12 Days of Giving, Day 9: Healthy Holiday Desserts

On Day 7 of this series I shared some healthy appetizers you could make for parties or even for at home, to help curb the temptation so many of us face over the holidays: overeating rich and sugary foods.

It should come as no surprise that I have a similar suggestion for desserts during this festive time of year: while I have zero problem with "indulging" a little here and there, you can massively impact how you'll feel at the end of the holiday season (not to mention during it) by slipping in a few healthy meals here and there.

The recipes below are great for a bait-and-switch with other holiday desserts because they're free from those ingredients that usually trip us up - refined sugar and gluten, for starters - but still taste absolutely delicious!

 Image: Joyous Health

Image: Joyous Health

Healthy Holiday Treat #1: Pumpkin Cookies from Joyous Health

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 cup almond meal (ground almonds / almond flour)
  • 2 scoops Genuine Health Gut Superfoods Powder or 2 more tbsp almond meal
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted*
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4-1/2 cup real maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Grease a cookie sheet or line one with parchment paper.

Combine all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and set aside.

Combine wet ingredients into a bowl.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients together. Let the batter sit for 5 minutes. This is an important step because the coconut flour needs time to absorb the moisture.

Place by small spoonful the batter onto cookie sheet.

Bake for 12-17 minutes. I used my convection oven setting and they were done at 12 minutes, but add 5 more minutes if you don't have a convection oven.

Let cool a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack because they will be soft. They freeze well and refrigerate them to keep longer.

 Image: Minimalist Baker

Image: Minimalist Baker

Healthy Holiday Treat #2: Caramel Apple Cheesecake Tart from Minimalist Baker

Ingredients - Filling

  • 3/4 cup coconut yogurt 
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 2-3 Tbsp maple syrup 
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp melted coconut oil 
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch sea salt

Ingredients - Crust

  • 1 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1 1/3 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp coconut sugar, plus more to taste
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 4-5 Tbsp coconut oil, melted 

Ingredients - Topping

  • 1 cup apples, baked or sautéed with coconut oil and cinnamon

Directions

Start by making preparations for filling. If making coconut yogurt, do so first. Otherwise, proceed with store-bought or sub coconut milk or cream (see note in instructions about extra lemon juice).

Next, soak your cashews in very hot water for 1 hour or 6-8 hours in cool water. Then drain and set aside. If using soaked cashews more than 1 hour after draining, cover and refrigerate for up to 4-5 hours (continuing the soak can make them mealy or too soft).

Meanwhile, prepare crust by preheating oven to 350 degrees F (176 C) and adding oats, almonds, sea salt, coconut sugar and maple syrup to a high-speed blender or food processor. Pulse into a fine meal. Then add coconut oil and and pulse until a crust "dough" forms that holds together when you squeeze it between your fingers. If it appears too dry, add more melted coconut oil 1 Tbsp (15 g) at at time and blend. I found 5 Tbsp (75 g) to be about right.

Line a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom (or sub a pie pan or 8x8-inch baking dish) with parchment paper. I did this by cutting out a circle that fit in the bottom of the pan and just reached the edges (if using an 8x8 dish, extend parchment paper up over the edges).

Then add the crust mixture to the pan and use your hands to spread it into an even layer, pushing the crust up to the edges of the pan so it contains the filling well. To achieve a uniform layer, cover a flat-bottom object (such as a drinking glass) with parchment paper and press down firmly.

Bake for 15 minutes. Then increase heat to 375 F (190 C) and bake for 5-8 minutes more or until the edges are golden brown and there is some browning on the surface. Remove from oven to cool for 5 minutes. Then carefully transfer to the freezer to chill.

Make filling by adding coconut yogurt, soaked and drained cashews, 2 Tbsp (30 ml) maple syrup, lemon juice, melted coconut oil, vanilla (optional), and sea salt. Blend on high until creamy and smooth. Then taste and adjust flavors as needed, adding more lemon for acidity, maple syrup for sweetness, or vanilla for intense vanilla flavor.

Remove cooled crust from the freezer and pour the filling onto it. Gently tap a few times to release any air bubbles. Then set back in the freezer (I set mine on a baking sheet to keep it flat) and freeze until firm to the touch - about 2-3 hours.

While this happens, prepare desired fruit topping. I went with a half batch (3-4 apples instead of 6-7) Cinnamon Baked Apples, but fresh fruit would also be lovely here. The important thing to remember is the apples (or any baked fruit) need to be cooled completely before being added to the top of the tart or it will melt.

To serve, make sure the tart has set out for at least 1 hour from the freezer so the filling is more the consistency of cheesecake. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator (freezing isn't necessary) for up to 4 days.

 Image: Oh She Glows

Image: Oh She Glows

Healthy Holiday Treat #3: Vegan Cinnamon Rolls from Oh She Glows

Ingredients

 

Ingredients:

For the yeast:

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) warm water
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) sugar
  • 1 packet (8 g) quick-rise instant dry yeast

For the dough:

  • 2 1/2 cups + 3 tablespoons (430 g) all-purpose white flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1/3 cup (67 g) vegan butter
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/3 cup (73 g) cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (6 g) fine sea salt

For the cinnamon sugar filling:

  • 1/2 cup (110 g) cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (10 g) cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) vegan butter, melted

For the pan sauce and frosting:

  • 1/4 cup (50 g) vegan butter, melted
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons (25 g) unpacked brown sugar or cane sugar
  • Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting

Directions

Set aside a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish.

For the yeast: In a small bowl, add the warm water. Make sure it’s not too hot; it should feel like warm bath water (approximately 110°F/45°C). Stir in the sugar until mostly dissolved. Now, stir in the yeast until dissolved. Set aside for about 6 to 7 minutes so the yeast can activate (it’ll look foamy when ready).

For the dough: Flour a working surface for later. Add 2 cups of flour into a large mixing bowl.

Melt 1/3 cup butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Remove the pot from the burner and stir in the almond milk, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt. The mixture should be lukewarm—if it’s any hotter let it cool off for a minute. Stir in all of the yeast mixture until just combined.

Pour the wet yeast mixture over the flour and stir with a large wooden spoon. Stop mixing once all of the flour is incorporated and it looks a bit like muffin batter, about 15 seconds.

Add in the remaining 1/2 cup and 3 tablespoons flour. Mix with a spoon for several seconds. Lightly oil your hands and roughly knead the mixture until it comes together into a shaggy, sticky dough. It’ll probably stick to your fingers (even with the oil), but that’s normal. Turn the dough out onto the floured surface.

Knead the dough for about 3 to 4 minutes until it’s no longer sticky to the touch; it should be smooth and elastic. While kneading, sprinkle on a small handful of flour whenever the dough becomes sticky to the touch. Don’t be afraid to add some flour; I probably use between 1/2 and 3/4 cup while kneading. Shape the dough into a ball.

Wash out the mixing bowl and dry it. Oil the bowl (I love to use a spray oil for ease) and place the ball of dough inside. Flip the dough around so it gets lightly coated in the oil. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the oven with the light on (or simply in a warm, draft-free area). Let the dough rise for 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the cinnamon sugar filling. In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon and set aside.

Make the pan sauce: In a small pot, melt 1/2 cup butter (you can use the unwashed pot from before). Remove half of the melted butter (eyeballing it is fine) and put it in another small bowl (this will be spread onto the rolled-out dough before adding the cinnamon sugar). With the scant 1/4 cup melted butter remaining in the pot, stir in the 2 1/2 tablespoons of brown sugar until combined (this is the pan sauce). Pour the pan sauce into a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish and spread it out.

After the first dough rise, re-flour your working surface and grab a rolling pin. Roll the dough into a large rectangle, approximately 20 by 14 inches.

With a pastry brush, spread the remaining melted butter onto the dough, covering the entire surface. Sprinkle on all of the cinnamon sugar filling, leaving a 1/2 inch around the edges without any sugar.

Grab the end of the dough (short side of rectangle) and roll it up, rolling as tightly as possible. Place it seam-side down once it’s rolled up. Use a serrated knife to slice 1 1/2 inch–thick rolls. You should have 10 to 12.

Grab your cut rolls and place into the prepared pan, cut-side down, a few inches apart from one another. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, place into the oven with the light on, and allow them to rise for 45 minutes.

After the second rise, remove the rolls from the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Remove the plastic wrap. Bake the rolls for 23 to 26 minutes at 350°F (180°C), until lightly golden in a few spots. Remove from oven and allow the rolls to cool for about 10 minutes.

Frost the rolls with the cream cheese frosting. Slide a butter knife around each cinnamon roll and lift it out. (Alternatively, you can pop them out first and frost each roll individually.) Serve immediately and enjoy!

If you have leftovers, you can wrap them up and chill them in the fridge for up to 48 hours. I like to reheat unfrosted rolls in the oven on a baking sheet for 5 minutes at 350°F (180°C). The oven returns them to their amazing gooey-soft state! Alternatively, you can freeze the cooled unfrosted rolls (wrap them in a layer of plastic wrap, followed by tinfoil) for a week or two. To reheat, simply unwrap and pop them frozen onto a baking sheet and into the oven for 10 to 12 minutes at 350°F (180°C) until warmed throughout. The edges get a bit crispy, and it’s oh so good!

Steph Bowen