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Upper St. Clair pastry chef finds diabetics can enjoy desserts in moderation

| Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stacey Harris of Upper St. Clair was a student in the culinary program at Bidwell Training Center, North Side, when she became ill and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Her diagnosis wasn't totally unexpected, because she has a history of family members with the disease. But her dream of becoming a pastry chef and working with tempting desserts suddenly seemed unrealistic. Diabetics must control their intake of sugar and carbohydrates -- and she loved to bake and eat sweets.

"I had hopes of opening a bakery," she says. "I have been collecting recipes since the age of 13. I had devised a whole line of bakery products I hoped to sell, but they would be too tempting for me."

She remembers being depressed about her illness until she decided to start experimenting with her recipes in her kitchen at home. She didn't like the taste of most artificial sweeteners but found if she could reduce the amount of ingredients such as sugar, white flour and butter, she could convert them to diabetic-friendly versions.

"The regular desserts we are used to eating contain those ingredients. That's how we have come to know the taste of bakery products," Harris says. "I figured I had to use a portion of those items to have the recipes taste like the originals."

In some cases, she adjusted the quantity of sugar or added a sugar substitute. In others, she mixed whole milk with equal amounts of water to create the same taste as 2-percent milk "for half the cost and half the carbs." She learned to bake with canola butter or oil and to blend whole-grain flour with white flour.

"I still add white flour to most of my recipes and some sugar, but they're less harmful on a diabetic system," she says. "I like to make my own flour mix, using white, whole-wheat, soy and oat flour. I use it in a lot of my recipes."

Utilizing her substitution techniques to create low-calorie, low-carbohydrate recipes, she realized she had transformed more than 200 desserts into tasty, diabetic-friendly cakes, cookies, pies and puddings -- enough for a cookbook.

Harris' new cookbook, "The Diabetic Pastry Chef" (Pelican Publishing Co., $24.95), released in February, offers advice on how diabetics can enjoy desserts in moderation. One of her tips: "To cut down on temptation, I recommend that you freeze your baked cookies in an airtight container and only remove a few as needed. They can be reheated in the microwave."

Another way to control portion size is by baking cupcakes instead of a cake, tarts instead of a pie, and puddings in individual ramekins instead of a large bowl.

Her cookbook includes general information about diabetes and discusses the basics of recipe modification. A Net Carb Counter section provides carbohydrate totals for dairy products and substitutes; various types of flours; nuts, seeds and spreads, rice and grains, and more. Nutrition facts and calorie counts accompany each recipe.

Harris says the healthy desserts she makes are enjoyed by her husband, a long-distance truck driver who was diagnosed with diabetes four years ago.

"They honestly taste pretty much like the original," she says. "People can take most any recipe and turn it into one that is diabetic-friendly."

Among her favorite recipes in her cookbook are those for her Best Banana Bread, Flourless Chocolate Cake and Cinnamon Coffee Cake.

"I get a lot of e-mail from people who tell me they love the Whole Grain Waffles, too," she says.

The pastry chef is working on a second book that will focus on stevia and agave nectar, two natural sweeteners. And she still is open to the idea of opening a bakery one day.

Whole-Wheat Oatie Chocolate Chip Cookies

To make the "Oaties" extra special, pastry chef Stacey Harris likes to top the cookies with melted chocolate chips and flaky coconut.

White whole-wheat flour is available in supermarkets in the Pittsburgh area, she says.

• 3/4 cup butter

• 3/4 cup granulated sugar

• 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

• 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

• 2 large eggs

• 2 cups whole-wheat or white whole-wheat flour

• 1/2 cup white flour

• 3/4 teaspoon baking soda

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1 cup rolled oats

• 1 1/2 cups semisweet or sugar-free chocolate chips

• 1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Cream together the butter and sugars with an electric mixer. Mix in the vanilla and eggs.

Sift the flours, baking soda and salt. Add the oats and stir.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Fold in the chips and nuts, if using.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake for approximately 8 to 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Allow the cookie sheet to cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack. Remove the cookies with a spatula and cool completely on the rack.

Makes 36 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 163 calories, 8 grams fat, 24 milligrams cholesterol, 3 grams protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams sugar, 2 grams dietary fiber, 127 milligrams sodium

Orange Flower Bundt Cake

Many Middle Eastern desserts use orange flower water, made from bitter orange blossoms. It is hard to obtain in the United States, so Harris uses orange extract in this traditional cake.

For the Cake:

• 1/2 cup butter, softened

• 1/2 cup trans-fat-free shortening

• 1 1/4 cups sugar

• 1 1/4 cups Splenda®

• 5 large eggs, well beaten

• 1 1/2 cups cake flour

• 1 1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour

• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

• 1 cup milk

• 1 tablespoon orange extract

• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the Glaze:

• 1 cup Splenda ®

• 1/2 cup water

• 1 tablespoon orange extract

• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

To prepare the cake: In large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter, shortening, sugar and Splenda. Add the eggs and mix well.

Sift together the flours and baking powder. Add the flour mixture, alternately in small amounts with the milk, to butter mixture. Stir in the extracts.

Pour the batter into a well-greased and floured 10-inch or 12-cup Bundt pan. Bake for 1 1/2 hours in a heated 325-degree oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. Frost with glaze while the cake still is warm.

To prepare the glaze: Mix the ingredients together in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce and simmer until the glaze has thickened, for approximately 5 minutes.

Brush 1/4 of the glaze onto the bottom of the warm cake with a pastry brush. Brush the remaining glaze over the top and sides of the cake. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Makes 16 servings

Nutrition information per serving: 388 calories, 15 grams fat, 93 milligrams cholesterol, 5 grams protein, 60 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams sugar, 2 grams dietary fiber, 87 milligrams sodium

Whole-Grain Waffles

This recipe also works well with whole-wheat pastry flour in lieu of the other flours. The waffles make great breakfast sandwiches with bacon, eggs and cheese between them. A fun afternoon snack can be made by cutting the waffles into sticks and spreading with peanut butter.

• 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

• 1/2 cup white flour

• 1/2 cup soy flour

• 1 tablespoon Splenda ®

• 1 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 2 large eggs

• 2 cups buttermilk or sour milk (see note ) or combination

• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

• 2 tablespoons canola oil

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk just until mixed. Bake in a heated waffle iron according to the manufacturer's directions until golden brown. Serve hot with Canola Butter and sugar-free syrup.

Note: Milk can be soured by adding 2 tablespoons vinegar or fresh lemon juice to 2 cups whole milk. Stir and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 245 calories, 9 grams fat, 83 milligrams cholesterol, 11 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 4 grams dietary fiber, 519 milligrams sodium

Canola Butter

• 2 cups butter, softened

• 1 1/2 cups canola oil or olive oil

Whip the butter with an electric mixer. Add the oil and beat. Pour into a container and refrigerate until hardened. Keep refrigerated. Makes 3 1/2 cups.

Use this as a healthy spread for quick breads, biscuits, waffles and muffins and to butter vegetables.

Additional Information:

Stacey Harris

What: Personal appearances and book signings

When and where:

• 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Pitt Union, Kurtzman Room, University of Pittsburgh, 3959 Fifth Ave., Oakland

• 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Borders, 1775 North Highland Road, Bethel Park

• 2-4 p.m. March 13, Barnes & Noble, Monroeville Mall, 700 Mall Circle Drive, Monroeville

Cost: Free

Details: Web site

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