5 Naturally Sweet Cookies You Need at Your Holiday Party

Cut some of the sugar—but none of the flavor—out of your favorite cookies.

Published Dec. 16, 2016.

A holiday party isn’t complete without a generous spread of cookies (and we have plenty of cookie recipes to choose from). But because cookies are delicious, it’s hard not to want to eat more than one… or two, or three, or four. This year, try baking cookies with up to 50% less sugar than traditional versions. You’ll feel a lot less guilt about eating a few too many, and cutting the sugar intake during the holidays will be a good primer for that pending New Year's resolution.

Molasses Spice Cookies

Molasses spice cookies should be ultramoist, but to yield such results means the cookies are usually packed with sugar. We cut down on the molasses in this recipe (but not too much) and used Sucanat, a natural sugar substitute, in its place to get a rich, deep flavor while cutting out more than a quarter of the sugar, from 20 grams to 14. (Learn more about baking with Sucanat.)

Fun Fact: Molasses is made from the juice of sugarcane, and jars of it are labeled based on how many times the juice is boiled. Packaged after an initial boil, it’s labeled “original,” “mild,” or “Barbados.” Boiled a second time, it’s called “robust” or “strong.” And if it’s boiled a third time, it’s labeled “blackstrap.” In our research, we found that these descriptive labels are not a reliable indicator of how the molasses tastes—except for blackstrap. It’s the most bitter of the bunch, and we avoid baking with it.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

A great chocolate chip cookie should have crisp edges, a chewy center, complex toffee flavor, and chocolate in every bite. (A great chocolate chip cookie should also definitely be at your holiday party.) We managed to cut out 10 grams of sugar (from 25 to 15) by substituting Sucanat for granulated sugar while still producing a delicious, toffee-flavored cookie.

Fun Fact: Sucanat is far more flavorful than regular white sugar, which means that a small amount goes a long way in providing sweetness and flavor to a wide variety of recipes. And since they retain much of their natural molasses, Sucanat granules are a tan-brown color, with a deep, molasses-y flavor that our tasters loved. (When heated, it turns caramel-like between 250 and 270 degrees.)

Baking with Less Sugar

Naturally Sweet

Naturally Sweet is a collection of 100+ truly groundbreaking recipes that rely only on natural, less-processed sweeteners like Sucanat (unrefined cane sugar), coconut sugar, date sugar, honey, maple syrup, or no sweeteners at all, just dried fruit and chocolate.  
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Holiday Cookies

OK, this one is a bit of a no-brainer. It’s hard to imagine the holidays without a batch of festively decorated cookies. We were able to cut the amount of sugar in half—from 10 grams to 5—and still get a buttery, toothsome cookie.

Fun Fact: We arrived at our desired structure by virtue of a happy accident. We found that if we jostled the baking sheet halfway through baking, some of the cookies deflated and baked up perfectly flat. By striking the pan against a surface partway through baking, we could create flat, uniform shapes every time.

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Whimsical and festive, these pecan-laden icebox cookies are perfect for any occasion because they’re simple to make and can be prepared in advance. We managed to cut the amount of sugar in the recipe from 5 grams down to just 3.

Fun Fact: In virtually every other part of the globe, “cinnamon” (which you’ll find in these tasty cookie treats) means Ceylon cinnamon; in the United States, we are accustomed to the bolder, spicier flavor of a species known as cassia (also called bastard cinnamon). Both types derive from the bark of tropical evergreens in the Cinnamomum genus. Ceylon (Cinnamomum verum) is grown primarily in Sri Lanka, while cassia (Cinnamomum cassia, among others) may be grown in Indonesia, China, and Vietnam. American traders turned to importing cassia in the early 20th century following a rise in the price of the Ceylon spice, and it continues to be the main variety sold in supermarkets in this country.

Spiced Shortbread

The basics of making shortbread haven’t changed over the past five centuries: Combine flour, butter, sugar, and salt, pat the dough into a round, and bake. But so few ingredients means each one packs a big punch—taking out half the sugar (we cut it from 5 grams to just 3) meant we’d have to abandon this time-honored formula. We still managed to get the best elements of shortbread, however: a pleasantly crumbly texture and plenty of buttery richness offset by subtle sweetness.

Fun Fact: Reverse creaming (combining the flour and sugar before incorporating the butter) created less aeration and produced a more substantial shortbread.

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The test kitchen isn’t generally known for jumping onto diet bandwagons. In this interview, editorial director of books Elizabeth Carduff talks about why we decided to publish a book dedicated to cooking with natural sweeteners. She touches on the merits of our recipes, and the health benefits associated with cooking with natural sweeteners.  
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