November 21, 2019 By Naomi Szeben
One well-intentioned Christmas, my mother put the kibosh on sugar and caffeine. She decreed that neither my sister nor I would be given any chocolate. We reacted predictably to this prohibition. Much like the speakeasies of the nineteen thirties, we resorted to hoarding and occasional violence. We weren’t alone: Health food fever hit our neck of the woods, and my classmates and neighbours were bearing the brunt of it.
We kids drew the line at setting fire to furniture, but we briefly reconsidered arson when we were presented with carob. It was brown and shiny, with a vaguely roasted flavour, but carob’s similarity to chocolate ended there. Mom’s creative attempt to make chocolate bark with candied fruit somehow transformed itself into a dessert that even mould would not touch.
It couldn’t even be traded for the least edible snacks on the schoolyard at recess. My school friends also lamented the loss of sweet breakfast cereal. My friend Stephane wailed that his normally rainbow coloured cereal was replaced with “tiny hay bales.” We couldn’t bring ourselves to commit possible animal cruelty by handing off these foods on the local wildlife, either. Schoolyard rumour had us believe squirrels who were fed nutritional yeast-topped oatmeal cookies spontaneously combusted. “Healthy” snacks were truly an abomination, in the eyes of our elementary school population.
Things have changed, since. Many of our friends’ parents, lured by the promise of less hyperactive children, removed sugar from snacks and replaced it with higher fibre options. This trend continues today with better flavours, more appetizing fruit-based sweeteners and more options for fibre. Oh, the poor, maligned carob bean. It wasn’t originally intended to be a chocolate replacement, but back in the day, that was the only option for better-for-you snacking. Today, there are plenty of options for sugar-reduced, higher fibre, caffeine-free ways to create an indulgent treats.
Had I grown up in today’s baking environment, my friends and I would have a wealth of options available to us with a wider range of better-for-you treats that offer lower-sugar, caffeine-free, higher fibre options. Desserts are truly getting a makeover with more local ingredients, and luxurious flavours.
Jane Dummer writes about flour alternatives and Elaine O’Doherty’s article describes how whole grain white flours are making holiday baking healthier while keeping traditions alive.
The top trends in healthier baking shows that carob is making a comeback, but not as a chocolate replacement. Kids who grew up in the early eighties gnawing listlessly on granola bars flavoured with nutritional yeast and carob would be envious of today’s health conscious options. Dried candied beets pulverized into powder replaces red dye that marks holiday treats in Kevin Yang’s desserts. Truffles and candies have seasonal ingredients and timely flavours at the River Café.
Previous chefs had to cater to the polarized ends of the dessert spectrum: Indulgent or healthy? With whole grain flour options that taste and bake like white flour, better-for-you baking can taste delicious, without excuses. The holidays were made for indulgence and now, bakers have better options. Today, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
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