Monday, November 02, 2009

Healthy Cookies--Not Quite An Oxymoron

It may not be obvious to readers of this blog, but I am actually something of a Sporty Spice in real life. I love making and photographing and writing about pastries, so that's what I focus on in this little world, but as the saying goes, woman cannot live on butter and sugar alone...or at least, she cannot if she hopes to continue to fit into her jeans.

So to balance all of my sugar consumption, I tend to exercise quite a bit...the more scenic and extreme, the better. Over the years I've gotten into marathoning and ultrarunning, and have run in some awesome places, like Death Valley:
And to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite:
And point-to-point along the 60-mile Backbone Trail:
And across the Grand Canyon rim to rim: (that's me on the far right!)

Lest you think I have gone all Kardashian on you in a desperate bid for attention and self-promotion, I really do have a point with all of these stories, and my point is this: Outdoor magazine should pay me to run and then write cute little vignettes about it. I mean, I know from experience that it can be hard to balance leading a healthy lifestyle and being an avid baker, especially if your love of baking stems from a love of eating baked goods.

So this week, instead of making the chestnut caramel cake for TWD, which sounds intriguing but also heavy and perhaps even deadly, I've been experimenting with some slightly healthier recipes that might be a little more kind to my waistband and my winter training schedule.

The first cookie I tried was from the website 101 Cookbooks and was called, appropriately enough, Nikki's Healthy Cookies. Sounds like a winner already.

The cookie "dough" is mostly made from almond meal, oats, and coconut, bound together with bananas and coconut oil (one of my new favorite cooking ingredients!) They have some baking powder in them, so after baking they do puff up a bit and have a sort of cookie-ish texture, despite the lack of eggs or gluten. The flavor is a nice mix of banana, a little coconut, a touch of cinnamon, and of course, chocolate. Despite their healthy title, I did not hold back on the chopped chocolate:
I liked these cookies, and thought they were a decent enough substitute for the real thing, but that's just what they felt like--a substitute. I really want to find a healthy treat that doesn't feel like a placeholder but is exciting on its own.

The next healthy cookie recipe I tried is from Heather Eats Almond Butter. These are her famous Maple Nut Oaties.
People, these were deeeelicious. (And yes, I realize the pictures make the cookies look practically identical. I guess I have a healthy cookie 'type.') These tasted less like a cookie wannabe and more like a flavorful chocolate chip granola bar.
The cookies are simply toasted oats, coconut, nuts, and chocolate, bound together with nut butter and syrup. I used a combo of peanut butter and cashew butter, and agave syrup--another new favorite baking ingredient. (If you're not familiar with agave, it's a natural sweetener from the agave tree. It does have calories, but many people prefer it because it doesn't spike your blood sugar the way most sweeteners do. It also adds a nice flavor and moistness. Also, Costco sells it in bulk!) However, you can substitute real maple syrup for agave if you'd like--heck, it's even built into the recipe title.

These cookies came out moist, and chewy, and very flavorful from the toasted oats and gobs of nuts, nut butters, and chocolate. Wrapped in plastic, they're perfect for stuffing into my running pack for energy during long runs, and they're "healthy" enough that I can have them as an after-lunch (or -work, or -dinner, or -all of the above) snack and not feel like I'm canceling out the morning's run.

Never fear, this blog won't devolve into hemp-and-tofu muffin territory, but sometimes it's fun to give the ole sweet tooth a break and try new things. I'm sure I'll be back next week with refined white EVERYTHING, yahoo! But in case you're intrigued, the Maple Nut Oaties recipe is after the cut...

Maple Nut Oaties
From Heather Eats Almond Butter

1 cup toasted rolled oats. (toast them in the toaster oven set on 350° for a few minutes. Watch them as they burn easily.)
1/2 cup nut butter (I used half peanut and half cashew)
1/2 cup maple syrup or agave nectar (I used agave)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (I used toasted coconut)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used sliced almonds)
1/2 cup chocolate/carob chips or dried fruit (Um, why use fruit when you can use chocolate?!)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Scoop cookie dough by TBSP onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes (I did 8.5, just until they started getting color). Let cool for a minute or so, then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely.


  1. Bring on the healthy cookies! Love the running shots, very inspiring.

  2. Anonymous5:35 AM

    I'd love to see more healthy recipes! I'm not a fan of maple, so the agave sub sounds perfect.

  3. I can't bring myself to make that chestnut cake anytime this month--and I thought the same thing as you---heavy.
    I made those 101 (Nikki's) cookies last year. They were a great healthy treat!
    The second ones you posted sound like some granola bars I make. You probably could just spread it in a pan and bake it, then cut into bars. No matter how you slice it, I love "treats" like this!
    Great post, Liz. And wow, all your running adventures!

  4. Whoa - I got dizzy looking at the Grand Canyon shot - I'm afraid of heights!

    I'm not afraid of healthy cookies, though - and those certainly look good.

    The cookies should go Kardashian instead - promote them!

  5. I'm so impressed with your running. I watched the documentary on the Badwater Ultramarathon and cannot imagine running in Death Valley. You should totally self-promote.

    I'll have to try the cookies. I have a hard time trying "healthy" sweets but you gave the second cookies such an endorsement I think I might just have to make it.

  6. From one runner to another, I completely agree with your desire to find a "healthy" baked good every once in a while. Yes, running an extra mile or two in a workout is often motivated by the fact that I want another slice of cake today, but I also do it because I love it. And personally, I think baking and running are a perfect pair.

    How did the cookies hold up to being smooshed into a running pack?

  7. I like the motto, "everything in moderation" so I'm not so hip on the healthy cookies. I'd rather have just one of my favorite peanut butter cup cookies right out of the oven. For the recipe, go to Since it's only my husband and I at home now, I make the dough, scoop out the cookie dough onto a cookie sheet and freeze them. When they're hard, you can put them all in a gallon zip lock bag and just take out the amount you want to bake. Nothing like having 2 homemade cookies right out of the oven with no hassle!

  8. Anonymous4:41 PM

    Those cookies look great! Half-dome is on my list. I'm hoping to peak it this May. Want to do Grand Canyon too. A friend just did it and it sounded great.

  9. Fallergy Fairy10:36 PM

    Do you make anything vegan?

  10. Love it - baking and ultras. Me too. I don't get quite as fancy on the baking end, but - thanks for being an inspiration.

  11. The second cookie you made (that is actually healthy and tasty) sounds like the perfect cookie. All the sweets we face during the holidays can be overwhelming (along with the guilt) so thank you for posting =)

  12. good AND Healthy. Ah, say it ain't so. Seriously, these look really easy. And very tasty.

  13. Delicious and healthy! There's a combination that seems perfect!!

    P.S - Kudos for your running! You've covered some great miles!

  14. Love your photos! And the cookies too:)

  15. love this post! Running in death valley- awesome!

  16. I wish I had seen these before I made that danged chestnut cake...these look easier, and "healthy cookies" has such a nice ring to it.