Jul 30, 2014
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Faux Junk Food: Homemade and Healthier

Be a hero to your kids this week by making delicious non-processed versions of such snack food favorites as oreos, pop tarts, chewy granola bars, goldfish crackers and hot pockets.

Faux Junk Food: Homemade and Healthier Faux Junk Food: Homemade and Healthier Faux Junk Food: Homemade and Healthier Faux Junk Food: Homemade and Healthier Faux Junk Food: Homemade and Healthier

I’m thrilled to be the “yes” mom this week. My kids are so used to hearing “no” when they beg me to purchase the junk food they see advertised on TV commercials. Imagine their surprise when I offered Oreos, or shall we say "Faux Reos," for their after-school snack.

My reasons for saying NO to these foods has nothing to do with an aversion to sugar or fat, though I am an advocate of "everything in moderation." I'm not one of those über healthy moms that only shop at Mrs. Greens or the local farmer's markets—you know the ones. They radiate with good health, quietly add wheat germ, bee pollen, and acai berries to all their whole grain, rawfood, kelp-enhanced meals; their children probably eat their vegetables without a bribery of something sweet and sugary to follow.

I wish I could be more like those moms, but it's just not me. 

I say "no" to buying most processed foods and snacks because I believe most of my family's food should be real food.  Not chemically-enhanced food that comes in a cardboard box, but real food you find not in the middle aisles, but on the grocery store perimeter.  Food you can buy at a roadside stand in the summer, sold by real farmer who may not even know the words  "biodynamic agriculture" or "artisanal" even if he is actually practicing them on his farm.

Just food. No chemicals, preservatives or additives.

So I recently began a quest to provide my chidren with some of the junk food they demand—without red dye #40.

The outcome from the quest

Having spent the past two weeks testing and creating recipes for homemade versions of popular processed-food snacks, I truly believe the homemade versions trump the processed ones both in taste and nutrition. Not that I am promoting these snacks as necessarily healthful. But compared to their chemically-enhanced, sugar and sodium-enriched, factory-processed evil twins, they should be considered the worthy protagonist of the two. 

These faux snacks shun additives and preservatives.  When possible, they even embrace organic whole wheat flour. They aim to please even though they might scare some away with their butter and sugar contents. But this is real, honest-to-goodness food, prepared with love and by hand.  And, most importantly, these nibbles taste fabulous!

Yes, these will take time and effort compared to buying and opening a box.  But none of the recipes are that difficult, and think of how good you will feel being the "yes" mom or dad as you present non-chemically enhanced delights to your loved ones.

“Double Stuff” your pleasure?

I hadn’t eaten an Oreo cookie in years, though I do remember the pleasure as a kid of opening them up and eating the filling first, then dipping the crisp chocolate cookies into a tall cold glass of milk. Yum. This recipe is better than the real thing.  I kid you not. And you can make them with double or triple the “stuff”!

I found a recipe for “Faux Reos” on the King Arthur Flour website which I adapted to my liking, changing up the flour to include organic whole wheat pastry flour which worked beautifully. I’m one who doesn’t always like the “whole wheat” versions of cakes, cookies or pastries, but it honestly works in this recipe, sacrificing neither taste nor texture. 

The King Arthur Flour version included an all vegetable shortening filling, which I substituted with half shortening and half butter. De-lish! It tastes exactly like the original.

These cookies will take some time to prepare, but really not much more than cupcakes require. Consider baking them for special occasions – birthday treats for a class, or as a special dessert served with ice cream for a dinner party. Your guests will thank you for it, again and again.

FAUX-REOS

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

makes about 25-30 cookies

COOKIES

1 1/8 cup sugar

3/4 cup butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

1 tablespoon cold water

 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa

FILLING

2 ¼ cups confectioners' sugar

¼ cup vegetable shortening

¼ cup unsalted butter

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoons cold water*

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line with parchment two baking sheets.

To make the cookies: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, and salt.

Beat in the egg, water, and vanilla, then the flour and cocoa. The dough will be very stiff.

Roll the dough into balls about the size of a chestnut (about 2 level teaspoons). A teaspoon cookie scoop works fabulously here, as well as for the filling. If you don't have one, consider a purchase; you won't regret it. Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 1/2" to 2" between them.

Use the flat bottom of a glass, dipped in cocoa as necessary to prevent sticking, to flatten the cookies to about 1/8" to 3/16" thick. The end of a food processor's pusher tool works well here, too. Take a ruler and measure the cookies' thickness; you want to get pretty close to this measurement, for the best-textured cookies.

Bake the cookies for 18 to 20 minutes. It's important to bake them just the right amount of time; too little, and they won't be crisp; too much, and they'll scorch. Watch them closely at the end of the baking time, and if you start to smell scorching chocolate before the time is up, take them out. When they're done, remove the cookies from the oven, and allow them to cool completely, on a rack or on the pan.

While the cookies are cooling, make the filling.

Beat together the sugar, shortening, butter and vanilla. It'll seem very dry at first, but will eventually begin to clump together.

Add the water, beating till smooth and spreadable. The filing should be stiff, but not so stiff that you can't flatten it when you sandwich it between the cookies.

Place one level tablespoon filling in the center of one cookie; again, a teaspoon cookie scoop, slightly heaped, is perfect for this task. Place another cookie atop the filling, and squeeze to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Store in an airtight container.

Chewy, gooey granola bars

One of my sons loves chewy granola bars.  I used to buy them as an occasional treat.  Not anymore, now that I’ve discovered how easy it is to prepare them at home.  The granola bars do have sugar, but they also incorporate ingredients you can feel good about such as oats, dried fruit or dark chocolate, honey, and peanut butter.

These chewy bars are a snap to make.  No machines are necessary in the included recipe.  The mixture is just pressed into a pan.  Easy peasy.

I, however, process some of the oats (1/2 cup) in a food processor to make an oat “flour.” I do the same with all of the shredded coconut. The reason being that I have one son who dislikes the texture of the shredded coconut, though he appreciates the taste. And the food-processed oats make for a more refined bar. 

I have intentionally left these additional steps out of the recipe to really make it easier for you, but feel free to include them if you want the bars to really resemble the store-bought bars. The bars with the untouched rolled oats and shredded coconut are more rustic and bring to mind a homey chocolate-coconut cookie bar.  

CHEWY GRANOLA BARS

Makes 10-12 bars

2 cups quick rolled oats (optionally, finely chop 1/2 cup of the oats in a food processor to create a bar which will resemble the store-bought version)

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon table salt

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, or small diced dried fruit

¾ cup shredded sweetened coconut (optionally can be finely chopped in food processor)

optional, ¼ cup nuts or seeds

¼ cup melted unsalted butter

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Line a 9x13 pan, or half sheet pan, with parchment paper, or lightly grease the pan.

Stir together the oats, sugar, salt, chocolate chips (or fruit), coconut and nuts.  In a separate bowl, mix together the butter, honey, peanut butter, and water.  Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and mix together until wet and crumbly. 

Press the mixture into the pan. Spread it to the edges and press down firmly all over.  Bake the bars for 25 minutes until golden brown.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Cut into bars. 

The bars will firm up as they cool.  After they have cooled, you can store them in an airtight container for up to a week. 

Little Cheesy “Goldfish” Crackers

These crackers really do taste similar to the Pepperidge Farm version, though maybe a touch more cheesy which I prefer.  They are light and very crisp.  The dough takes only a couple minutes to prepare – you just throw all the ingredients into a food processor, pulse it a few times and voila!  Cracker dough.

The more time consuming element of the recipe is the rolling out of the dough and the cutting out of the shapes.  If you have little ones who like to cut out cookies, enroll their assistance.  The dough is extremely easy to work with, and the scraps are fine to be re-rolled for additional crackers.

I could not find a small goldfish cookie cutter, though I’m sure one could find it online.  I used a miniature star cutter which I had on hand.  I also did one batch just using my pizza cutter to cut the dough into ½ inch squares.  This went extremely fast and will be my preferred version for the future.

If you want to spice things up a bit, throw in a big pinch of cayenne pepper into the dough mix.  Or play with it and maybe add some herbs to make a more sophisticated cracker for a party.  Rosemary and blue cheese might be an interesting rivision to the recipe.

MINI CHEDDAR CRACKERS

Makes 125+ crackers, depending on cookie cutter size

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced into small pieces

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

½ teaspoon table salt

1/8 teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon onion powder

Pulse the flour, butter, cheese, salt, paprika, and onion powder together using a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Pulse in 3 tablespoons of water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and only enough so that the dough forms a ball. Remove, flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking pans with parchment paper and set aside. Roll the dough out to 1/8th-inch thickness. Cut out as many crackers as possible using a mini fish-shaped cutter or another shape if necessary.  Optionally, you can use a pizza cutter to slice the rolled dough into ½ inch squares. Place them on the prepared baking pans. Bake 15 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Allow to cool. Repeat with remaining dough and scraps. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

“Pop Tarts” with milk, eggs, butter and flour instead of riboflavin, niacinamide, soybean oil, and high fructose corn syrup.

To be honest, I was never that big a fan of “Pop Tarts”.  They just didn’t do much for me.  But I do love pies and tarts, and this recipe which I adapted from King Arthur Flour provides a delicious portable tartlet. 

The included recipe is for a cinnamon and brown sugar tart, but I also tried making the tarts with Nutella, an Italian chocolate and hazelnut spread now widely available.  The Nutella toaster tarts are divine, especially when warm.

The dough is a cinch to make, and extremely easy to roll out.  I know what you must be thinking… “Pop Tarts?  Is she insane?” But they really are fairly simple and quick to make. 

Kids will have fun choosing the filling, pressing the edges with a fork, and brushing the tops with an egg wash.  And once they are made, you have an easy breakfast food for the next several days.  If you have the will power not to devour them within the first hour, that is.

POP-UP TOASTER TARTS

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Makes 9-10 tarts

PASTRY

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pats

1 large egg

2 tablespoons milk

CINNAMON FILLING

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1 large egg, to brush on pastry before filling

MAKE THE DOUGH: Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Work in the butter until the mixture holds together when you squeeze it, with pecan-sized lumps of butter still visible. Mix the egg and milk, and add it to the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive.

Divide the dough in half; each half will weigh about 10 ounces. Shape each half into a rough 3" x 5" rectangle, smoothing the edges. Roll out immediately; or wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

MAKE THE FILLING: Whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and flour.

ASSEMBLE THE TARTS: If the dough has been chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to soften and become workable, about 15 to 30 minutes. Place one piece on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8" thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9" x 12". Laying a 9" x 13" pan atop the dough will give you an idea if you’ve rolled it large enough. Trim off the edges; place the scraps on a baking sheet, and set them aside, along with the 9" x 12" rectangle of dough.

Roll the second piece of dough just as you did the first. Press the edge of a ruler into the dough you’ve just rolled, to gently score it in thirds lengthwise and widthwise; you’ll see nine 3" x 4" rectangles.

Beat the egg, and brush it over the entire surface of the dough. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each marked rectangle. Place the second sheet of dough atop the first, using your fingertips to press firmly around each pocket of jam, sealing the dough well on all sides. Press the tines of a fork all around the edge of the rectangle. Cut the dough evenly in between the filling mounds to make nine tarts. Press the cut edges with your fingers to seal, then press with a fork, to seal again.

Gently place the tarts on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork; you want to make sure steam can escape, or the tarts will become billowy pillows rather than flat toaster pastries. Refrigerate the tarts (they don’t need to be covered) for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 350°F.

Sprinkle the dough trimmings with cinnamon-sugar; these have nothing to do with your toaster pastries, but it’s a shame to discard them, and they make a wonderful snack. While the tarts are chilling, bake these trimmings for 13 to 15 minutes, till they’re golden brown.

Remove the tarts form the fridge, and bake them for 25 to 35 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to cool on the pan.

Yield: 9 tarts.

VARIATION: Instead of brown sugar and cinnamon, fill the tarts with a tablespoonful nutella or chocolate chips.  Or add a tablespoon of your favorite fruit jam.

DING “Hot Pockets”

I couldn’t help but sing the words “hot pockets” when I made these and presented them to my family.  I’m sure you know the tune.

I made mine more like a calzone shape than the original.  Let’s face it, “hot pockets” really are savory turnovers, or calzones. I made the dough from scratch adapting yet another King Arthur Flour recipe – these recipes really work well and they are easy to follow. However, you could substitute Pilsbury brand Crescent rolls for the homemade dough. 

Tasty turnovers filled with melted cheese and hot pizza sauce were the best.  But the turkey and cheese version was also good and created a great lunchbox alternative for a turkey sandwich. Following the recipe below, I also include ideas for additional filling.

FYI - the pizza sauce and mozzarella like to seep out, so make sure you really crimp the edges well. 

“HOT POCKETS” PIZZA TURNOVERS

makes 12 turnovers

DOUGH:

You can use the below recipe for “Hearth Bread”, adapted from King Arthur Flour, or use Pilsbury Crescent rolls to create the turnovers.

Turnover Dough

Adapted from “Hearth Bread” recipe from King Arthur Flour

2 cups lukewarm (110°F) water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon or packet active dry yeast

6 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon salt

Dissolve yeast and sugar in lukewarm water in a large bowl. Let proof for 5 minutes or so; mixture should begin to bubble.

Stir 1 cup flour into yeast mixture. Add salt, then stir in an additional 4 1/2 cups flour. When dough begins to hold together and pull away from the sides of the bowl, it's ready to knead.

Knead dough, using remaining 1/2 cup flour for work surface. Knead for 3 to 4 minutes, then let dough rest while you clean and grease your bowl. Knead an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Dough should be smooth, elastic and no longer sticky.

Form dough into a ball and place in greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover bowl with a damp towel or piece of plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 2 hours depending on where you set the bowl (as well as the humidity level in your kitchen.)

Punch dough down, and turn out onto a lightly floured surface (alternatively, you can leave dough in bowl and let it rise again, for about half the time of the initial rising; this will produce a finer-grained product).

Preheat the oven to 400º F. Divide the dough into 12 equal sized balls, and cover them with a kitchen towel.  Pat one ball down on a floured surface.  Sprinkle the top with a little flour and roll out into a circle, 1/8 inch thick. Spread 1 tablespoon pizza sauce over half the circle, leaving 1 inch border sauce-free.  Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the sauce – about ¼ cup.  Fold the circle in half, pinch the edges together, and fold over one inch at a time into a decorative border.  Prick the top of the dough several times with a fork.  Brush the beaten egg over the top and edges with a pastry brush.  

If using the Crescent rolls, use 2 sections to create one turnover.  Brush a little of the egg wash on the border of the bottom section.  Place the top section over it.  Press down the edges with a fork to really seal the sides together.

Bake the turnovers for 20-25, or until golden brown.  Turn halfway through the cook time if they are browning unevenly.  If using the Crescent roll dough, cook 13-15 minutes at 375º F.

Alternative Turnover Fillings:

Scrambled eggs with bacon and cheese

Deli sliced turkey and cheese

Sliced grape tomatoes with diced fresh mozzarella and julienned basil leaves

Carmelized onions with sliced roast beef and horseradish sauce (sour cream, prepared horseradish, salt & pepper to taste)

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