A good scare on Halloween is fine, unless it’s from reading the nutrition label on one of your kid’s treats (or one of your own, for that matter).
But there are plenty of culinary tricks when it comes to making your own healthful Halloween treats, especially when it comes to cookies.
Start by replacing up to half of the butter, margarine or shortening with heart-healthy oils, such as canola or olive oil.
But be careful. Cookies that use oil instead of butter can be crispier and will dry out sooner, so be sure to store them in airtight containers.
Fruit purees — such as applesauce, pear butter, prune filling (found in the baking section of most grocers) or, to really get in the Halloween spirit, canned pumpkin — also can be used to replace some of the fat.
Using fruit or pureed pumpkin in place of fat will produce cookies with a cakier or chewier texture, so it works well in naturally soft cookies, such as oatmeal. Whether using fruit or oil, it’s best to start with a small amount and experiment.
You also can reduce the overall fat in a cookie recipe by using some nontraditional ingredients, such as nonfat yogurt or buttermilk, both of which help keep baked goods moist without adding fat.
Try starting with 1 to 4 tablespoons of any of these liquid ingredients to replace up to 4 tablespoons of butter or other solid fat.
When making healthier cookies, you also can experiment with using cake flour. Because it is milled to an extra-fine consistency and processed to have only about half the protein of all-purpose flour, it absorbs fat very well. This helps produce cookies that are moist and tender even when they are lower in fat.
This recipe for pumpkin double-ginger cookies draws from the whole bag of healthy tricks. Canned pumpkin and nonfat Greek-style yogurt keep them moist, while cake flour helps them stay tender.
Cinnamon and ground ginger pair with the pumpkin to create that classic pumpkin pie taste, but the addition of chopped crystallized ginger sends them into the realm of the supernaturally tasty.
And don’t limit yourself to Halloween treats. All of these tricks work just as well with other holiday cookies.
Start to finish: 3 hours (1 hour active)
Makes 20 cookie sandwiches
For the cookies:
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup milk
For the filling:
Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
To make the cookies, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, salt and baking soda.
In another bowl, use an electric mixer beat together the butter and brown sugar. Mix in the molasses and milk, then the dry ingredients. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 F. Lightly coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface, and working with half the dough at a time, roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick. Use a 4-inch pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter (and rerolling scraps as needed) cut out a total of 40 cookies.
Use a paring knife or very small cutters to cut out a jack-o-lantern face on 20 of the cookies. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between each cookie. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden around the edges. Transfer the cookies to a rack and allow to cool.
To make the filling, in a medium bowl use an electric mixer to beat together the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth and creamy.
Add a tablespoon of filling to the bottom cookies (without faces) and spread to within a 1/4 inch of the edges. Place a top cookie on each to create a sandwich. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator between layers of waxed paper or parchment.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 344 calories; 135 calories from fat (39 percent of total calories); 15 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 43 mg cholesterol; 50 g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 1 g fiber; 121 mg sodium.