If you follow a special diet for health reasons such as food sensitivities or allergies or are committed to a healthier diet and lifestyle, there’s no need to sacrifice your favorite sweet indulgences. Holistic nutritionist Ricki Heller offers up more than 100 original, foolproof, delicious recipes, including her most requested and popular treats, in her excellent book, Sweet Freedom: Desserts You’ll Love without Wheat, Eggs, Dairy or Refined Sugar (172 pages, color photos, metric and standard measurements). This cookbook is a wonderful resource for anyone who loves sweets but wants healthier options. Highly recommended!
Rick Heller used to own a vegan organic bakery, Bake it Healthy. She decided to shift her focus and energy to write Sweet Freedom which has sold close to 1500 copies since she self-published it last June. Heller’s recipes are creative and offer up a wide variety of your favourite baked goods, including
muffins, quick breads, scones, cookies, bars, cakes, pies and no-bake treats. About 25% of the recipes are entirely gluten-free and she uses whole, natural ingredients without any additives, chemicals, colorings, or other artificial ingredients.
When I spoke with Ricki recently, she told me “I just love to play in the kitchen! When I was forced to change my diet for health reasons, I wasn’t willing to give up my favourite desserts just because I couldn’t use traditional ingredients any longer. I was determined to reproduce all my favourites without sacrificing taste.”
All the recipes are kosher and are appropriate for those with food sensitivities or allergies (e.g., lactose intolerance, allergy to casein, sensitivity to refined sugar), vegans, or for moms who want to make healthy, all-natural desserts for their families. Each recipe is accompanied by a symbol indicating for whom it is most appropriate (SF for soy-free, GF for gluten-free, CF for corn-free, etc.) Heller uses whole grain flours (spelt, kamut, barley flour), healthy fats, natural sweeteners such as agave nectar
or pure maple syrup, and fresh fruits and veggies. The book also includes an extensive chapter on alternative ingredients, substitutions and healthy replacements for common allergens like milk, eggs, wheat or sugar, which I found extremely well-presented and simple to understand.
For information about ordering Sweet Freedom or her cooking classes, which are being offered throughout the Greater Toronto Area, including the Prosserman Center, contact Ricki Heller at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 905-303-7589.
Here’s an excerpt adapted from Sweet Freedom that explains how to use agave nectar:
“Derived from the juice of the agave cactus, agave nectar has been used for centuries in South America and Mexico and is the basis for tequila. It’s 50% sweeter than sugar, yet has a very low glycemic index so it doesn’t cause the same spikes in blood glucose levels that sugar does. It’s available in health food stores, some bulk stores and in the natural food section of some supermarkets.
When substituting agave for sugar, start with 2/3 cup agave for each cup of sugar in the original recipe; if the result is too sweet for your taste, decrease to 1/2 cup next time. Because agave adds more liquid to the original recipe, also reduce any liquid ingredients by about 25%. If the original recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup milk, use 2/3 cup agave and only 3/4 cup milk (the rest of the recipe can stay the same).
If the original recipe doesn’t contain any liquid at all, then add 25% more dry ingredients to the original recipe. If the original recipe calls for 1 cup sugar and 1 cup flour but no other liquid, then use 2/3 cup agave and 1 1/4 cups flour (the rest of the recipe can remain the same).”
CHOCOLATE MYSTERY CUPCAKES
When Ricki Heller first started creating alternative baked goods, her zeal to include vegetables in every item led her to this recipe, originally a chocolate lava cake. To her delight, the cakes won a blog contest for favorite vegetable-based recipe! She prefers these as cupcakes with chocolate chips scattered throughout, as it’s important to cool the cakes to eliminate any trace of spinach flavor (promise)!
2 ounces fresh or frozen spinach (you may include the stems)
3 1/2 ounces grated zucchini, fresh or frozen (about 1 cup, unpacked)
1/4 cup plain or vanilla soy or almond milk
1/3 cup agave nectar, light or dark
1/8 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup sunflower or other light-tasting oil, preferably organic
1 Tbsp finely ground flax seeds
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp instant coffee substitute (or 1 tsp instant coffee)
1 cup light spelt flour
1/2 cup whole oat flour
1/3 cup dark cocoa powder (preferably not Dutch process)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 cup dairy free chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners, or spray with nonstick spray (or spray 24 mini muffin cups).
In a food processor or blender, blend the spinach and zucchini to a paste. Add the soymilk, agave nectar, maple syrup, oil, flax seeds, vinegar, vanilla and coffee substitute and process again until smooth. (There may be a few small flecks of spinach visible; this is fine).
In a large bowl, sift together the spelt flour, oat flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and top with the chips. Stir well to combine.
Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup measuring cup, fill the muffin cups about 3/4 full. Bake in preheated oven 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan about halfway through, until a tester inserted in a center cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
Note: Cool completely before sampling—the flavor changes as they cool, and any trace of veggies disappears in the cold cupcakes. Frost if desired. May be frozen.
COCOA NIBBLES (LA RAW BARS)
Ridiculously easy, these delicious and satisfying bites provide substantial amounts of calcium and magnesium. And they’re so much fresher and less expensive than store-bought raw bars!
1/2 cup raw natural almonds (with skin)
1 1/4 cups unsweetened dried dates, chopped (they should be soft)
2 Tbsp cocoa powder, preferably not Dutch process
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Optional add-ins (choose one or two): 6 fresh mint leaves, chopped; 1/4 to 1/2 tsp chili flakes; 1 Tbsp chopped candied ginger; 1 Tbsp raw cacao nibs; 2 tsp freshly grated orange zest; 1/2 tsp cinnamon; 1 to 2 tsp instant coffee substitute or instant coffee
In the bowl of a food processor, process the almonds, dates and cocoa until you have what looks like a fine meal (there should be no large pieces of almond visible). Sprinkle with the vanilla and any optional add-ins, if using, and continue to process until the mixture comes together in a ball that rolls around the walls of the processor bowl (this may take a while—5 to 10 minutes or so; stop occasionally to scrape the sides of the processor and push the mixture toward the blades).
The “dough” is ready when, if you pinch some and press it between your thumb and fingers, it sticks together readily and appears a bit shiny. (Sometimes, if the dates are too dry, this doesn’t happen easily. In that case, sprinkle up to 2 tsp of water along with the vanilla, and proceed as above). The
mixture should not be as soft as cookie dough, but more like clay in texture.
Place a clean piece of plastic wrap on the counter and turn the mixture onto it. Using your hands, form the mixture into a log about 8 inches long. Try to compress the mixture as much as possible so you have a very dense log. Wrap with plastic and roll the log one or two times, compressing it more with your hands, to squeeze out any air pockets. (Alternately, pat the mixture into an 8-inch loaf pan; press down as hard as you can to remove any air pockets, then cover with plastic.)
If you have a pressing need for chocolate, you can slice and eat the nibbles immediately. However, these are much better if they’ve been refrigerated first for at least 2 hours or overnight, as they firm up considerably and will attain an almost fudge-like texture when cold.
DARK AND DECADENT CHOCOLATE PATE
With heart-healthy flavonoids from the dark chocolate and monounsaturated fats from the avocado, this is a cholesterol-free indulgence that’s actually good for you!
Scant 1/2 cup packed avocado purée from a barely ripe avocado (about one small avocado)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Pinch fine sea salt
9 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa is best, but chocolate chips work, too), chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (remove any large pieces of pulp)
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
Line a miniature loaf pan about 6 x 3-inches with plastic wrap and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, whir the avocado purée, vanilla and salt. Set aside while you melt the chocolate.
In a heavy-bottomed pot set over the lowest heat possible, combine the chocolate, orange juice, and maple syrup. Stir constantly until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Immediately scrape the chocolate mixture into the food processor with the avocado, and blend again until perfectly smooth and glossy. Turn the mixture into the loaf pan and smooth the top.
Refrigerate, uncovered, until the top is firm and dry; then cover the top with more plastic wrap and refrigerate until the entire loaf is firm, 4 to 6 hours or overnight.
To unmold, remove plastic from the top of the loaf. Invert over a serving dish and remove the loaf pan, then carefully peel away the plastic. Serve in thin slices with fresh berries.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
May be frozen; defrost, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator overnight.