Category: Snack

Healthy Holiday Gingerbread Cookies

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Healthy Holiday Gingerbread // My New Roots

Hey guys. Remember how I like pretending that baking is easy? Well, I’ve done it again!

I actually wanted to make a gingerbread recipe last year. I even went out and bought a cute set of cookie cutters for the occasion as soon as they appeared in the stores. Let me just preface this by saying, this was at the very end of my pregnancy and pre-baby. Bahahaaa! How I thought that I would have time, energy, or sanity after giving birth to make cookies is beyond me, but I can at least laugh at my extraordinary naiveté.

So, fast-forward to the present moment: my mental wherewithal mostly in tact after the first 12 months of motherhood, and the desire to be involved in some kind of holiday tradition tugging at my heart strings. I was actually so excited to make gingerbread, once and for all, and blog about how easy it was.

If you follow me on Instagram, you will recall a certain Michelin-man-shaped gingerbread puddle that I posted last week. Yea. Like I said, I forgot that baking is not easy when you’re silly enough to invent recipes of which you have zero experience, under crushing time pressure. Okay, well, no big deal. Roll up my sleeves and start again, right? To rectify the poofing, I decided to eliminate the baking soda, baking powder and all liquid. Genius! Instead of a puffed up puddle, the cookies were rock hard and greasy.
Gingerbread: 2, Sarah B: 0.

At this point, in a frustrated frenzy, my husband chimed in for the pep talk. “Hun, you know that this happens every time you bake. It’s science! And you’re bad at science (I’m paraphrasing). Just give it one more try and I bet you’ll nail it, because in the end you always do” (he forgot about the carrot cake debacle, bless his heart). So this morning began in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up, and ready to face this worthy opponent with a veritable village of gingerbread casualties in my wake.
Except this time, I won.

Healthy Holiday Gingerbread // My New Roots

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Molasses
Isn’t it ironic that the waste product of manufacturing white sugar, is a nutrient-rich, low-glycemic syrup? I’m talking about molasses. That gooey, rich, unmistakably black-brown nectar with a rather divisive flavour.

There are a few varieties of molasses, but to understand how they vary, let’s first look at how molasses is made.

Molasses is created from either sugarcane or sugar beets (but because the molasses made from beets can be quite bitter, sugarcane molasses is the most common variety available for human consumption). These plants are harvested, and then cut, crushed, and mashed so that the juice is extracted. “Fancy Molasses” is the first product to be made, but is in fact the only type of molasses that is not a by-product of sugar processing, but instead a direct product from sugar cane. This type is super sweet and is most commonly enjoyed as the syrup straight on pancakes or waffles, and as an ingredient in baked goods.

Varieties of Molasses
The real deal molasses comes from boiling the juice of sugar cane down to crystallize the sugars, producing a concentrate, the first of which is called First Molasses, First Strike Molasses, Barbados Molasses, Light Molasses, Mild Molasses, or Sweet Molasses. This comes from the first boiling of the sugar. It is light in colour and mild in flavour. Some people also enjoy this type directly on their food, like fancy molasses. It is about 65% sucrose.

Next up is Second Molasses, Second Strike Molasses, Dark Molasses, or Full Molasses. As you may have guessed, this is made from the second boiling of the extracted cane juice, a process that extracts even more sugar, producing a darker, thicker syrup typically used as a cooking ingredient in sauces, marinades and baked beans. It is about 60% sucrose.

Blackstrap molasses is likely the one all you health foodies out there know and love. This type of molasses is made by boiling the cane syrup a third time, which extracts even more sugar and concentrates the flavour. By this point, the sucrose content is so low (about 55%) that the syrup no longer tastes sweet, but slightly bitter. The colour is nearly black, and the consistency is very thick and viscous. Blackstrap molasses is used in baking, sauces, stews and even as a food supplement due to its high nutrient content.

Nutritious and Delicious
Blackstrap molasses is highly concentrated in essential minerals, such as iron, calcium, selenium, manganese, potassium, copper, and zinc. As I mentioned above, this type of molasses is sometimes used as a dietary supplement or tonic. One tablespoon stirred into warm water is a food-based way to boost mineral levels, especially iron, as this small amount contains a whopping 20% of your RDI. You can also enjoy it in foods such as smoothies, tea, warm cereal, or dressings, sauces and stews. Remember to eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C to enhance its absorption. I like to use a little lemon juice.

Blackstrap molasses is one of the few sweeteners that is low on the glycemic scale with an index classification of 55. This means that it metabolizes slowly in a controlled way, demands less insulin production and won’t cause a spike in blood glucose levels. All in all, blackstrap molasses is a fantastic, healthy sweetener to which I enthusiastically give a thumbs up!

Buying and Storing
When purchasing molasses, read the label to ensure that what you are buying is 100% pure molasses (some companies will cut blackstrap molasses with corn syrup to make it sweeter) and that it is “unsulfured”. Sulfur dioxide can be added to all grades of molasses to help preserve it, as it prevents the growth of bacteria and mould. From a health perspective, sulfur can cause reactions in sensitive people (you can read more about that here). Sulfur dioxide also has a very bitter flavour, and can drastically alter the flavour of the dish you are making. Look for organic molasses whenever possible too.

Store unopened molasses in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Opened containers must be stored in the fridge and will last for up to six months.

Healthy Holiday Gingerbread // My New Roots

So this gingerbread, this is really it. It’s deeply spiced, perfectly balanced in sweet and salt, and super addictive. I love the special flavour and richness that molasses brings to the cookies as well. It’s a must-have component of this recipe for sure, and should not be substituted with other sweeteners due to its properties in the baking itself. The cookies are totally vegan (!!!), made with whole spelt flour and natural sweeteners. But the coolest part of this recipe? If you like a chewy cookies, bake them for 7 minutes, and if you like a crispier version, bake it for 10. Science! I tried two versions with this batch of cookies, and although I prefer the chewy ones, my husband really likes the crunch of the longer-baked variety.

I am really, really proud of my gingerbread, especially after persevering through three rounds of total uncertainty and insanity. Although the first two recipes, according to some were “just fine”, I couldn’t post a recipe here on My New Roots that is just fine. Never! I want everything I put out into the world to be my best, and this, I am so pleased to say, (finally) qualifies. Whew.

Healthy Holiday Gingerbread // My New Roots
As I was very anxiously waiting for this last trial to bake, I whipped up a Cashew-Cacao Butter Icing to decorate the little guys with (I got it on the first try too!). As I was making it however, I used honey to sweeten it, and then promptly delivered myself a swift forehead slap realizing that the rest of the cookie recipe was vegan! Argh. So, if you don’t want to use honey to sweeten this icing, I am confident that maple syrup or coconut nectar would work in its place. I haven’t tried making this recipe in a regular blender, only a Vitamix, so I know that the icing consistency may be a little grainy if you don’t use a high-powered machine.

Healthy Holiday Gingerbread // My New Roots

For those of you living in Copenhagen, I’ve only found one shop that carries molasses and it’s the Super Brugsen on Nørrebrogade. I know at least one of you is going to ask!

And finally, I want to say a HUGE Happy Holidays to everyone out there. I hope that your days are filled with wonder and delight, family and friends, and above all, delicious food. I can’t help myself – it’s what I live for!

All love and sparkling winter holidays,
Sarah B.

Show me your gingerbread on Instagram: #MNRgingerbread

Grilled Pumpkin Bread with Honeycomb

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pumpkinbread
 
There are so many unexpected things I’ve gotten from blogging. Big and small things. A cookbook. A reason to use designer muffin cups. A community. A career. New friends. Offers to try a new line of microalgae.

But my favourite things however, are those that involve super passionate people wanting to share their awesome, healthy, and often geeky fervor with me. I’m all in! Recently, I received an email from Oliver Maxwell, the founder of Bybi (translation: City Bee), which is an urban beekeeping collective here in Copenhagen. As a blog reader, Oliver was keenly aware of just how much I love bees and the things that they make, so he was kind enough to invite me out to his operation to see how this incredible grassroots company works. And meet the bees, of course.

After a full tour, thorough honey tasting and hive visit, Oliver offered me what I can only describe as the holy grail of all bee things: honeycomb. And not just a chunk of the stuff, but an entire hive frame of it! Um, okay, really? I almost kissed him. But my husband was there too and that would have been awkward.

I carried the frame of honeycomb home cradling it like a baby. I could see the paper bag that Oliver had put it into beginning to darken in spots where the honey was oozing and pooling. My heart raced. These are the things I live for.

Grilled Pumpkin Bread with Honeycomb // My New Roots
 
Bursting with excitement and trepidation as to how I would put this delicacy to due use, I scurried home, took the honeycomb out of the bag and stared at it, praying it would reveal a grand plan for itself. But nothing came. Nothing. And all I wanted to do was dive face first into the thing, devouring it all in an animal-like frenzy just because I could, but instead I gently put it down and walked away.

A few weeks went by. Still nothing. And I remembered asking Oliver before I left how long the honeycomb would keep. He looked at me quite seriously and replied “not forever”. What does that even mean?! I could hear his words echoing in my head like a cautionary character in a horror film. The pressure continued to build to an almost crushing weight. I had to do something.

And then, as if by magic, Yotam Ottolenghi’s newest book, Plenty More, arrived on my doorstep, a gift from my publisher. Gleefully absorbed in the rapturous inspiration of pure genius, all thoughts of my self-imposed assignment drifted away. Until I hit page 319. There it was, like a beacon in the blackest of nights, the recipe title: Grilled Banana Bread with Tahini and Honeycomb. HONEYCOMB. I was saved.

Thoughts turned to alternative loaves (I couldn’t flat-out copy Ottolenghi!) and pumpkin was the seasonal flavour I excitedly committed to. I took my classic banana bread recipe, tweaked it ever-so-slightly and came up with what you have in front of you today. The loaf itself is moist, flavourful, and so very pumpkin-y, punctuated with warming spices, crunchy walnuts and dark chocolate. It is not overly sweet like so many other recipes and commercial versions of pumpkin bread I’ve tried, and I did this on purpose: if you do serve it with honeycomb, it’s important to have a little contrast, you know? The pumpkin loaf recipe is vegan, but of course the honeycomb is not. If you are vegan, or honey just isn’t your thing, the bread is delicious with date syrup, jam, or apple butter. You can grill it (highly recommended) or choose to eat it fresh – both are fantastic! But when using honeycomb, it’s a treat to have the wax melt just a little bit on the warm bread, and the honey sink into the cozy nooks and crannies of the loaf. Guh. Then you sprinkle the whole thing with flaky sea salt and devour. It’s a serious, loss-for-words kind of situation (which is convenient because your mouth will be very, very full).

Grilled Pumpkin Bread with Honeycomb // My New Roots

 
Bee Mine, Sweet Honeycomb
Honey is made by female honeybees that collect nectar from flowers, mix it with enzymes and regurgitate it (yum!) into honeycomb cells. Once the water content of this concoction reduces to less than 20% (the bees beat their wings in the hive to help evaporation, wowzers!) it is considered honey. The bees then put a seal on each cell and it is stored for times when they need food, like the winter. Kept this way, honey, will in essence, last forever – this is why it is considered the only food on planet earth that never spoils.

Honeycomb is altogether miraculous. To behold its sheer geometrical perfection is like a religious experience, and to see evidence of the deep, clear intelligence that built such a structure is humbling. It is altogether delicate and strong, housing the clear, liquid gold inside each of its cells so perfectly. Made of natural wax that the female bees excrete, it is built into the ingenious, space-saving, hexagonal cells that contain their larvae, store pollen and honey. The wax itself is totally edible, but some folks like to chew it up and spit it out after they’ve gotten all the honey out of it. The flavour of the wax depends greatly on the flowers the bees were collecting nectar from, but for the most part it is mildly sweet and mellow-tasting.

Grilled Pumpkin Bread with Honeycomb // My New Roots
 
The wonderful thing about purchasing honeycomb is that you know the honey is raw, unpasteurized, unclarified, unfiltered, and real. Nothing has been done to it. It is loaded with all the things that make honey good for us, like enzymes, propolis, and all of its antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties. It may surprise you to learn that most of the commercial honey available in the grocery store has been pasteurized and ultra-filtered, rendering it rather ineffectual. It is also important to check the label on your honey, as some brands cut their product with less expensive high-fructose corn syrup and other processed sweeteners. Like with so many foods these days, purchasing locally from a reliable source is the only way to ensure a clean and totally natural product.

Look for honeycomb at farmers markets and natural food stores. Late summer and autumn are usually when farmers harvest their honey so it will be freshest at this time of year. If you purchase fresh honeycomb in plastic, transfer it to a sealable glass container when you get home. Store in a dark place at room temperature.

Grilled Pumpkin Bread with Honeycomb // My New Roots
 


Grilled Pumpkin Bread with Honeycomb // My New Roots


 

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Hey friends! Check out the article I wrote about Copenhagen’s greenest hot spots on Melting Butter and Forbes.

There are also some albums from the Amsterdam events up on my Facebook page. Thank you again to everyone who came out!

Blackberry Hazelnut Crumble Bars

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Blackberry Hazelnut Crumble Bars | My New Roots
 
I am writing this on the very first day of autumn. Copenhagen has welcomed this season with classically crisp air and blindingly bright sun. People are stretched out along the banks of the harbour in the afternoon light, soaking in what will be the last blows of summer’s fight. Ugh. Can you feel it?

Last week my family and I were out at our garden. On the cycle back home we stopped by the blackberry bramble that has overtaken a major section of the vacant land nearby. It towers over me, and extends along the bike path for half a block or more, an impenetrable wall of thorns and fruit. Happily there were a few berries left, just enough to pick for a dessert and a handful to snack on with my boys. Languishing in the last morsels of hot sun we felt the seasons shifting ever-so-slightly and celebrated with the ripest and blackest of berries, like summer captured in edible jewels.

Blackberry Hazelnut Crumble Bars | My New Roots
 
But I got the berries home and suddenly I felt a lot of pressure. Kind of like when you impulse-buy those crazy-looking mushrooms at the farmer’s market and worry that whatever you’re going to be making isn’t “special enough” so you let them sit in your fridge too long until they go bad. Forehead slap. That was not going to happen to my berries. No way. Here was my thought process:
Sarah B, relax.
You like blackberries.
You like crumble.
You make too many crumbles.
You don’t make too many bars.
Crumble bars.
What’s a crumble bar?
Stop asking questions. Let’s do this.

Blackberry Hazelnut Crumble Bars | My New Roots
 
I proceeded in the best way I knew how, by browsing the internet for ideas. It turns out crumble bars do exist, but I couldn’t find any versions that were all that virtuous. Subbing this for that while keeping things as simple as possible, I came up with an edition that is made with whole foods, totally vegan, and easily made gluten-free. The crust is light and flaky, the filling is rich and bursting with juicy flavours and the crumble topping is crunchy and satisfying. Although I use hazelnuts in mine, you could substitute those with almonds – just leave a few of them really big because biting into a large toasted nut is delicious, especially combined with the oozy and sweet fruit center. Heavenly.
Next year I am definitely going to try these bars with black currants in the early summer months, and maybe raspberries later on.

Blackberry Hazelnut Crumble Bars | My New Roots
 
Freezing and Cooking: How do they affect nutrients?

Pssst. I have a secret. Sometimes in the off-season, I do something totally crazy. I buy frozen berries.

What is a nutritionist such as myself doing purchasing and even recommending frozen foods to people? For one, I live in Denmark where the availability of fresh food is pretty sad in the winter, obviously. And second I’m a person that does things like everyone else, such as relying on conveniences when need be. I’m okay with that.

But what kind of affect does freezing have on foods, say blackberries for instance? You’d be surprised, and likely thrilled to learn, that freezing does not completely spoil the vitamins and minerals in food. In fact, you’re looking at a mere 10-15% nutrient loss across the board. Vitamin C is the one vitamin that is most likely to dissipate, as once the fruit or veggie has been plucked from its source, vitamin C levels start to decline almost immediately. Luckily, vitamin C is the single more common and easily obtained vitamin in nature, and you can make up for that loss somewhere else in your day.

Blackberry Hazelnut Crumble Bars | My New Roots
 
And what about cooking? This is a little more complicated, as it varies according to the specific nutrient in question and the type of cooking method. Fat soluble vitamins (D, E, K) are not destroyed by heat alone, and vitamin A is relatively stable. The B-vitamins are also heat stable, except for panthotenic acid (B5). Folate breaks down at very high temperatures. Vitamin C is the nutrient that takes the biggest hit by far, as it is one of the most delicate vitamins in nature. It is not only destroyed by heat, but also exposure to air and light. It is also water-soluble, meaning that steaming something containing vitamin C will be surely destroy it.

As a general rule, minerals are very heat stable, especially when using cooking methods that do not employ water, like roasting or baking – there is almost no loss whatsoever.

If you are steaming, boiling, braising, or blanching foods, both vitamins and minerals will leach out into the water. To preserve these precious nutrients, save the broth to drink, or freeze it for later use in a soup or stew. I use it to puree my baby’s food. He’ll never know his millet porridge was cooked with broccoli water!

Since this blog is read the world over, there will of course be a few of you out there who can’t get themselves to a blackberry bramble, simply because it isn’t the right season. No worries. Find a grocer with organic frozen blackberries and go to town. You should not wait to make these. Seriously.

Blackberry Hazelnut Crumble Bars | My New Roots