There’s nothing more wonderful than a holiday cookie! Whether I’m participating in an exchange, baking up a few dozen to give as gifts, or the lucky recipient of a gift myself, cookies during the holidays are fantastic to give or get. But for those of us watching our diets (gluten, vegan, low-sugar and more), the cookie platter can leave little to offer.
Well, that changes today. Here’s a cookie redo. And, as with all my recipes, these taste great, don’t hint at being “good for you” and look terrific on the cookie platter. The cranberries swirl with the white dough to mimic the traditional candy cane.
Speaking of candy canes, did you know there are about 1.76 billion candy canes made each year for the holidays? Want to score some points with the little ones? Ask them: What do elves put on their candy canes? Answer: their tongues!
Getting back to the recipe, let me share the reasoning behind this particular blend of ingredients. The cream cheese is key; it helps add moisture to the dough. Removing sugar takes away calories but also a source of moisture that keeps cookies soft and chewy. Traditional sugar also contributes to that texture we love.
Sugar even changes a cookie’s color. Remember, if you put a torch on pure sugar, you get the amber-colored topping found on crème brulee.
So when I pulled the sugar from this recipe, I added cream cheese. Whatever you do, don’t use nonfat or reduced-fat cream cheese. It will make the cookies runny.
Also, fresh lemon zest is crucial in this mixture. I use a Microplane, a very sharp, small-holed grater that ensures I only zest the wonderful yellow outer portion of the skin and not the bitter white pith.
Lemon zest is filled with essential oils that provide not only incredible flavor but also a slew of health properties. A natural antioxidant with high levels of vitamin C, lemon brings out the tang of the cream cheese and the tartness of the cranberries. Most importantly, lemon balances the sweetness normally associated with cream cheese cookies.
And you know there’s nothing like cranberries. From Thanksgiving through the New Year, cranberries are readily available and add a ruby glow to this jewel of a cookie—a ruby glow reminiscent of a certain reindeer’s nose. These could just be the perfect cookie to leave out Christmas Eve.
Cranberry Lemon Cheesecake Cookies
(Gluten-free; can be vegan and egg-free too)
1 egg (or, to be egg-free, use 1 tablespoon ground
flax seed mixed with 2 tablespoons warm water)
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh (or frozen) cranberries
2/3 cup stevia
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 cup gluten free all-purpose baking mix flour
(I use Bob’s Red Mill)
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 ounces cream cheese (you can use dairy-free, but your results may vary)
Zest and 2 tablespoons juice of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream egg (or flax seed mixture), coconut oil, cream cheese and stevia in the mixer. Add flour, baking powder and salt until it is just mixed. Fold in the fruit.
Drop onto either a silicone pan liner or use parchment paper on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes until set.
Cool on a rack.
Chris Xaver, Ph.D., is a local TV and radio personality with three children and five grandchildren.