Monday, January 27, 2014

Sweet Debbie’s Organic Treats – Book Review

I received a complimentary copy of Sweet Debbie's Organic Treats: Allergy-Free and Vegan Recipes from the Famous Los Angeles Bakery in October and it has taken me way too long to get around to writing this book review. But I really need to tell you about it because it is a beautiful and unique book.

I never paid much attention to the design of a book prior to writing my own – I either liked it or I didn’t but I couldn’t have told you why. This book is beautifully designed. From the photos to the layout to the choice of fonts, the book is very approachable and fun. The colors are predominantly pink and blue; I imagine these to be the colors of Sweet Debbie’s bakery in Los Angeles.

I have never been to Sweet Debbie’s bakery, but I need to make a point of visiting when I visit Southern California. Her recipes are all gluten-free, vegan (egg-free and dairy-free), and nut-free. But that’s not all she avoids – Debbie’s recipes do not use sugar.

My recipes do use sugar – it’s the only traditional baking ingredient I can still use. I know many of you need the calories and the sugar. But I also know there are folks out there who need gluten-free + allergen-free + sugar-free recipes, and Debbie Adler took on that challenge.

Instead of sugar, the recipes use stevia powder, erythritol, and coconut nectar (often in combination). (I think Debbie likes coconut nectar as much as I like hemp!)

The recipes include muffins, cookies, cupcakes, and bars, all of which look entirely decadent. Instead of ingredients lists and instructions, Debbie’s recipes are written with “Must Have” and “Must Do” lists. Instead of tips, Debbie’s recipes have “Sweet Truths.” Debbie even includes a handful of raw (she calls them unbaked) recipes.

Now, about those sweeteners. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, sweet but less sweet than sugar, and it has close to zero calories. Stevia is an herb and contains no calories; a tiny amount of stevia powder is very sweet, but it’s also oddly bitter. Coconut nectar is a syrupy sweetener; it is often compared to agave nectar. My impression (after using it in the recipe below) is that coconut nectar is considerably less sweet than agave or honey; it many ways it is more like brown rice syrup or corn syrup – both in terms of sweetness and in terms of its stickiness.

I am going to be experimenting more with these sweeteners, but my first test was with one of Debbie’s recipes that she and her publisher agreed to share:

Chocolate Chia Power Bars
By Debbie Adler

Makes about 25 bars

Must Have
Sheet of parchment paper slightly larger
than 15 x 10 inches
4 cups gluten-free oats
11/2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips (also called
flaked coconut)
3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/3 cup cacao powder
3 tablespoons chia seeds
11/2 teaspoons guar gum
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup coconut nectar
1/4 teaspoon stevia powder
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) cranberries,

Must Do
1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper, with a
little extra over the sides.
2. Mix together the oats, flour, coconut chips, sunflower seeds, cacao powder, chia
seeds, guar gum and salt in a large bowl.
3. Microwave the coconut oil and coconut nectar in a 2-cup measuring cup for 60 seconds.
Add the stevia and stir to combine. Pour into the oats mixture and mix well. Fold in
the cranberries.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into the corners and on top with
a wet baking spatula to cover the pan evenly.
5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the kitchen smells like chocolate and toasted
oats. Rotate the pan from front to back halfway through baking.
6. Transfer the pan from the oven to a wire rack and let sit for about 15 minutes before
putting in the freezer for at least 1 hour.
7. Transfer the parchment paper to a cutting board and cut into 25 bars.
Wrap each bar individually in parchment paper or bakery tissue paper, place in a
sealable plastic bag and keep frozen until ready to pack or eat.

Reprinted from SWEET DEBBIE’S ORGANIC TREATS by Debbie Adler. Published by Harlequin. Copyright Debbie Adler 2013

A few of my own notes:

Being the chocoholic that I am, I added ¼ cup cacao nibs to the bars.
This batch makes a LOT of bars, but could easily be halved and made in a smaller pan, e.g., a 9-inch square pan.

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