One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not a singular act, but a habit.”
A new year is the perfect time for new beginnings and a significant chance to wipe our slate clean of negative habits. Come the start of the January, many of us jump on the “New Year, New Me” train. We vow resolutions and set ambitious goals that will hopefully improve our lives in some way. More often than not, these resolutions are health-related—and, more explicitly, mark an effort by many of us to lose weight.
Now I know this is a culinary-based blog, but the nature of my work in food service gives me a bird’s eye view of why our resolutions don’t stick. But I’ll dispense my advice quickly, and then offer you a delicious, healthful shortbread cookie recipe you can enjoy with your New Year’s diet!
Though the numbers aren’t perfectly accurate, some studies reveal that up to a whopping 88% of New Year’s resolutions fail within the first few months! What’s the deal with this? And how can you become one of the 12% who set a plan and actually achieve your goal?
The most common factor that keeps us from accomplishing our goals usually comes from within. Many times, our resolutions lack clarity, our expectations outweigh reality, progress doesn’t happen as quickly or easily as we expect, and all too often we deprive ourselves of pleasure in the process. Then we give up when it all gets too hard to maintain.
But what if, rather than focus on negativity, we revamp our goals to be positive beacons?
What if we made achievable, realistic, and above all explicit goals—instead of lofty, vague, and unattainable ones?
What if we changed our mindset to think of these resolutions not as deprivations but as enrichments in our lives?
Small steps are the way to go if we truly want to see real development. They’re also the most promising factor in helping us make a new activity stick and become Habit. When we set small, manageable goals, we’re able to track our progress. This provides further encouragement, which in-turn inspires us to stay on course, increase the speed of our success, and create added motivation to push ourselves further.
This process can be applied to anything: losing those pesky pounds, paying off debt, moving up in your career—and jut about anything else you can imagine.
As I mentioned before, those of us who resolve to “lose weight” too often make this resolution from a place of deprivation, vagueness, and negativity. Even the wording is ambiguous. There are no concrete steps to help explain how we’ll reach this goal. And even if we create a plan, it tends to be misguided. We’ll devise measures that trade one empty and unwholesome food for another. We’ll look to crash-dieting and severe calorie-restriction rather than learn how to substitute healthy options whenever possible. To put it simply, we rob ourselves of pleasure in our meals, so it therefore becomes a chore to eat healthy. And that’s when we start to feel discouragement—and then to experience failure.
However, if we find healthier alternatives for all our favorite foods and treats, we can track our progress and take more realistic steps toward our goal—without feeling like we’re completely depriving ourselves of all joy in our eating.
And the best part is, the more we do something, the easier it gets. This sentiment rings true in Aristotle’s quote. My experience has shown me that the healthier I eat, the less I crave unhealthy food. In fact, the healthier (and thus happier) I feel, the more I want to make healthy choices. Our brains get rewired to our new habits, and our taste buds become accustomed to certain flavors. For example, sweets that once tasted just fine now taste much sweeter to me.
These shortbread cookies are a perfect example of how a small change can lead toward a healthier you: rich enough to satisfy your sweet tooth and feel like an indulgent treat, yet made with only simple, unrefined ingredients. (Not that I recommend eating half the batch in one sitting. They’re still a treat, and if your goal is to eat healthier, they should be considered as such.)
The ingredient list is short and sweet on this one, so a batch is easy and convenient to whip up. Einkorn flour, an ancient heirloom wheat strain with a very low gluten-content, is my go-to favorite alternative for cakes and pastries. It lends a tender crumb I haven’t seen in any other whole grain. I’ve subbed coconut sugar for traditional (and undesirable) refined white sugar. Coconut sugar is healthier because of its lower glycemic index and nutrient content. Plus, I love the notes of caramel it provides. While I was at it, I also reduced the total amount of sugar in the recipe. Maple sugar would be another excellent substitute, and also my next choice should coconut sugar be unavailable. I’ve discovered that I have a love for bitter chocolate, and I usually use something between 70% and 85% cocoa-content for dipping the cookies, but many folks prefer something closer to 55%–60%.
The add-ins for the shortbread base are endless. I came up with the two variations for this recipe over the holidays, and thus the flavors were inspired by the season. Warm spices and festive fruits and nuts are iconic of cold, winter weather. In warmer months these would be divine with floral notes of lavender or rose, bright citrus, berries, almond extract, and mildly flavored nuts. Dipping in chocolate is purely optional, and I think I’d allow the individual cookie to speak on that one. For example, I’d likely prefer a tart lemon shortbread to shine alone, without the chocolate. As your taste for sugar decreases, you could easily increase the bitterness of the chocolate to make these even healthier.
Chocolate-Dipped Einkorn Shortbread (Two Ways)
Yields about 3 dozen cookies total
Prep time: 15–20 minutes, plus an additional 30 minutes for dough to chill
Cook time: 10 minutes
For the shortbread base:
1 cup butter, room temperature
½ cup coconut sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
2¾ cups whole grain einkorn flour, or other flour of choice
For the Pistachio-Cherry Shortbread:
½ batch shortbread base
¼ cup chopped pistachios
3 tablespoons chopped dried cherries
¼ teaspoon almond extract
For the Coconut-Chai Spiced Shortbread:
½ batch shortbread base
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 star anise, ground with a mortar and pestle or spice mill
¼ teaspoon cardamom seeds, ground with a mortar and pestle or spice mill
½ cup finely shredded coconut, toasted until golden (350°F for about 5 minutes)
6–8 oz. quality dark chocolate, preferably 70% or higher
- Cream butter and sugar together in a stainless bowl or mixer. Add vanilla and beat through. Stir in flour completely. Divide dough in half. Add flavorings to each half and gently stir through until combined.
- Using plastic wrap or parchment paper, roll each chunk of prepared dough into a long log, about 1½ inches in diameter and about 12-inches long. Repeat with second half of dough. Place shortbread logs in the freezer and chill for 20–30 minutes.
- Set racks in top and bottom thirds of oven. Preheat oven to 350° Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife, slice shortbread into coins about ½-inch thick. Place about 15-18 cookies on each baking sheet. Bake cookies on upper and lower racks for 7 minutes, then turn each pan 180 degrees and swap spots (upper pan to lower rack and vice versa). Continue baking an additional 3–5 minutes, or until edges are just golden. It’s better to slightly undercook than overcook.
- When cookies are done, transfer trays to cooling racks for 10 minutes, then remove cookies from trays and finish cooling on racks. If possible, chill them in fridge or freezer a bit before dipping in chocolate.
- To dip in chocolate: Place chocolate in a stainless steel or glass bowl and set on top of a pot filled with about an inch of water. Bring pot to a boil and stir chocolate in bowl above water until completely melted. Careful not to get any water in your chocolate or it will seize up. Once chocolate is melted, dip cookies halfway, then place on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Sprinkle chai cookies with toasted coconut. Chill cookies in fridge until chocolate hardens. For best results, serve at room temperature.
Image from Briana Goodall.