Stacey Harris was halfway through the pastry arts program at Bidwell Training Center when she was hospitalized for a stomach ailment. Learning that it was diabetes that was making her sick, the Stanton Heights native assumed her pastry career was over: No more sugar, butter and white flour.
After a brief "woe is me" period, though, she returned to the kitchen, figuring there must be a way to make breads, cakes and other desserts diabetic-friendly by swapping out the sugar, blending the flour and cutting the milk carbohydrates.
Ten years later, Ms. Harris, 58, has hit upon a winning recipe. Make that recipes. Last month, the Upper St. Clair resident and caterer published "The Diabetic Pastry Chef" (Pelican, $24.95), a collection of more than 200 recipes that fit within the nutritional limits of the diabetic diet. She also recently partnered with Bayer HealthCare and Giant Eagle to develop recipes and give cooking demonstrations. Her mission is to show the more than 20 million diabetics in the U.S. that you can have your cake and eat it, too, without sacrificing flavor.
Q: Why pastry arts?
A: I've been baking and collecting recipes since I was 13, and my mom, Evelyn Dolores Harris, also was a big baker. When I realized my career as a mortgage banker was headed for a downturn, I decided to enroll in culinary school and become a pastry chef.
Q: Obviously you didn't write the book overnight.
A: It was a 10-year process, with a lot of failures in the beginning. Some of my early cakes were so inedible my family wouldn't touch them! But I just kept experimenting and doing things differently until they absolutely loved them and could barely tell the difference between what I was making and a full-flavored pastry.
Q: What was your motivation?
A: My mother, grandmother and several aunts died of diabetes, and my husband, Howard Marshall, who is a long-distance truck driver, also is diabetic. It's unrealistic to think that people will give up sweets for a lifetime. In fact, when I started going on diabetics forums and asked "How many of you eat sweets?" almost everyone said they did, even if they were sneaking them. I remember my mother hoarding sweets.
Q: How difficult was it to adapt recipes?
A: The challenge was to bake something that tasted really good but didn't affect my blood glucose levels. Once I figured out my formula for low-carb flours and how to reduce sugar and substitute solid fats with one made from canola oil, it wasn't hard at all. The secret is you have to leave some of the original ingredients in the recipe, or it's not going to taste like what you're used to.
Q: Is there any recipe you can't adapt?
A: There are some French pastries where, when you remove the sugar, it affects the structure of the baked product, such as sponge cake. You can still do it with a sugar substitute, but it's not going to be quite as good as the traditional recipe.
Q: How'd you get the book deal?
A: A few years ago, I started putting recipes and ideas on a diabetes forum. So many people were interested in them that I started a blog. Initially, I wasn't too adept; when my daughter, Tara, moved back to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles and took it over, she found more than 100 comments I never even knew were there! One day someone from Bayer HealthCare contacted me to see if I would be interested in doing a demonstration on diabetic baking, and the next thing I knew, I had a book deal.
Q: What's your most popular recipe?
A: People really seem to love my flourless chocolate cake, and also my cinnamon coffee cake, which is adapted from my Grandmother Nellie's coffee cake.
Q: Do you ever bake anything you shouldn't be baking?
A: Well, every once in a while I want a full-flavored pound cake ...
Q: What's in the future?
A: I'm continuing to test recipes for my second book, an organic cookbook that will feature recipes using natural sweeteners like agave nectar. But my dream still is to open a bakery. Maybe one day!
Stacey Harris will be signing copies of her cookbook from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Borders Books and Music, 1175 North Highland Rd., Bethel Park. From 2 to 4 p.m. March 13, she'll be at the Barnes & Noble at the Monroeville Mall. For a complete events calendar and archive of her blog, visit diabeticpastrychef.com.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
This is one of Stacey Harris' most requested recipes.
- 8 ounces sugar-free or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces and softened
- 2 whole eggs
- 4 separated eggs
- 1 cup sugar or Splenda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Melt chocolate in double boiler or bowl set over hot water. Remove from heat and whisk in butter until it melts; set aside.
In a bowl, whisk whole eggs and 4 egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar or Splenda and the vanilla, just until blended. Whisk in warm chocolate mixture.
In a separate bowl with an electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy. Slowly add remaining sugar or Splenda. Beat until whites form soft peaks and hold their shape but are not quite stiff. Stir approximately 1/4 of beaten whites into chocolate mixture to lighten it. Gently fold in remaining whites.
Pour batter into an 8-inch springform pan that has been lined on the bottom with a round of wax paper. Smooth top of batter and place pan in a preheated 350-degree oven. Bake until top of cake is puffed and cracked and center is firm, approximately 35 to 40 minutes. Do not overbake.
Cook cake on a wire rack. Center of cake will fall as it cools. At serving time, fill center with sweetened whipped cream and dust top lightly with sifted cocoa. Run tip of a knife around edges of cake, and carefully remove sides of pan.
Yields 8 to 12 servings.
-- "The Diabetic Pastry Chef" by Stacey Harris (Pelican, $24.95)
This breakfast treat is adapted from an old family recipe. It was handed down to Stacey Harris from her beloved grandmother, Nellie Jackson, a Mississippi native.
- For coffeecake
- 1 cup white flour
- 1 cup white whole-wheat flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 4 tablespoons trans-fat-free shortening
- For topping
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon white flour
- 1/4 cup melted butter
In a large mixing bowl, add all dry cake ingredients and mix. Add wet cake ingredients and beat until smooth. Spread into a greased 8- or 9-inch square pan.
Mix dry topping ingredients and sprinkle on batter. Drizzle with butter. Bake 35 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees, or toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cut into squares and serve warm with Canola Butter (see below).
Makes 9 servings.
-- "The Diabetic Pastry Chef"
This works anywhere you would use butter or margarine, as well as in most recipes that calls for shortening or Smart Balance regular spread.
- 2 cups butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cup canola oil
Whip butter with electric mixer. Add oil and beat. Pour into container and refrigerate until hardened. Keep refrigerated. Use as a healthy spread for quick breads, biscuits, waffles and muffins, and to butter vegetables.
Yields 3 1/2 cups.
-- "The Diabetic Pastry Chef"
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1419. First Published March 4, 2010 5:00 AM