Christmas Cookies With Natural Sweeteners

Devoring sweets is tradition all through the holiday season. Rather than eat refined white sugar or high fructose corn syrup, why not try some favorite holiday treats made with natural sweeteners, such as unrefined cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, and agave?

I've found that these sweeteners taste even better than sugar or corn syrup.

Here's a basic recipe for a shortbread butter cookie that can me made into many variations. I have successfully made these using
* unrefined cane sugar (such as Sucanat or Rapadura) -- this is like brown sugar
* powdered unrefined cane sugar (sold as "organic" powedered sugar -- this is like white sugar
* agave nectar -- a good low-glycemic option
* rice syrup -- a personal favorite, subtly sweet with no extra flavor

SHORTBREAD BUTTER COOKIES

makes about 2 dozen 1-inch square cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup sweetener
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 2/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
small pinch of salt

1. Put butter out to soften. This could take 20-30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
3. In a mixing bowl, with a hand mixer, beat the soft butter until fluffy. This step is important to make the cookies light and crispy.
4. Add sweetener and vanilla and continue to beat until both are incorporated.
5. Add flour and salt slowly, mixing until a stiff batter is formed.
6. Put parchment paper or a silpat on the cookie sheet.
7. Flavor and cut as desired.
8. CHILL before baking. Cover the shortbread tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours or up to 4 days. If you don't chill, the shortbread will spread.
9. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned just around the edges. Thicker cookies need a little more time, very thin cookies need less.
10. Remove the cookies to cooling racks.

VARIATIONS:

* Roll out dough and use to make cutout cookies

* Add any extract and bits of nuts, citrus peel, dried fruits, coconut, chocolate chips

* Top with spices such as cinnamon sugar

* Sandwich any plain or flavored cookies together with fruit-sweetened jam, flavored cream cheese, nut butters...

* Place dough in parchment paper, roll into a cylinder, then chill and cut as refrigerator cookies. Edges can be rolled in nuts, coconut, etc.

* Add any desired ingredients and bake as bar cookies.

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About The Author, Debra Lynn Dadd
Hailed as "The Queen of Green" by the New York Times, Debra Lynn Dadd has been a leading consumer advocate for products and lifestyle choices that are better for health and the environment since 1982. For more recipes for holiday sweets using natural sweeteners, visit http://www.sweetsavvy.com/holidaysweets.php.