Our family lives in North Africa on the edge of the Sahara desert, where our delicious date sugar is made. My daughter attends second grade at the local schools here in our small town where our factory is located. All her subjects are in Arabic! As you can imagine, this has proven challenging, but so rewarding. Her brain is being wired to learn another language at a young age. I often wonder why we wait until the later years to learn another language in America.
While living here, we have fallen in love with the community and are always looking for ways to give back to this exotic place through our everyday comings and goings. This Christmas, my daughter had the idea to introduce healthy gingerbread cookies made with PurDate sugar to her class. It was a blast, and the cookies turned out amazingly yummy! I can’t believe something sweetened with only fruit can taste this good! It’s seriously the best sugar substitute out there!
I love to give my kids treats, especially around the holidays, but I end up regretting it after the sugar crash hits. That is why it has been my goal over the past six years to bake in a way that avoids the unwanted sugar crash. It wasn’t good enough for me to simply eliminate sugar, I sought to substitute it for something nutritious. This is the inspiration for all my recipes!
While baking for the holidays, I created these cute gingerbread cookies that are sweetened solely with date sugar and date syrup, excellent sugar substitutes. How are dates so healthy compared to other sweeteners? Check out my blog here to stay informed and understand the truth about so called “healthy sugar substitutes.” You will be surprised to find out that many sugar substitutes that call themselves healthy and natural are void of nutrition. Stevia and coconut sugar are examples of this. Dates are nutrient dense. Our date sugar is an excellent source of fiber for the gut and has as many antioxidants as berries! Date sugar contains magnesium and potassium for a strong heart, as well.
I have three daughters that all like to help me in the kitchen. After a crazy busy semester, we enjoyed the opportunity to slow down and spend some time together reading and watching Christmas stories, doing Christmas crafts, and my favorite… baking! Gathering around to make and bake these cookies bonded us together and fed us not just physically, but soul-deep. This was the nourishing we needed after a long semester. So put on your aprons and get ready to get messy together. Just relax, it can all be cleaned up. Remember, they need this, and you do, too!
The recipes we make together need to be fun and simple or everyone will lose interest. I want my children to feel like they have accomplished something big when they take their first bite of their freshly-baked cookie.
Gathering the ingredients is part of the fun for the kiddos! My girls love to find everything in the kitchen and learn each new spice ingredient. Below are the items you will need to have ready for a smoother baking experience.
Once you have gathered all your ingredients, you will want to sift one cup of PurDate sugar through a sieve if it is clumpy. Next, ask the kids to cut in one cup of butter and cream the two ingredients together. The kids really like doing this step, but you may need to help them develop a consistency that’s just right before adding in the egg, date syrup, vinegar, and vanilla. Date syrup is preferable because it is a lighter syrup than molasses and provides a nice caramel flavor, but it can be difficult to find in the stores. If you can’t use date syrup, blackstrap molasses is a good substitute because it is super high in antioxidants and is the second healthiest sugar after date sugar. Beat these wet ingredients with a mixer on a low speed.
In another bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix together. My four-year-old daughter is high on the sensory scale, so she loved smelling each spice before she added it to the mix. The ginger got a little too far up her nose for her liking.
Next, add the dry ingredients into the wet and beat on low speed until a dough begins to form. Be careful not to overmix! Once the dough starts forming, I turn my mixer off and start making it into one nice big ball. You may need to add a bit of flour to the dough if it is too sticky. Place the dough in the refrigerator for at least three hours. I like to leave my dough overnight. This breaks our time up in the kitchen, so we can spend optimul time cutting out and decorating our cookies during one full afternoon.
*Note: I like to double this batch because our family likes to share. I roll the dough into four balls and freeze the ones I am not ready to use that day. When my children’s friends come over during the Christmas break, I turn on the Christmas music, take a ball of dough out of the refrigerator, and the kids go at it. This makes for a fun, extended time of entertainment and puts everyone in the Christmas spirit!
When you are ready to begin creating your cookies, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Flour your surface (this always makes a fun mess in the kitchen!) and roll the dough into a ¼ inch thickness. After this step, my children are always covered in flour from their nose to their toes. I’m beginning to think they do it on purpose!
Grab your cookie cutters and go at it! Make as many variations as you can, and maybe some of your own by simply molding the dough into different shapes. My daughter made a donut. Where we live, in North Africa, you can’t buy donuts—she misses them desperately.
Once you have a nice sheet of cookies ready to go, pop them into the oven for 8-10 minutes. Be sure the cookies are all the same thickness, or some will bake faster than the others. Once they are finished baking, let them cool completely before icing.
The next part is the most fun! You can use traditional icing, but of course, I don’t settle for that, and I don’t like a sugar crash. I like to use our finely-ground date powder to make a smooth and creamy frosting that is just absolutely delicious! It’s easy, just add a bit of milk of your choice to sifted date powder with a splash of vanilla and mix with a mixer on low. Add the food coloring of your choice (green & red for Christmas). You can use a pipe or not to apply the frosting. If you are in a crunch for time or have littles, just use a plastic knife for frosting your cookies. It doesn’t really matter how the cookies look. What matters is that you are enjoying the laughter and having a good time together. Be sure to have some Christmas sprinkles on hand so the littles can practice their motor skills picking up the tiny sprinkles and placing them on the eye of the gingerbread man.
The best part of it all was that we got to share our cookies with my daughter’s second grade class! These children know very little about Christmas because it is not celebrated here. They have never seen a Christmas cookie or a gingerbread man. Can you imagine how their faces lit up when they were able to delight in decorating these cookies? Now that’s what Christmas is about… sharing the joy of the season with those you love!
Download the Recipe pdf here.
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