were so inspired by the vegetable flatbread made by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl of greenkitchenstories.com, we decided to create our own hearty, seed- and nut-packed version. The gluten-free slices are perfect for sandwiches. Pop slices into the toaster oven for crispy edges. Or wrap in foil for soft, warm slices.
Chocolate-Dipped Whole-Wheat Matcha Shortbread
Yes, whole-wheat shortbread, every bit as buttery and flaky-short as traditional versions, but with way less saturated fat and all healthy whole-grain flour—plus a wonderfully earthy hit of matcha goodness. We do use some butter, but also replace half of it with low-sat-fat canola oil. If you’d like to get the look we created in this photo, gather up all the cookie crumbs after cutting the cookies, and sprinkle those crumbs onto still-wet chocolate.