Canadian author Ricki Heller of Diet, Dessert & Dogs lives near Toronto, Ont. with her husband and two border collie-lab cross dogs.
Her Sweet Freedom dessert cookbook has made me nostalgic for the sweet comfort foods of my long-ago Canadian childhood.
Sweet Freedom received Honorable Mention in the 2010 Cuisine Canada Culinary Book Awards and is one of only three cookbooks endorsed by Ellen DeGeneres on her website.
Besides being healthy, which seems almost incidental, the Sweet Freedom dessert recipes are well tested and extremely delicious. They cover Sunday brunch to holiday meals, from quick & easy to Major Projects. Most of the recipes are easy.
Some of Ricki's desserts are gluten free, soy free, and corn free. Many of them are made with spelt flour or barley flour, which are low gluten alternatives to wheat. Some people, like my neighbor Odette, are sensitive to wheat but can tolerate spelt or barley quite well.
Wheat as we know it today has been bred to be high in active gluten, for commercial baking - that's why people can be sensitive to wheat gluten, but not other forms of gluten.
Instead of refined sugar, Ricki relies mainly on agave nectar which is sweeter than sugar but has a low glycemic index; fruit - dried, fresh or frozen; brown rice syrup; maple syrup; and sucanat. These sweeteners aren't intensely sweet like refined sugar, and they have valuable nutrients which refined sugar doesn't. Basically, refined sugar is empty calories.
The recipes in Sweet Freedom have been carefully adapted to the particular characteristics of low gluten or gluten free ingredients, and alternative sweeteners. All the recipes have complete, detailed, thoughtful instructions, so there is little possibility of messing up.
The recipes have minimal amounts of unrefined (preferably organic) coconut oil or sunflower oil, but no veggie spread (the standby vegan butter substitute), which has transfats, saturated fat, partially hydrogenated oils, lots of sodium, and gmo ingredients (even if it's organic). Thank you Ricki!
Being a Good Canadian, Ricki has given metric equivalents in her recipes, and expains the different metric measuring options. That's very handy for everybody who lives outside the US!
The first chapter of Sweet Freedom is all about the ingredients and their attributes, and tips for using them to convert conventional recipes to natural recipes, with a great section on natural egg replacers, and additional notes on measurements, equipment, testing for doneness, and storing your natural baked goods.
At our house, I predict that storage will not be a problem, because anything we make from Sweet Freedom won't last long enough to put away.
We spent several meals passing around the cookbook, picking out dessert recipes we wanted to try. So far that's most of them! We love fig bars and date squares, so the first recipe we made was Figaros, which look like date squares, but are made with figs and taste like fig bars - only much MUCH better!
Figaros got rave reviews! "Grandma, I didn't know there could be so much bliss in a cookie!" "Just divine! Let me buy you some figs so you can make more!" "OMG!! These are so good!" Etc. Figaros have ruined me for store bought fig bars, but happily, they're far easier to make.
I just whipped up a batch of Sweet Freedom Cocoa Nibbles, raw and ridiculously easy, especially if you have a food processor. Even if you don't, a spice grinder will do for the nuts, then you just have to chop the dates fine and mix everything up.
I had to put my cocoa nibbles in the fridge to firm up before eating, but I had a taste, and they are YUUMMMHHH! The perfect treat for afternoon munchies!
Next? Well, let's see, I've got the ingredients for Blueberry Coffee Cake, Butterscotch Blondies, Carrot Raisin Oatmeal Cookies, Raisin Spice Tea Bread, Butter Tarts, Lemon Poppyseed Cake ....
I feel so virtuous, knowing that I can satisfy the family sweet tooth, while piling on the nutrition. I'm sure there's a downside to the additional calories, but I'm in such bliss from the Figaros and the Cocoa Nibbles, I don't care. Which I guess is the whole point of Sweet Freedom.