Three Sugar-Free Holiday Treats

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
The finished sugar-free holiday treats: dough candy canes, molasses cookies, and a coffee cake wreath.

For just a moment, imagine that you’re here on our Nova
Scotia homestead. The fierce wind of a hard winter
snowstorm shakes our windows and batters the surf against
the ice-piled shore of the bay. But inside … ah,
inside our snug island cabin a crackling fire
keeps us cozy-warm and–best of all–bakes our
special, sugar-free holiday treats: three large, doughy
“candy canes,” a sweet-tooth-pleasing “Christmas wreath,”
and some zesty yuletide molasses cookies.

Old-Fashioned Molasses Cookies

We find all three of our Christmas confections
hard to resist, but the molasses cookies make for some
especially good eatin’. To “batch up” these crispy treats,
cream 1/2 cup of goose fat (use lard or some other
conventional shortening only if you have to!)
together with the same amount of butter, then beat in 1
teaspoon of ginger and 2 cups of molasses. Next, in a
separate container, combine 1/3 cup of hot tea with 2
teaspoons of baking soda, and alternately add this tea brew
and 4 1/2 cups of well-sifted flour to the creamed
mixture.

Chill this prepared dough for a bit, then roll it out to a 3/8″ thickness on a floured
board. Try cutting round cookies (the recipe yields around
42 crispy 2 1/2″ circles), or be creative and design
angels, “gingerbread” figures, birds, butterflies, stars,
bells, and other festive shapes. Bake your treats for 10 to
15 minutes in a 350°F oven (watch ’em close so they
don’t burn). After they cool, decorate the
finished fixin’s with raisins, nuts, or
a flavorful sugarless icing. (The last-mentioned spread can
be prepared by slowly adding 1/4 cup of honey and 1/2
teaspoon of vanilla or peppermint extract to an
already well-whipped egg white, and then continuing to
beat the entire mixture until it thickens.)

Dough Candy Canes

To cook up some large–and luscious–replacements
for those all-too-common striped holiday sugar sticks,
first let 1 3/4 cup of yogurt or sour cream heat up to room
temperature. Then place 2 tablespoons of yeast in 1/2 cup
of warm water. Allow the bread starter to “brew” for
five minutes while you stir together your yogurt, 1/4
cup of softened butter, 2 beaten eggs, and 1/4 cup of
honey. Next, add the readied “yeast juice” and 3 cups of
flour to the yogurt-based mixture and beat these
ingredients together until smooth. After that, mix in 1 cup
of bran flakes and another 3 cups (more or less) of
flour to produce a nice soft dough.

Knead the mass on a well-floured surface for eight minutes,
then place it in a greased bowl, flip it over (to
“lubricate” the entire surface), and cover the container.
Let your dough rise in a warm place until it
doubles in bulk. At that point, put the mix through a
second kneading and rising cycle, then knead the dough one
more time.

Divide the spongy blend into three
equal parts. Roll each segment out until into a thin 5″ X 16″ rectangular “loaf” and place them on greased cookie sheets. Spread one cup of dried
fruit (apricots, cherries, dates, raisins, currants, etc.)
on each rectangle, fold ’em over and pinch their sides
together to form long rolls, and flip ’em so their “seams”
are on the bottom.

Now cut small stripelike diagonal slits one inch
apart down each roll, stretch each doughy log out to
a 22″ length, and shape it like a candy cane (or “draw”
someone’s initial). Bake the three confections for 15 to 20
minutes at 375° F, brush their tops with butter, then
cool the canes and decorate them with sugarless icing and
nuts.

A Christmas Coffee Cake Wreath

You can concoct the dough for this last treat by following
the candy cane recipe, but make the following changes:
Use one less teaspoon of salt–as well as one less cup
of flour–and substitute a cup of previously scalded,
room-temperature milk for the yogurt. Then, once your dough
has been kneaded for the third time, all you have to do is
braid it into a Christmas wreath (or shape a tree, or a
Star of David). Coat the goodie with a simple fruit glaze
(made by combining 4 to 5 tablespoons of fruit purée
or jelly with one well-beaten egg), bake this Christmas
coffee cake at 400° F for 25 minutes, and decorate the
sweet with fruit and nuts.

Peace and Contentment

By now all our pastries have been cooked to perfection.
We’re sitting with our stocking feet propped on the open
oven door drinking cups of hot milk and honey and
gobbling down our homemade treats. The storm has ended:
Fresh, unbroken snow coats the countryside, and we’re all
planning to get outdoors to explore our “new” winter
landscape.

Yessir, we’re just about ready to get all bundled up and
trudge out into that crisp, invigorating December air. In
fact, we’re definitely going to trek outside, just
as soon as … as soon as…. Say hon, could you pass
me another cookie?