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Low-Carb Hamantaschen Without Artificial Sweeteners

Almond meal-based low-carb hamantaschen

The first batch didn't roll out so easily, but these coin-sized minis tasted pretty good. The next batch rolled out thinner and held together better for a larger cookie with a delicate crust.

Baked goods are a big part of Jewish holidays at this time of year. Purim, being celebrated this weekend, is the last big baking bash before Passover, and hamantaschen (named for the hat, ears or purse of Haman, the villain of the story of Esther) are the cookie of choice. But with a diabetic kid in the house, the usual prospect of baking them takes on a bitter edge.

Hamantaschen–in fact, most cookies–have enough grams of carbohydrate that just two medium-sized cookies contain about half of what she’s supposed to have in any given large meal, twice what’s recommended for a snack, and they don’t have enough fiber or protein to slow down the sugars and avoid a spike in blood glucose. In short, not high-quality nutrition (not that we expect cookies to be). A grownup would have trouble dealing with the prospect of leaving them alone when everyone else gets to have them, but a kid faced with Purim celebrations at school or synagogue is bound for a certain degree of heartbreak.

It’s made me rethink our whole attitude toward things like Girl Scout cookies (this is also the season for that), chips, M&Ms, in fact any casual snack food that gets handed out innocently at school (our current woe–apparently my daughter’s teacher does this kind of thing at least weekly). The snack habit–anytime, anywhere, any or no reason–has become so ingrained in daily life we hardly think about whether it’s appropriate or not. Certainly the handouts are happening more and more frequently in class than I remember when I was a kid–did teachers even hand out treats back then? Not in my elementary school. It’s especially hard for a kid to “just say no” (and we already know how well that advice works in other contexts) when everyone else is taking a cookie or some M&Ms as a reward for answering a question (can they even keep their minds on the subject)? And even worse when it’s the teacher handing them out, because the teacher’s supposed to know whether it’s ok to eat or not.

Maybe we shouldn’t be handing these things out so casually or so often? Because while most people can handle surprise extras like these, they’re probably not all that good for anyone to eat indiscriminately at just any time of day. If they’re spiking a diabetic kid’s blood sugar, you can be sure they’re doing the same thing to your kid’s blood sugar too, only his or her body is responding with extra insulin to cover it. We get to see the results directly every couple of hours with our daughter–complete with sudden attacks of giddiness or tears if things peak and crash too quickly. But the same kind of thing happens to some degree to a lot of kids who aren’t diabetic, and they probably get reprimanded for it. Probably happens to a lot of adults, too.

Still, it’s the holiday, and total deprivation from treats is not really my aim today. So I’ve been trying to figure out a revised recipe for hamantaschen with a more manageable carb count, and preferably one without artificial sweeteners since my kid is still a kid. And neither of us wants it to taste like chalk. Very important.

I start most years with Joan Nathan’s cookie-dough hamantaschen recipe from The Jewish Holiday Kitchen because it’s the best dough I’ve ever tasted for these, even though it’s pareve (non-dairy, non-meat) and doesn’t have butter or cream cheese or the like. It’s not too sweet or too dry, and it doesn’t look or taste chalky or pasty like some of the dead-white offerings at the Purim carnivals. It tastes like a pretty good cookie, and it works really well for rolling out.

Looking at the carb count breakdown for that recipe, at about 12-15 g each, it might not be so bad to do regular hamantaschen, but my daughter would need to eat one or at most two with something protein or fiber, and she’d need insulin for it, so she couldn’t just grab one in between the planned meals. Kind of a pain, no doubt about it.

I was hoping for something closer to carb-free so she could eat hers with impunity when everyone else is eating theirs. This year I scanned the web for low-carb hamantaschen recipes and found only one that made any sense at all, on an Orthodox-leaning web site for people with diabetic kids. It still used Splenda for sweetener, which I’d rather not do, and even then the author forgot to put up the carb count.

The one thing in that recipe that seemed like a good idea to me was to substitute almond meal for some or most of the flour. Almond meal has 5 g of carbohydrate per quarter-cup or 2o g/cup; flour has 22 g per quarter or 88 g/cup. Big difference! But the almond meal doesn’t hold together very well by itself for rolling out. To compensate, the recipe author threw in a lot of egg yolks–not a great option as far as I’m concerned. True, they don’t have carbs, but they do have a lot of cholesterol. Maybe it wouldn’t matter so much for a whole batch of cookies, but I decided to go a slightly different route and stick a bit closer to the Jewish Holiday Kitchen recipe that I know I like.

So I subbed in 2 cups of almond meal with 2/3 c flour, cut the sugar down a bit, and calculated again. Total carbs for the thicker hamantaschen: 166/36 =4.6 g/hamantaschen plus ~3 for whatever filling. About 7-8 g/cookie if you make 36. Well, not bad but not really the point of doing this either.

Unfortunately, even the diet jams with artificial sweeteners still have about the same carbs as the all-fruit spreads and low-sugar jams, so it’s not really all that worthwhile to substitute.

So then I decided to do what I sometimes do with the Joan Nathan recipe anyway–roll out thinner hamantaschen, at about 45-50 in the batch. The regular dough rolls out very well at 1/8″ or a bit less and holds together nicely for hamantaschen with a thin crust at about 2-3″ diameter. Maybe the revised dough would too? It would give us 4 g per cookie filled. My daughter could have three for the price of one regular thick-crusted one.

The almond dough, even well chilled, didn’t roll out or hold together nearly well enough on my first try to make a 2-3″ cookie, as the regular dough would have. I was trying to avoid flouring them at all, and the dough was very cold and crumbled a bit. But the little coin-sized mini-hamantaschen I was able to make for 4 g apiece did taste pretty good, we had to admit.

So I thawed another chunk of the dough for about 15 seconds in the microwave on low power, cut it into marble-sized portions, floured them very lightly with less than a teaspoon of flour, and flattened them out into thinner and larger rounds between plastic wrap.  I was able to roll them out very thin this time–either the microwaving or the scant amount of flour seems to have done the trick–and I peeled them carefully off the plastic one by one. More like peeled the plastic off of them and laid them out on the foil. They were still a little fragile. I had to fold them over the filling right on the foil with the aid of a knife. But they baked up crisp and delicate, and didn’t fall apart in the oven. And they tasted pretty good too.

Joan Nathan’s hamantaschen dough from The Jewish Holiday Kitchen (adapted, with my instructions and a basic carb count):

  • 2.5-3 c. flour (264 g carbohydrate for 3 c.)
  • 2/3 c. butter or pareve margarine (~0  carbs)
  • 1/2 c. sugar (100 g carb)
  • 1 egg (~0 carbs)
  • 1/2 t vanilla (~0 carbs)
  • 3 T. milk or water (NB: I use orange juice, ~4 g carb, and it tastes very good)

Carb count: flour–264 g, sugar–100 g , orange juice ~4 g
Total: ~370 g/36 normal-sized (3″) hamantaschen or about 10-11 g carb each plus 2-5 g for 1/2-1 t. jam or other filling

Pulse the flour, sugar and margarine in the food processor a few times to get the mixture to the consistency of lumpy oatmeal or peas. Add the wet ingredients and pulse just enough for the dough to come together in a uniform ball. The dough will be fairly smooth and soft. Remove to a plastic bag, flatten into a thick disk, and refrigerate or freeze before rolling out. When you’re ready to roll, preheat the oven to 350F, break up the dough into halves or thirds and keep the unused sections in the fridge. Roll each section out 1/4″ thick or (see note below) 1/8″. Cut circles 2-3″ in diameter, fill, fold into triangular hat shapes, bake on a cookie or foil sheet at 350 F about 10 minutes or until they smell good and the edges are just starting to brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely before trying to remove from the baking sheet (letting them cool first helps keep them from tearing or sticking badly and prevents jam burns). Do not sneak a taste early if you want your tongue to live to see another day–the jam stays wickedly hot for at least 20-30 minutes.

Fillings:

  • 1/2-1 t. all-fruit or low-sugar jam (8-9 g carbs/tablespoon)
  • 1/2-1 t. prune or apricot filling (dried chopped prunes or apricots boiled with just enough water or orange juice to make a thick spreadable paste) at ~ 6-10 g/T.
  • Haven’t figured out chocolate chips or poppyseed filling, two more favorites, but they shouldn’t be too bad at 2-3 chips or 1/2 t. filling.

My Almond Meal Low-Carb Hamantaschen:

  • 2 c. almond meal (40 g carb total)
  • 1/3 c. sugar (66 g carb)
  • 2/3 c. whole wheat flour (~56 g carb)
  • 1/4 c. pareve margarine (I cut it down because the almond meal has a lot of fat in it, and it seemed pretty decent this way–might go even lower for a next try)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • 3 T orange juice (4 g carb)

Same instructions as above. The food processor works a lot better than mixing by hand, but of course you can do that if you feel like it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: flatten the dough a little, divide into thirds,  and put in the freezer several hours before rolling out, and thaw each chunk very lightly in the microwave for 10-15 seconds at 50% power. Cut the chunk of dough into the right number of pieces (12 for thicker, 15-18 for thinner) per third of the dough. Cubes about 3/4″ across would be about right for the thicker hamantaschen, or 1/2″-3/5″ across for the thinner ones, maybe the size of a marble. Toss the chunks with a small spoonful of flour and roll out individually. Roll out about 1/3 of the dough at a time between sheets of plastic wrap, keeping the rest in the fridge, and keep the flour to about 1 t. sprinkled per third of the dough.

Carb count: 166 g for the whole dough; about 7-8 g. per filled hamantaschen for 36 in the batch or 4-5 g. per filled thin-crust hamantaschen for 45-50 to the batch.

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