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Low-fat Chocolava Cookies

I pondered which recipe to introduce myself to the Family Kitchen with. First impressions are important, right? I finally settled on a cookie – the ultimate feel-good and sharing food – and when it comes down to it, if I were to choose one recipe that epitomizes me and how I got to be doing what I do, this is it.

To backtrack: my Dad is a doctor. His family has a history of heart disease, and so he has always been fit and healthy – one of the few dads I knew who did aerobics – and conscious of what he eats. That said, he’s also a chocoholic. Decades ago he challenged my sisters and I to come up with a good low-fat cookie, one with chocolate and chew that was as good as its high-fat counterparts, and this is what I came up with. The popularity of these cookies, which are dense, chewy and intensely chocolate, much like a brownie, inspired me to open a low-fat cookie bakery in Calgary, Alberta (I’m Canadian, eh?) at which these were our top sellers. After two years of getting up at 1 in the morning to bake all night for our morning deliveries, I closed up shop and self-published a cookbook. Having made a handful of low-fat cookies for the bakery, I kept on going, trimming all my favourite cookies, squares, brownies and biscotti of excess fat and calories, and turned it into a book. That’s the (extremely) short version of the story.

During that year and a half, I also lost half my body weight – 165 pounds – as I stopped dieting, got moving and learned to make all my favourite foods healthier. But that’s another story.

These cookies in some small way triggered all of this. Knowing that cookies don’t have to be packed with fat and calories, that they can be something I can eat without berating myself for it, and that the same techniques can be applied to other food as well (my Grandma’s butter tarts! Coming soon, I promise) let me relax about it, and ditch the guilt. (Which, by the way, is a terrible motivator.) It led to my bakery, my cookbook, and eventually a career as a food writer – I now have a food column on CBC Radio One, co-host a cooking show, have four (best-selling!) cookbooks and write a food blog, Dinner with Julie. And now I’m here. This cookie – dubbed Chocolava by my then-7-year-old nephew – seems as good a place as any to begin.

And they make people happy. Let’s not forget that.

(Speaking of first impressions, I was doing a cooking demo at the Banff Springs Hotel years ago, and was making these cookies. When I finished I took off my apron and headed for the washroom, passing John Cleese waiting for the elevator. Naturally, I waited for the elevator next to him. He turned to smile at me and instead recoiled in horror – I noticed later when I made it to the washroom that I had a smear of dark cocoa up the side of my face. Classy.)

OK, less talk – more cooking. I’m so happy to be here, and to have the opportunity to share this (and future) recipes with you! Here’s to a long and delicious relationship.

(P.S. – I take requests!)

Chocolava Cookies

These cookies are dense, chewy, intensely chocolate and brownie-like, with only 2.5 grams of fat each. Be sure not to overbake them – they should be set around the edges but still soft in the middle if you want them to stay chewy once they’ve cooled down.

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs or 3 large egg whites
2 tsp. vanilla

icing sugar, for rolling

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl (or the bowl of a food processor) combine the flour, sugars, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and blend with a fork, whisk or pastry cutter (or pulse the food processor) until well blended.

If you’re using a food processor, transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir until the dough comes together (you may need to use your hands for this) – at first it will seem like there isn’t enough liquid, but it eventually works! You may need to get in there with your hands – don’t be afraid to – you’ll need to roll the dough into balls by hand anyway.

Put some icing sugar in a shallow bowl and spray two cookie sheets with nonstick spray. Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and roll the balls in icing sugar to coat; place an inch or two apart on the cookie sheets.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, until set around the edges but still soft in the middle. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

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