Buttery Festive Delights: Healthy Desserts for Special Occasions

I can just imagine all the groaning and the shaking of heads as you think to yourselves: You must be kidding. There’s no such thing as a healthy dessert! Nevertheless, healthy desserts are possible. Although you should eat anything containing sweeteners with some reserve. Sugars should not be consumed to the extent that they are by so many today.)

That being said, there are special times of the year when we let our guard down, such as when we have company at a festive gathering. And yes, those are the times when sweet morsels seem to be necessary.

I’ve therefore taken the time to modify a great array of easy recipes that were originally made with lots of refined sugar and white flour. Hopefully, you’ll like how I transformed them into easy-to-make baked goods that fit the criteria of healthy—or at least aren’t so damaging to our health. I invite you to keep reading! Be sure and try some of the recipes below, and let me know how they turned out.

What Makes a Dish Healthy

The only things that can truly meet that criterion are the ingredients you use, whether it’s a dessert, a great luncheon, or a dinner-time meal. When you take the time to carefully choose healthy, natural ingredients, your recipe becomes a profoundly nourishing meal, snack, or dessert. So, let’s first talk a little about ingredients.

At the end of each of my blog posts—indeed at the end of most recipes you’ll find at SRP https://www.seleneriverpress.com/ — you’ll find the following recommendations. In my humble opinion, this makes a short but comprehensive guide that allows you to easily evaluate recipes to be sure they contain healthy ingredients.

To choose your organically and fresh ingredients wisely, I recommend that you also use the following criteria:

  • Chemical- and hormone-free meat
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Pasture-raised eggs
  • Whole, unrefined grains
  • Virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
  • Whole food, unrefined sweeteners
  • Pure, clean spring water
  • Sea salt
  • Raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Personal note: In addition to the above, I also recommend the following:

  • Use animal fats such as butter, lard, or tallow.
  • Use coconut oil in limited amounts.

The Nutrient Dense Ingredient I Use in All of the Recipes Below

 While deciding what I wanted to emphasize in all of these tasty recipes, I decided on a nutrient dense ingredient that’s back in vogue after years of being tagged as an artery clogging substance: BUTTER!

Nourishing Traditions author Sally Fallon Morell recommends eating 3–4 tablespoons of butter per day. Please take the time to read the truth about real butter in the following excerpt from “Why Butter Is Better” by Sally Fallon Morell and Mary G. Enig, PhD:

“Butter contains lecithin, a substance that assists in the proper assimilation and metabolism of cholesterol and other fat constituents…

“Butter is also a good dietary source cholesterol. What?? Cholesterol…is a potent… [substance] that is flooded into the blood when we take in too many harmful free-radicals—usually from damaged and rancid fats in margarine and highly processed vegetable oils. A Medical Research Council survey showed that men eating butter ran half the risk of developing heart disease as those using margarine.”

Feel free to read the whole article to learn about many other interesting benefits of raw butter, including the relationships between butter and cancer, the immune system, arthritis, osteoporosis, the thyroid gland, weight gain, and gastrointestinal health.

Butter also tops Sally’s list of “The Fourteen Superfoods.” And also keep in mind that Dr. Royal Lee was writing and teaching about the health benefits of butter almost eighty years ago.

About the Ingredients

Modifying recipes isn’t always an easy task. The cook generally needs to prepare them as they were first created and then experiment using new ingredients to be sure it turns out as nicely as the original. In this case I have permissions from GoBoldWithButter.com to use their recipes as is and to adapt them.

I’m not using freshly ground whole grain flour due to the fact that most people will not go through the extra step of grinding their own berries to make it. Additionally, whole grains may result in a different texture. Nevertheless, whole grain is the best choice if you want to make these recipes even more nutrient dense, and I invite you to try it.

If you’re interested in grinding your own berries, take a look at my recommendations of superior grain mills at Traditional Cook.

Recommended Organic and/or Sprouted Grains and Flours

The recipes below are primarily for special occasions, and some guests may not be familiar with the texture of whole grain. That’s why I recommend the Organic Soft White Wheat Flour from Breadtopia. Unlike regular commercial unbleached flour, they don’t taint their products with chemicals to make it whiter.

For sprouted grains or flours, I frequently use HealthyFlour.com. When you use sprouted grains, you don’t need to presoak your grains in order to neutralize the phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of minerals.

Making Your Own Powdered or Coarse Sanding Sugar

Many recipes call for white commercial powdered sugar or coarse sanding sugar. I prefer to make these on my own with nutrient dense sweeteners such as coconut sugar or rapadura. The sugar won’t be a pure white since these natural sugars are in their virgin state, but they’re far better for you than the white denatured junk commonly used. And that matters, both for us and our children!

Start with 1 cup of coconut or rapadura sugar (or however much you want to make). Place the sugar in a Vitamix blender or food processor and pulse. Pulverize the sugar either very fine or coarse. That’s it!

Your Next Baking Adventure: The Modified Recipes

—Unless otherwise noted, the following recipes are adapted with permission from GoBoldWithButter.com.

Cranberry Oat Crumble Bars
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 12 servings

For the oat crumble:
2 cups organic white whole wheat flour
2 cups quick-cooking oats (I recommend sprouted rolled oats for even healthier phytic-free bars)
1½ cups coconut sugar (or less to make healthier bars)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) organic butter, slightly melted

For the cranberry filling:
4 cups fresh organic cranberries
1¼ cups coconut or rapadura sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine flour, oats, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Stir in melted butter and mix until crumbly. Press half of the mixture into a greased 13×9-inch baking dish. Bake 8 minutes.
  3. Combine cranberries, sugar, orange juice and vanilla in a large sauce pan. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until berries pop. Reduce heat to medium and cook until mixture thickens to a jam-like consistency.
  4. Spoon the filling evenly over the crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Bake 25 minutes or until the filling is bubbly and the topping is golden brown. Let cool 20 minutes, or until the filling is set. Cut into bars and serve.

Chocolate Molasses Cookies
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 8 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 3 dozen cookies

½ cup organic unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup coconut or rapadura sugar
1 large pastured egg
¼ cup organic molasses
1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
2 cups organic white whole wheat flour
⅓ cup organic unsweetened cocoa or carob powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
Coarse sanding sugar, for rolling (see directions for natural coarse sanding sugar above)  


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. With an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until creamy, about 3–4 minutes. Add egg, molasses and vanilla, mixing after each addition.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa or carob powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt.
  4. Add to the molasses mixture and mix just until combined.
  5. Portion into rounded tablespoons and form into balls. Roll in natural sanding sugar and place on prepared sheet pan.
  6. Bake until cookies are puffed and set around the edges, 7– 8 minutes. Do not overbake.
  7. Let cool for a few minutes on the sheet pan then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Apple-Cherry Turnovers
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 5 hours
Yield: 1 dozen turnovers

For the pastry:
3½ cups organic white whole wheat flour
1½ cups cold organic butter
2 packages active dry yeast
½ cup warm water (105–115°F)
½ cup organic heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
2 pastured eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup coconut or rapadura sugar

For the filling:
½ cup dried organic cherries
4 organic granny smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons lightly packed coconut or rapadura sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the assembly:
1 pastured egg
1 tablespoon water
¼ cup coconut or rapadura sugar


  1. To make the pastry: add flour to bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Cut butter into ¼-inch slices and add to flour. Pulse until butter is about the size of kidney beans. If you don’t have a food processor you can cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or other cutting tool.
  2. In large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in cream, salt, eggs and sugar. Turn the flour-butter mixture into liquid ingredients and mix using a rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight (preferred), or up to 4 days.
  3. To make the filling: toss cherries, apples, sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl. Cover and allow mixture to stand at room temperature while you prepare the pastry.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Dust with flour. Roll out to make a 16×20-inch rectangle. Fold into thirds, making three layers. Turn dough and roll out again. Fold again into thirds. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled pastry to ¼-inch thickness. Trim edges to square and cut as many 5×5-inch squares from pastry as possible. Re-roll dough scraps and cut more squares.
  6. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling in center of each square. Combine egg and water in small bowl. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat edges of each square with egg wash. Pull one corner over the mixture to meet the opposite corner to form a triangle. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges.
  7. Place the pastries on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with additional sugar. Bake the turnovers 18–20 minutes, or until pastries are golden brown. Serve warm.

Cinnamon-Sugar Pretzel Bites
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 90 minutes
Yield: 4 dozen pretzel bites

For the dough:
1½ cups spring water (caution: tap water contains chlorine)
¼ cup (half stick) organic butter
3½–4 cups organic white whole wheat flour
1 packet instant dry yeast
½ teaspoon mineral salt
2 tablespoons coconut or rapadura sugar
½ cup baking soda
1 large pastured egg 

For the topping:
½ cup coconut or rapadura sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
½ cup (1 stick) organic butter, melted


  1. Combine water and butter in a small saucepan. Heat over low until butter is melted. Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes, or until mixture reaches 110–120°F.
  2. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine 2 cups of the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add water mixture and mix until combined to form a wet dough.
  3. With mixer on medium low, add remaining flour a ¼ cup at a time until dough clears the bowl but is still slightly sticky to the touch. (You may not need to use all of the flour.) Continue to knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5–7 minutes.
  4. Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  5. Gently punch down dough and knead a few times. Tear a small handful of dough off with your hand and roll into a long thin rope about a ½-inch wide. Use a sharp knife to cut into 1-inch pieces. Repeat with remaining dough.
  6. Preheat oven to 450°F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
  7. Pour 10 cups of water into large pot. Stir in baking soda and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.
  8. Drop dough pieces into water in small batches. Cook 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on prepared pans.
  9. Combine egg with 1 tablespoon water, then brush egg wash over pretzel bites.
  10. Bake until golden brown, about 10–12 minutes.
  11. Combine sugar and cinnamon in large bowl. Drizzle warm pretzel bites with butter and transfer to the bowl. Toss with cinnamon-sugar mixture until well-coated. Pretzel bites are best enjoyed warm, but will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwiches
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Yield: 12 servings

1½ cups organic white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) organic butter, softened
½ cup creamy peanut butter (I recommend the Organic Creamy Peanut Butter from Nuts.com as it has no sugar or salt)
½ cup coconut or rapadura sugar
1 pastured large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¾ cups dark chocolate chunks or preferably carob chips
2 pints Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream (the approved brand in Nourishing Traditions)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat butter, peanut butter and sugar on high until light and fluffy. Stir in egg and vanilla extract. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in chocolate or carob chips.
  4. Using a small ice cream scoop, scoop cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets, placing them 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly golden brown around the edges, about 8–10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheets 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
  5. Once the cookies have completely cooled, turn half of them upside down. Add a scoop of ice cream to each and then sandwich together with the remaining cookies. Place on a baking sheet and freeze at least 1 hour or overnight. Wrap each individually in plastic wrap and keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cream Pie
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Serving Size: 8

For the shell:
1 tablespoon packed coconut or rapadura sugar
1 tablespoon organic white whole wheat flour
1 (9-inch) organic frozen deep-dish pie shell, thawed (or the better option: make your own)

For the filling:
2 cups organic heavy cream
1 cup coconut or rapadura sugar
⅓ cup organic white whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted organic butter, cut up
Ground cinnamon


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. For the shell: whisk together 1 tablespoon each of sugar and flour in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly on the bottom of the pie shell.
  3. For the filling: whisk cream, sugar, flour, and vanilla extract in a medium mixing bowl until smooth.
  4. Place pie shell on a rimmed backing sheet. Pour the filling into the pie shell (it will be very full). Dot the filling with the butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon. To prevent overbrowning, cover the edges of the pie with aluminum foil.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 25 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and the filling is bubbling across the surface. (The pie won’t appear to set but will firm up upon cooling.) Cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours before serving.

Sweet Potato Casserole
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: 8–10 servings

For the sweet potatoes:
3 lbs. (about 3 large) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
⅓ cup butter, melted
½ cup milk
½ cup coconut or rapadura sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

For the streusel topping:
¾ cup organic unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup coconut or rapadura sugar, lightly packed
¾ teaspoon sea salt
6 tablespoons organic butter, melted
¾ cup chopped crispy pecans (see recipe for crispy nuts in my Cook Your Way to Wellness DVD and booklet)


  1. Add cubed sweet potatoes to pot of cold water. Set over high heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 2-quart baking dish with butter.
  3. Mash sweet potatoes, then add butter, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, nutmeg, and salt. Spread evenly into prepared baking dish.
  4. To make topping, combine flour, sugar, salt, melted butter, and crispy pecans in medium bowl (mixture will be crumbly). Sprinkle over sweet potato mixture. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 20–25 minutes. Serve warm.

Sweet Sorghum Spice Cookies
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

1¾ cup organic white whole wheat flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon mineral salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup (1 stick) organic unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sorghum syrup (or substitute organic molasses in a pinch)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut or rapadura sugar
1  pastured egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Coarse sugar for rolling (see instructions for natural coarse sugar above)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter or line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cloves in small bowl.
  3. In larger bowl, beat butter, sorghum syrup and sugar together until smooth. Mix in egg and vanilla and stir until combined.
  4. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until cohesive dough is formed. Refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour.
  5. Using a tablespoon or #40 cookie scoop, form cookie dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in coarse natural sugar until fully coated and place onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake cookies 8–10 minutes, or until edges of the cookies are set and tops are crackly. Cool in pan for about 10 minutes.

 Coconut Flour Bread (Gluten Free)
—Adapted with permission from Cooking with Coconut Flour by Bruce Fife, ND.

This bread is made with full fat coconut flour. It can be used much like regular bread or in lieu of pound cake. The leavening comes from the eggs and baking powder, since coconut flour lacks gluten. If you have an “I won’t eat eggs” person in your family, this is a perfect way to get the great nutrition from eggs into their diet. Shhh… (Smile)

12 whole eggs
1 cup organic butter, slightly melted
¼ cup raw honey, or to taste (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1½ cups sifted full fat coconut flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Special equipment: 5½x9-inch loaf pan


  1. Preheat oven to 335°F. Using a hand mixer, blend eggs, butter, honey, and salt.
  2. Combine coconut flour with baking powder. Use a flour sifter to mix thoroughly into batter until there are no lumps.
  3. Pour into greased (I use coconut oil) loaf pan. Bake in the middle rack of the oven until bread is nicely browned, approximately 1 hour. Bread is done when a toothpick comes out clean or temperature gauge is at 190°F.
  4. Remove from oven, transfer loaf pan to a rack, and allow to cool completely in the pan. With one hand on top of the bread, gently turn pan over to release the loaf.

A Great Standard Process Supplement to Reduce Sugar Cravings 

Gymnema: Contains a complex mixture of saponins (gymnemic acids) and other compounds. This product is standardized to contain 100 mg per tablet of gymnemic acids to ensure optimal strength and quality. The substances in Gymnema work together to:

  • Help reduce sweet cravings
  • Help suppress/inhibit sweet taste sensation

Afterthoughts from the Traditional Cook

Although I’m not a big sugar consumer, nor do I make sweets on a regular basis, I know that they’re simply a part of every festive occasion. Even after a nice Sunday meal it’s good to have a sweet morsel to end with. I hope that you’ll make at least one of the recipes above for those special occasions such as weddings, parties, Christmas, baptisms, and other festive times, and do so without the guilt we feel when we’re gorging on a too-sweet dish made with not so healthy ingredients. After this blog post, I think I won’t eat another dessert till next year! (Smile)
Maria Atwood, CNHP

Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.

Images from iStock/robynmac (main), KatarzynaBialasiewicz (people with balloons), arinahabich (baking ingredients), Lena_Zajchikova (custard).

Maria Atwood, CNHP

Maria Atwood is a semiretired Certified Natural Health Professional and Weston A. Price Chapter Leader in Colorado Springs, CO. Visit her website at TraditionalCook.com. Also check out Maria’s Cook Your Way to Wellness DVD (also available as an e-learning course) and be sure to follow her Tips from the Traditional Cook blog.
Products by Maria Atwood

One thought on “Buttery Festive Delights: Healthy Desserts for Special Occasions

  1. MaryLou says:

    Where can I find the recipe for the Bread and Butter Pudding that is pictured at the top of this article?

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