(All photos and recipes are (c) Lara Ferroni and used with permission by the author and Sasquatch Books.)

Beautifully photographed and filled with nostalgic recipes of favorite childhood snacks and treats, Lara Ferroni’s Real Snacks: Make Your Favorite Childhood Treats Without All the Junk (Sasquatch Books, October 30, 2012) is a must-have cookbook for anyone, especially parents.  Using whole-grain flours and less-processed sugars, Lara has developed recipes that are more nutritionally superior than the more commonly store-bought processed versions.  Filled with classic recipes such as Toaster Tarts (Pop Tarts), Chocolate Mint Wafers (Girl Scouts Thin Mints), and Cheesy Fish (Gold Fish Crackers) using real ingredients, Lara’s cookbook is fun and delightful in every way.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Lara about her cookbook.  I’ve posted our interview as well as her recipe for Chocolate Snack Cakes (Ding Dongs, anyone?) below.

Alice:  I love the byline of your Real Snacks book, “Make your favorite childhood treats without all the junk.”  How were you able to bump up the nutritional value of the treats in the book from its more familiar store-bought counterpart?

Lara: The first way was simply leaving out a lot of things… all the chemicals you can barely pronounce or thing that have to have numbers next to them (polysorbate 60). The non-food stuff.

Then, instead of using grains and sugars that have been highly refined, I used whole grains and less processed sugars. Not only did this change improve the vitamins and minerals you get from these snacks, I think it makes them taste better too.

Alice: I appreciate how you included a descriptive summary on various flours and sweeteners in the book.  I noticed many of the recipes you call for use either all-purpose or spelt flour.  Can you tell me the difference between the two and how they compare in flavor and texture in baked goods?

Lara: Spelt flour is actually an easy substitute for all-purpose flour (especially the unbleached kind), and the differences are pretty subtle. Spelt is slightly lower in gluten, so it’s easier to keep baked goods like cakes from getting tough from over mixing. And, it has slightly more protein and dietary fiber and a smidge less starch, but not so different that it’s hard to bake with. Spelt flour tastes very similar to whole wheat flour. 

Alice: It is not often you find a cookbook devoted to snacks and treats which also include vegan and gluten-free options.  As far as flavor is concerned, is there much of a difference between the regular, vegan, and gluten-free option of any given recipe?

Lara: Most are very similar… and I doubt that anyone would really know that the variations were gluten free or vegan. In fact, in some cases, I might have just gone with the gluten free or vegan versions as the main recipe, except that there are typically specialty ingredients needed that aren’t necessarily common for most kitchens. 

There are a few that are different though, although delicious in their own way. I avoided using any store-bought vegan cheese because it’s so often so full of things I’d rather not eat… so any of the cheesy recipes are good but can’t taste quite the same. The exception there is the vegan Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips (Doritos), which I make all the time and don’t really miss the cheese at all with all the other flavors going on.

Alice: Thank you Lara!

Feel free to visit Lara on her site, LaraFerroni.com.


Recipe: Chocolate Snack Cakes

  • Prep Time: 15 min(s)
  • Cook Time: 15 min(s)
  • Total Time: 30 min(s)
  • Servings: 9

Lara's head note: Whether you call them Ring Dings or Ding Dongs, these chocolate snack cakes may just win the award for snack cake with the silliest name. Still, these chocolate hockey pucks are one of my favorite junk food sweets. Adding teff flour to the flour mix increases the complexity of the flavor, making these cakes deserving of a far less silly name. Recipe Source: Real Snacks: Make Your Favorite Childhood Treats Without All the Junk (Sasquatch Books, October 30, 2012)


    Snack Cakes:

    • 1/2 cup (60 grams) white spelt or white whole-wheat flour
    • 1/4 cup (30 grams) teff or whole-wheat flour
    • 1/2 cup (50 grams) cocoa powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 4 egg whites
    • 1/3 cup (66 grams) coconut or cane sugar
    • 2 tablespoons honey
    • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) water
    • 2 tablespoons safflower oil
    • 4 egg yolks
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 batch (about 1 cup) Snack Cake Creme)
    • 8 ounces bittersweet of semi sweet chocolate, tempered or melted


    Creme (1 cup):

    • 2 tablespoons white spelt or ground millet flour
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 1/2 cup (100 grams) cane sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
    • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
    • Dash of salt (optional)


    For the Cake:

    • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 9-by-9-inch cake pan with parchment and set aside.
    • Sift the white spelt flour, teff flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.
    • In the same mixer bowl, add the sugar, honey, water, oil, egg yolks, and vanilla and beat for 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Fold in half of the beaten egg whites; once the first half is fully incorporated, fold in the second half.
    • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake springs back slightly when touched and a skewer inserted comes out clean, 10-15 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes before inverting it onto a flat surface and peeling off the parchment. Let the cake cool completely.
    • With a cookie cutter, cut out 3-inch-diameter rounds. To fill the cakes, use a piping bag fitted with a Bismarck (#230) tip or a very small star-shaped tip to inject each snack cake from the bottom with 3 evenly spaced squirts of Snack Cake Creme.
    • Place the filled cakes onto baking sheets and freeze for about 15 minutes.
    • While the cakes are freezing, place a piece of waxed paper onto the counter or a baking sheet. Temper the chocolate, and place it in a bowl next to the waxed paper. Dip each chilled cake into the chocolate to coat and let set on the waxed paper until firm.

    For the Creme:

    • Combine the flour and milk in a saucepan over medium heat to form a thin pale paste, about 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Be careful not to brown the roux.  Stir in the sugar and continue to cook until smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.  Cover and refrigerate to cool completely.
    • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the butter and coconut oil until light, about 1 minute. Add the cooled flour paste and beat until creamy, about 5 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

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