Here it is: a recipe that’s been years in the making. Each holiday season, Alex and I try to create “healthier” takes on our favorite cookies, and gingerbread men have been on our list for at least 4 years, mainly because of nostalgia.
Growing up outside of Minneapolis, my family used to take my sister and me to a Dayton’s holiday display at Christmas, a life-sized department store window display filled with animated characters from stories like Pinocchio or the Velveteen Rabbit. We would wait for hours to walk through, my sister and I waiting in expectation for the end so we could have a huge, soft gingerbread cookie.
Ever since then I’ve been on a quest for the perfect soft gingerbread cookie: spicy, soft, and gooey. And I think (*hope*) we’ve finally got it! Since our recipes focus on healthy eating, we’ve also tried to keep these cookies a bit healthier than the standard: we’ve used almond butter to replace most of the butter, and thrown in some wheat flour a few extra nutrients. A bit of apple sauce helps keep them soft, and they’re finished with turbinado sugar instead of icing, which is a more “natural” sugar (plus it’s much easier than icing!).
We’ve found throughout the years that healthy cookies are – well, just not that good. Healthy cookies taste weird and leave you wanting someting more. But “healthier” cookies – while they’re not quite as healthy, they’re completely delicious and satisfying.
Some of our tips for “healthier” Christmas cookies:
- Cookies do need fat, typically butter, to create that cookie-like texture. Omitting or replacing all the fat (with a substitute like apple sauce) usually lends for a cake-like texture, which is not altogether satisfying for a cookie. A good alternative is almond butter, which we’ve used in these gingerbread men: it’s a natural fat with plenty of nutrients and protein. We combined it with a small amount of butter, as well as a bit of applesauce to keep the cookies soft and moist, but not too much to become cake-y.
- Cookies do need sugar, either refined or natural. We love cooking with natural sugars like honey or maple syrup, but have found they change the taste of a cookie more than sugar. For this cookie, we used a combination of brown sugar and molasses, with turbinado sugar (a less processed sugar) as the garnish. Medjool dates can also be used to add natural sweetness (like in our healthy buckeyes), but we find dates work best in no-bake cookies, not baked goods.
- Baked cookies generally need a flour-like substance. Fat, sugar, and flour are generally frowned upon in the health food world, but if you want to make cookies, you’ve generally got to incorporate these ingredients. Alternatives include flourless cookies and using substitutes like oat flour. For these gingerbread cookies, we’ve used all-purpose flour with a bit of wheat flour for flavor and a small amount of health benefits. We’ve found that replacing white flour with up to 1/4 wheat flour in baked goods works well, but adding more than 1/4 wheat flour results in a dense, tough texture.
- Make smaller portion sizes. We love to make mini-desserts; they’re not only cute, but give you less of everything while still feeling satisfied.
Now, for some healthy cookie ideas! We’ve also teamed up with our friend Ashley over at Edible Perspective, who is a healthier cookie aficionado like ourselves. Here are a few of our combined ideas from our blogs:
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes – A Couple Cooks (gf / vegan)
- Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cranberry Clusters – A Couple Cooks (gf / vegan)
- Mint Chocolate Brownie Bites – A Couple Cooks (gf / vegan)
- Gingerbread Dough Truffles – A Couple Cooks (gf / vegan)
- Chocolate Chip Cookies with Pistachios – Edible Perspective (gf)
- Flourless Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies – Edible Perspective (gf)
- 1-Bowl Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies – Edible Perspective (gf/vegan)
- 1-Bowl Soft-Batch Pumpkin Spice Cookies – Edible Perspective (gf/vegan)
- Chocolate Dipped Buckeyes – Edible Perspective (gf/vegan)
- 1-Bowl Lemon Cornbread Cookies – Edible Perspective (gf/vegan)
We’d love to hear your ideas! **Bloggers out there: do you have healthier cookie recipes you love? Let us know in the comments and we will add them to our list.
We’ve also started a healthy Christmas cookies board on Pinterest.
- 1 egg
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup molasses
- ¼ cup almond butter
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons applesauce
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons allspice
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
- ½ cup wheat flour
- Turbinado sugar (for garnish)
- In a medium bowl, add 1 egg, ½ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup molasses, ¼ cup almond butter, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 2 tablespoons applesauce; vigorously whisk to thoroughly combine.
- To the wet ingredients, stir in 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 teaspoons allspice, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon baking soda, 1 ¼ cup all purpose four, and ½ cup wheat flour until well combined. Turn out onto plastic wrap and form into a rough ball; cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour, or overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Flour a flat surface and a rolling pin, then roll out the dough ¼-inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out gingerbread men, about 25-35 total. Place gingerbread men on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
- Bake about 8 minutes, until puffed and slightly firmed. Let rest on the pan for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Store covered at room temperature for several days or freeze for several months.