Cookbook author Ricki Heller can show you how to have your cake (and pie and cookies) and great health, too, in her newest cookbook, Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free (Sellers Publishing). After decades of baking and indulging in unhealthy sweets, Heller was inspired to radically alter her diet.
The result was a comprehensive dessert cookbook without gluten, eggs, dairy or refined sugars. Many of her recipes are also soy-free (or offer a soy-free option), corn-free (all but one!), and nut-free (or offer a nut-free option). Allergy-friendly and entirely vegan, the sweets in her book taste great and are good for you, too. Heller has taken great care to ensure that every recipe will taste and look just as good as a traditional dessert. There are mouthwatering photos throughout the book.
With a mother who was a baker, Heller first wielded a wooden spoon when she was about six, and has barely let go of it since. When she suffered health issues because of her sweets addiction and had to cut all refined sweeteners from her life, Heller decided it was time for a change.
She writes: “I began to search for alternatives that I could bake that (a) didn’t contain any of the unhealthy ingredients I’d been accustomed to using; and (b) still tasted good. This quest led to a stint baking vegan desserts for a vegetarian restaurant here in Toronto, and later starting my own baking company. I still love dessert and think it can be both healthy and delicious.”
GRAIN-FREE AUTUMN FRUIT CRUMBLE
This is another one of those “desserts that can be breakfast.” With the abundance of fall fruit and absence of grains, this dish offers a great lower-glycemic way to start your day. Add a bit more protein, and you’re all set! For best results, select crisp, sweet apples, such as gala, honeycrisp, or pink lady, and firm pears, such as d’Anjou or Bosc.
For the topping:
1⁄3 cup coconut sugar
1⁄2 cup natural raw walnut pieces
1⁄2 cup natural raw skin-on almonds, preferable organic
1⁄3 cup coconut flour
1⁄4 cup potato starch
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
generous pinch fine sea salt
3 tbsp. coconut oil, at room temperature, preferably organic
30 drops pure plain or vanilla stevia liquid, or to taste
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 tbsp. water
For the Filling:
2 medium pears, washed, cored and diced, peeled or unpeeled
2 medium-sweet apples, washed, cored and diced, peeled or unpeeled
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1⁄4 tsp. ground ginger
2 tbsp. coconut sugar
juice of 1⁄2 lemon
1⁄4 tsp. pure stevia powder or 1⁄2 tsp. pure plain or vanilla stevia liquid, or to taste
Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-in. square pan or a 6-cup casserole or soufflé dish with nonstick spray or coconut oil.
Make the topping: Place the coconut sugar, walnuts, almonds, coconut flour, potato starch, cinnamon and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture resembles a fine meal with no pieces of nuts visible.
In a small, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the coconut oil. Whisk in the stevia, vanilla and water. Pour the coconut oil mixture in a ring around the dry ingredients in the processor and pulse until it all comes together. It should look like moist clumps. Set aside.
Make the filling: In a large bowl, toss the pears, apples and cranberries together with the cinnamon and ginger. In a small bowl, mix together the coconut sugar, lemon juice and stevia, and stir until the sugar begins to dissolve. Drizzle over the fruit and then toss again to coat evenly.
Assemble and bake the crumble: Turn the fruit mixture into the prepared casserole dish and sprinkle with the topping. Press down gently on the topping.
Bake for 40 to 60 minutes (depending on the depth of your pan, you will need more or less time for the fruit to cook), rotating the dish about halfway through baking, until the crumble topping is deeply browned and the fruit is soft. Serve immediately or at room temperature. Serves 6 to 8. May be frozen
3⁄4 cup natural raw skin-on almonds, preferably organic
2 tbsp. finely ground flax seeds (from about 1 tbsp. or 15 ml whole seeds)
1⁄8 tsp. fine sea salt
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut, medium shred
1⁄4 cup coconut nectar
1⁄4 cup light agave nectar
20 to 25 drops pure plain or vanilla stevia liquid, or to taste
1⁄4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1⁄2 tsp. (2.5 ml) pure coconut extract (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a food processor, whir the almonds, flax, and salt together until they resemble a coarse meal, about the texture of cornmeal, without any identifiable pieces of almond visible. Add the coconut and pulse once or twice to combine.
Next pour the coconut nectar, agave nectar, stevia, tahini, vanilla, and coconut extract, if using, over the dry ingredients. Process again until everything is incorporated and the mixture forms a sticky ball (you may need to stop and scrape down the sides of the processor bowl once or twice). Stop as soon as the mixture holds together, to avoid grinding the coconut too fine.
Using a small ice-cream scoop or tablespoon, drop small mounds of the mixture onto the cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. Wet your palms (or use a silicone spatula) and flatten the cookies slightly.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets about halfway through baking, until the cookies are deep golden brown on top. Cool completely before removing to a rack (the cookies will firm up as they cool). Makes 14 to 16. May be frozen