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Recipe Hack: Lower-Sugar Christmas Treats!

One of the things I love about Christmas is the excuse to start baking and keep it up beyond what would otherwise be considered the bounds of reason. Although I love to cook family favorites for the holidays, I also love the excuse to be experimental and somewhat “fussy,” making the types of putzy things I never have time for during the rest of the year.

This past week, I experimented with a few new items while looking for some lower-sugar options for diabetic friends and family. I call this a “recipe hack”; cracking the chemistry of cooking to understand what gives a recipe its yum and consistency while also making it work for what you need. In this case, the need was less sugar! Sadly, all this hacking leaves me pressed for time to take and process pictures, but, since I modified existing recipes, please feel free to go admire the pictures on the recipes linked below! This is going to be a quick and dirty explanation, just to give you an idea of how you can play with recipes on your own to work with your guests’ needs and preferences.

First up: Savanna cheesecake bars by Paula Deen.

Yes, Paula is usually more known for decadent yumminess more than healthier options, and no, this isn’t a health food, but it does have several redeeming qualities over many other holiday baked goods. My version packed the cookie crust with pecans and whole grain flour, I used lower-fat Neufchatel cheese instead of cream cheese in the cheesecake part, and I slathered the completed bars with a homemade fresh cranberry glaze spiced with ginger and cinnamon. We love cheesecake, and I have a thing for fresh cranberries; this one was a big hit in the taste testings in our house.

You can see the recipe at the link above, which I won’t reprint out of respect for the copyright. What did I change in my version?

Crust: I used whole wheat flour, replaced the sugar with agave nectar, cut the butter down to half a stick, and added 1/2 c. of dried, unsweetened coconut.

Filling: I used Neufchatel instead of cream cheese, substituted 3/4 c. agave nectar for the cup of sugar, added 1 Tbsp of flour, and tossed in zest from an entire lemon along with the juice from 1/2 of it

Finally, for the topping, I cooked down a pile of cranberries along with pomegranate and orange juices, cinnamon, allspice, fresh ginger, nutmeg, and agave nectar to taste. It thickened up on its own like a champ. It holds up well in both the fridge and the freezer, making it a great bake-ahead option.

Next up was something truly “fussy”: peanut butter cups. Think coating little paper cups with melted chocolate. Basically, if it’s something I had any interest in doing regularly, I’d take the commenters’ advice on that recipe and invest in some squeezy bottles rather than trying to swizzle or paint the chocolate. Life is short.

I used this recipe as a base, making several modifications to make it lower-sugar.

For the chocolate shell, I melted together half semisweet and half bittersweet chocolate with butter instead of shortening. The filling was a different beast entirely than what was originally printed. I mixed 1/2 c. natural peanut butter with 2 Tbsp flax seed oil, 1 Tbsp powdered milk, 2 Tbsp brown rice syrup, 1/4 c. agave nectar, and 1/2 c. oats (which I ground into flour in the Vitamix before adding to the PB mixture) and 1/2 c. dried coconut (also flour-ized). I did not heat the filling at any point.

Verdict? For me, not worth the effort. I am not a woman with the constitution to paint tiny paper cups with chocolate. However, it’s a fun gift for a peanut butter-chocolate addict you want to treat, and the Unicyclist sure enjoyed these.

That’s all she wrote, folks. I must zoom on out of here–presents need to be wrapped and much else needs to be done! Have a wonderful rest of your week. If you have time, drop in and tell me in the comments what your own best holiday recipe hack has been!

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