Trying to cut down on sugar but wondering how to indulge your sweet tooth? Holistic nutritionist Ricki Heller‘s cookbook, Sweet Freedom: Desserts You’ll Love Without Wheat, Eggs, Dairy or Refined Sugar, offers healthier options to fulfill all your dessert cravings.
Q: Can you explain the food philosophy behind your cookbook?
A: I eat and cook with foods that are whole, natural and as unprocessed as possible-that is, “real” foods. I find that food this way tastes the best, and it is definitely the healthiest way to eat. I try to use foods as close as possible to the state in which they occur in nature. In other words, a whole apple (with skin) is preferable to prepared apple sauce; cooked whole grain brown rice is preferable to white rice, which is preferable to rice flour, and so on. In baking, this principle translates to using whole grain flours (such as spelt, oat, barley) and natural sweeteners (such as pure maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, dates, and so on) along with other whole-foods ingredients. Many of my recipes include whole fruits for added sweetness and their vitamins, minerals and antioxidant properties; or perhaps some atypical ingredients such as avocado, tomato, or even spinach (hidden in muffins or cupcakes) because of the incredible health-promoting qualities they confer.
At the same time, I find there is no compromise on taste when cooking this way. As someone whose favourite course has always been dessert, I was determined that my treats would taste every bit as delicious as conventional ones. When I serve my goodies to friends who are used to a more typical North American diet and have no food restrictions, they don’t even realize they’re eating something “healthy!”
Q: Why did you decide to write this cookbook, and why did you think people would respond to it?
A: After changing my own diet over a decade ago and seeing the amazing health benefits, I decided to study holistic nutrition (at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition) and was inspired to teach others about healthy ways to eat. The cookbook was a natural outgrowth of my cooking classes and my organic bakery, Bake It Healthy, for which I developed most of the recipes. After I shut down the bakery, many of my customers asked me to continue catering custom baked goods. So I already knew that many parents wanted to provide healthier, whole grain and sugar-free options for their kids.
In addition, many of my customers were dealing with food restrictions such as lactose intolerance or allergies to eggs, or they had children with conditions (such as ADHD) that would benefit from a special diet and were unable to find quality baked goods that suited their restrictions. For these children, a custom birthday cake with no wheat, eggs, dairy or refined sugar (not even in the frosting), yet one that looked and tasted like a conventional birthday cake, was a unique gift I could provide to help them feel the same as all the other kids.
Q: What kinds of allergies or special dietary needs does your cookbook address?
A: Because all the recipes are made with natural and whole ingredients and are free of wheat, eggs, dairy and refined sugars, they are great for many types of food restrictions. Anyone who’s lactose intolerant, allergic to eggs or casein, or is looking for desserts free of artificial ingredients, chemicals, colorings or highly processed ingredients (such as children with ADHD or autism) can enjoy the recipes. In addition, the desserts are appropriate for vegans, people on kosher diets, or anyone seeking healthier, natural, whole foods desserts that taste great. About one third of the recipes are entirely gluten-free; many of the others are easily adaptable using all-purpose GF flours.
Q: Can you share a couple of your favourite recipes?
A: It would be my pleasure!
Butterscotch Blondies with Dried Tart Cherries (or Cranberries) and Chocolate Chips are a treat I like to serve to the skeptics who shy away from “health” food. These are chewy, with a light butterscotch flavour (which comes from the combination of maple syrup and brown rice syrup) and taste really decadent. They’re also a snap to make and freeze and travel well.
Another recipe that’s been a huge success are these Black Bean Brownies (one of the gluten-free recipes in the book). These are so good that my husband requests them even though he doesn’t have to avoid gluten. I love baking them in mini-muffin tins for my own “Two-Bite” brownie treats.