Italian Cookies

Is it possible to have Italian cookies for around 200 calories per serving? Yes, if you swap in lower-fat ingredients, add nutrition-rich fruits and determine proper portions to accomplish this.

You do not have to stop baking cookies, if you are trying to eat healthy, but rather learn how to make them healthier without sacrificing taste. Obviously moderation and portion control still apply, no matter how healthy the cookie is, but learning how to reduce calories and fat, along with using some healthy ingredients, will make the cookies you bake that much more appealing and nutritious.

There are a variety of ingredients that you can substitute in your favorite cookie recipes to help make them better for you.

  • Try using part whole wheat pastry flour instead of all white flour.
  • You can replace half the butter in a recipe with oil or applesauce. You may have to reduce your baking time by 25% with these substitutes. With cookie recipes though, you may also have to experiment, because the cookie may not set properly, if there is not enough butter. 
  • Use skim or non-fat milk instead of whole milk.
  • Use egg whites (usually 2 egg whites for every egg) or 1/4 cup refrigerated egg substitute.
  • Try reducing sugar by 1/4 to 1/3. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup, use 2/3 cup.
  • Try using natural sugar substitutes. Two, I like, for baking are Domino Sugar Light and Truvia for Baking. They both use a natural sweetener called Stevia in their products. Add some cinnamon, vanilla or almond extract to your cookies to give the impression of sweetness when cutting back on the sugar.

The recipes below for some of the most popular italian cookies have been adjusted to make them healthier. Each serving is less than 200 calories.

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Italian Amaretti Cookies

Serving size: 4 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole blanched or unblanched almonds
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line large cookie sheets with parchment paper or foil and spray with cooling spray.

In a food processor combine the almonds and the powdered sugar. Cover and process until finely ground. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites, amaretto and cream of tartar with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually beat in the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). Fold half of the almond mixture into the egg white mixture, then fold in the remaining almond mixture.

Spoon almond mixture into 1-inch diameter mounds, 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until the tops are set and lightly browned. Cool cookie sheets on wire racks and remove cookies as soon as they can be released from the parchment paper or foil without breaking. If you leave them too long, they may be difficult to get off the paper. Makes about 48 cookies.

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Tuscan-Style Cookies

Serving size: 2 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups slivered almonds (6 ounces)
  • 1 cup shelled pistachio nuts (4 ounces)
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon finely shredded orange peel
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Powdered sugar

Directions

In a food processor combine almonds, pistachios and 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar. Cover and process until the nuts are very finely ground but still dry (not oily). Add 1 1/2 cups of the powdered sugar, the flour, orange peel, lemon peel, baking powder and salt. Cover and pulse with on/off turns to combine; set aside.

In a large bowl beat egg whites, almond extract and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar, beating until medium-stiff peaks form (tips stand almost straight). Gently fold the nut mixture into the egg white mixture until the mixture forms a dough.

With damp hands or using a rubber scraper, form dough into a 12×6-inch rectangle. Wrap dough in plastic wrap. Chill overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Unwrap dough. Using a long sharp knife, cut dough into 2×2-inch squares. Cut each square in half diagonally to form two triangles. Place 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until the bottoms are light brown. Transfer to a wire rack. Sift additional powdered sugar over warm cookies. Cool completely.

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Walnut Crescents

Normally these cookies would be made with 1 cup of butter. In this recipe ricotta cheese is substituted for half the butter.

Serving size: 2 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup skim milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water

Directions

In a large bowl of an electric mixer combine butter, ricotta cheese and salt. Beat on medium to high speed about 30 seconds or until smooth. Stir in flour with a wooden spoon. Shape dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for 1 hour.

Preheatthe  oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease two  cookie sheets.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Fold in half; roll into a 15×12-inch rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into 3-inch squares.

In a small bowl combine walnuts, sugar, orange marmalade, orange peel and cinnamon.

Place a slightly rounded teaspoon of the walnut mixture on each dough square. Fold one corner of each dough square over the filling; roll to the opposite corner and press to seal. If necessary, brush underside of each dough point with water before pressing to seal. Place on prepared cookie sheets.

In a small bowl beat together the egg and the water. Brush egg mixture over crescents.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack; cool.

Layer cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

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Tiramisu Ladyfinger Sandwiches

Serving size: 1 cookie sandwich

Ingredients

  • 6 egg whites
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur or strong brewed coffee, cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Tiramisu Frosting, recipe below
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Chocolate covered coffee bean, optional

Directions

Line three large cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

In a large bowl beat egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually add the sugar, beating until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight).

In a medium bowl beat egg yolks, coffee-flavored liqueur, vanilla and instant espresso coffee powder with an electric mixer on high speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture is thick.

Fold egg yolk mixture into beaten egg whites just until combined. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the flour over the egg mixture. Fold flour in gently, just until combined.

Repeat with remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, being careful to not overstir.

Spoon batter into a decorating bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip. Pipe batter 1 1/2 inches apart in ladyfinger shapes (3×1-inch) on prepared cookie sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven for 5 to 6 minutes or until set and golden brown. Cool on cookie sheets for 10 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer to a wire rack; cool completely.

Spoon the Tiramisu Frosting into a decorating bag fitted with a medium star tip. Pipe frosting onto the flat sides of half of the cookies. Top each frosted cookie with another cookie, flat side down. Pipe a bit of frosting on the top of each cookie. If desired, sift with cocoa powder and top with a chocolate coffee bean. Chill until ready to serve.

To Store:

Layer unfilled cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. To serve, thaw cookies, if frozen. Fill and frost cookies as directed above.

Tiramisu Frosting

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces softened light cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 3 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon coffee-flavored liqueur or strong brewed cooled coffee
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder
  • 3 ½ cups powdered sugar

Directions

In a large bowl combine cream cheese, butter, whipping cream, coffee-flavored liqueur or strong brewed cooled coffee, vanilla and instant espresso coffee powder. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar to make a frosting of piping consistency.

Florentines

Serving size: 2 cookies

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1 cup finely chopped blanched almonds
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two large cookie sheets with foil. Grease foil; set cookie sheets aside.

In a medium heavy saucepan combine sugar, butter, cream and honey. Cook and stir over low heat about 5 minutes or until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Increase heat and bring mixture to boiling.

Brush side of pan with a damp pastry brush or damp paper towel to prevent sugar from crystallizing on the sides. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook until the thermometer registers 238 degrees F (soft-ball stage). Remove from heat. Quickly stir in oats, almonds, ginger, flour and lemon peel.

Drop dough by tablespoons, 3 inches apart, onto prepared cookie sheets. Dip tines of a fork into cold water and press the top of each cookie to flatten. Bake on separate racks for 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown and set, switching cookie sheets halfway through baking.

Cool completely on cookie sheets. Gently lift cookies from foil. Drizzle with melted chocolate. Let stand until chocolate is set.

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Pistachio-Fruit Biscotti

Serving size: 2 biscotti

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 cup snipped dried apricots
  • 1 ½ cups lightly salted dry-roasted pistachio nuts, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly coat two 8x4x2-inch (or similar) loaf pans with nonstick spray. Line a large baking sheet with parchment; set aside.

In a large bowl stir together sugar, butter, vanilla, baking powder, almond extract and salt. Add eggs and egg whites, beating vigorously until evenly incorporated. Fold in apricots and nuts. Gradually stir in flour until blended (if desired, work in last of it with your hands). If dough seems very soft or sticky, let it stand to firm up for 5 minutes.

Divide dough in half; place each half in a loaf pan. Using greased hands, press dough to edges until smooth on top and evenly thick all over. (Alternatively, using greased hands, shape and smooth each half into an 8×4-inch, evenly thick loaf, spacing them as far apart as possible on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for 24 to 28 minutes or until firm and light brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven. Set aside; cool completely.

Transfer to a cutting board. Using a large, serrated knife, cut each loaf into slices about 1/4-inch thick. Place slices, cut side down, on prepared baking sheet.

Return to the oven. Bake slices 12 minutes or until toasted and light brown. Cool slightly. Gently turn over. Bake 7 minutes more until golden brown, watching closely to avoid over browning. Turn off the oven. Let stand in the oven to crisp 10 minutes more. Remove from oven; cool completely.

Store at room temperature up to 10 days. Freeze up to 2 months.

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