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Gizzada cookie bars turn a Jamaican specialty into a simpler bake

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
Jamaican Gizzada Cookie Bars
Active time:45 mins
Total time:1 hour 45 mins
Servings:Makes 20 bars (one 8-inch square slab)
Active time:45 mins
Total time:1 hour 45 mins
Servings:Makes 20 bars (one 8-inch square slab)

When I was diagnosed with latent autoimmune diabetes in adults, the first thing a dietitian told me was that I wouldn’t be able to eat baked goods much anymore. I’m pretty stubborn, so it led me to find alternatives that would allow room for sweet treats.

Learning to bake with sugar substitutes has become a joy, and making delicious, blood sugar-friendly recipes such as my Jamaican Gizzada Cookie Bars has always been important to me. I know firsthand that living with diabetes doesn’t mean a life of bland foods.

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I grew up eating gizzada, and it was one of the first dessert recipes my mother taught me to bake. When she passed away a few months ago, I was grateful to be working on this recipe — it gave me a way to remember our times in the kitchen making these little pastries.

The aromas of coconut, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and butter filled my kitchen and instantly unlocked some core memories — like my mom at the stove making the filling and me on pastry duty at our kitchen island with messy fingers and a tiny face dusted in flour. My mom and I didn’t bake together often, but making gizzada is one of those memories from my childhood that I’ll cherish forever now.

In Jamaica, gizzada is also called a “pinch-me-round” because this spice-forward pastry is usually made with the filling baked in a tiny crimped pastry shell. But even nostalgia deserves a twist sometimes.

For this recipe, I swapped out the pastry shell in favor of a shortbread crust made with almond flour and all-purpose flour. The extra fat in the almond flour helps slow blood sugar spikes, but also makes for a crumbly and nutty shortbread.

As for the filling, the traditional is too good to change, but I did swap regular brown sugar for Truvia Sweet Complete, a stevia-based alternative. It lowers the sugar content for those watching blood glucose.

Jamaican Gizzada Cookie Bars

While this recipe is designed to be a better option for those with diabetes, it does contain some added sugar and carbohydrates. We have included the nutrition data to help you decide how it might fit into your diet. Please consult a medical professional for guidance if you have questions or concerns.

These cookies are quite sweet, so we cut them into small pieces.

Be sure to use unsweetened coconut or your filling will be unpleasantly sweet and you’ll greatly increase the sugar content.

Because of the almond flour in the shortbread, it’s important to wait for the bars to cool completely before slicing into them. This shortbread is hearty, but when warm, it’s delicate and crumbly.

Storage: Refrigerate the bars in an airtight container between layers of parchment for up to 1 month, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Where to Buy: Truvia Sweet Complete sugars are available at some grocery stores and online.

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Ingredients

For the shortbread

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup (94 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (38 grams) confectioners’ sugar substitute, such as Truvia Sweet Complete or Swerve
  • Rounded 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3/4 cup (86 grams) almond flour or meal
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick/85 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping

  • 2 cups (6 ounces/170 grams) unsweetened shredded coconut (preferably not finely shredded)
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 milliliters/430 grams) cream of coconut, such as Coco Real brand
  • 1/2 cup (95 grams) packed brown sugar substitute, such as Truvia Sweet Complete or Swerve
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Step 1

Make the shortbread: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish or pan with nonstick cooking spray, then line it with two crisscrossed pieces of parchment paper long enough to have a generous overhang on all sides.


Step 2

Set a mesh sieve over the bowl of a stand mixer or, if using a hand mixer, a large bowl. Into it, sift together the all-purpose flour, confectioners’ sugar substitute and salt to remove any lumps. Whisk in the almond flour or meal and break up any clumps. Add the butter and vanilla. Using the paddle attachment of the stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat on low until the ingredients start to come together and resemble sand in texture, then increase the speed to medium and beat until the dough comes together in larger clumps, about 3 minutes.


Step 3

Transfer the dough to the baking dish and press it into an even layer, pushing it slightly up the sides of the pan at the edges. Using the tines of a fork, dock the dough all over to allow any steam to escape. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden around the edges and mostly pale but dry in the center.

Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack; keep the oven on.


Step 4

Make the topping: While the shortbread bakes, in a wide skillet over medium heat, toast the shredded coconut, stirring often, until it turns a light golden color, 5 to 7 minutes. (Pay attention, as it can scorch quickly.) Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl.


Step 5

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the cream of coconut, brown sugar substitute, butter, vanilla, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg, stirring until the sugar substitute dissolves. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the toasted coconut.


Step 6

Pour the topping over the shortbread, spreading it in an even layer with an offset spatula. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly all over and fragrant. The filling will be slightly wobbly in the center but will set as it cools — better to under- than overbake, to keep the bars soft.


Step 7

Let cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours so the slab can set. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and use the parchment overhang to transfer the square to a cutting board. Slice the bars into 16 to 20 pieces with a sharp knife and serve.


Nutrition Information

Per 1 1/2-by-2-inch bar

Calories: 221; Total Fat: 15 g; Saturated Fat: 11 g; Cholesterol: 12 mg; Sodium: 159 mg; Carbohydrates: 31 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 13 g; Protein: 2 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.


From Mila Clarke Buckley of the blog Hangry Woman.

Tested by Jim Webster and Becky Krystal; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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