Jacksonville mom puts healthy twist on baking sugar-free sweets

Originally Published December 20, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 19, 2012 at 11:37 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Shannon Fields stopped eating gluten for health reasons several years ago and began experimenting with gluten- and sugar-free baking. Fields sells cookies and donuts online, and makes about 10 batches of cookies a day most of the year, but is busier during the holiday season.

It’s the time of year when packages of sugar and white flour are flying off grocery shelves and into the carts of most home bakers.

But Shannon Fields’ kitchen tells a different story. In an effort to eat better, Fields keeps her baking gluten- and sugar-free.

“I had tried the Atkins diet when I was younger, but it was so boring,” Fields said. “I started looking for new ways and noticed people baking with nut flours.”

Five years ago, Fields and her daughter decided to try a sugar-free and gluten-free diet to lose some weight. Rather than depriving themselves of a treat every now and then, Fields began looking up baking recipes that adhered to their new diet.

“At first I really failed,” Fields said with a laugh. The cookies were dry and flavorless. But as her experiments continued, her successes began to grow.

Instead of wheat flour, Fields swapped in a mix of coconut flour and almond flour. Instead of sugar, she turned to natural sweeteners such as stevia and erythritol.

“When I first started, I used only coconut flour or only almond flour,” Fields said. “But the coconut flour made things dry, and the almond flour was gritty. If you use a bit of both, they balance out. My daughter says they’re just like real sweets.”

Though the special flours and sweeteners she uses aren’t as common in the baking aisles, Fields says those interested should be able to find some at Whole Foods or larger Kroger stores.

While the sweets Fields bakes are gluten- and sugar-free and often lower in calories, they still include dairy products, butter and dark chocolate. Fields makes her own chocolate chips by melting down dark chocolate, adding stevia for sweetness, cooling them to a solid and chopping them up.

After Fields perfected her recipes at home, she started getting requests from friends and family for the healthier treats.

“People were saying they couldn’t tell the difference between my cookies and ones with sugar,” Fields said.

With that success under her belt, she decided she might be able to turn the baking into a side business. She started a page on Etsy.com, an online marketplace, under the name Scrumptious Sugar-Free Sweets. Soon her low-carb, sugar-free, grain-free and gluten-free treats were taking off. Fields originally had anticipated selling two or three orders a month. The money would be enough to help her family save for their upcoming second adoption of a young boy from China.

Now, Fields dedicates nearly her whole Saturday to baking for her online orders. Over the past month, she’s been making 20-25 batches a week for people all over the country.

“I think gluten-free and sugar-free are real big right now,” Fields said. “People are thinking a lot more about their health lately.”

Fields said about half the orders coming in are for her most unique item: Chocolate sandwich cookies wrapped inside a chocolate chip cookie. And yes, Fields has been eating them and still losing weight.

“I’ve lost about 40 pounds since I started the diet,” Fields said. “I could go on and on about how gluten is bad for people. The wheat we eat in things like store-bought bread is genetically modified and can really irritate people. When I went low carb, I stopped having stomach problems.”

Fields and her family try to stick to a “80/20” plan where 80 percent of what they eat is healthy and 20 percent can be a little more indulgent. Her family’s favorite right now are the baked doughnuts Fields has been experimenting with.

For those interested in trying out gluten- and sugar-free baking, try Fields’ recipe below or head to healthyindulgences.net, a website where Fields got much of her inspiration.

“This is a way to eat sweets that is just a whole lot better for you,” Fields said. “This is the way to eat for your health.”

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Mini Cookies

Makes 36 mini cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup coconut oil or real butter

1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter or 3/4 cup chunky peanut butter

1/2 cup erythritol

1/2 teaspoon stevia

4 large free-range eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup almond flour

1/4 cup coconut flour

1/2 cup lightly salted chopped peanuts or walnuts

1/2 cup sugar-free chocolate chips

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Directions:

Cream coconut oil, peanut butter, erythriotl and stevia together in a mixing bowl. Add eggs, vanilla, baking soda and salt and beat until combined. Stir in almond and coconut flour, then stir in coconut, nuts and chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Can be made in mini muffin tins or on a cookie sheet. Bake for 13-15 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. Centers may seem underdone, but will firm as they cool. Let cookies cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

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