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The Basics of Low-Fat Baking

Everyone loves yummy, buttery baked goods, but for those who are trying to stick to a diet or must adhere to certain dietary restrictions for health reasons, eating high-fat, high-sugar cakes, cookies, pies, and other goodies is simply out of the question. That means many people simply avoid these foods altogether or eat them much less often then they would prefer.

However, a trip around the grocery store might convince you that not all delicious baked items need to contain lots of calories, sugar, and saturated fats. Just browse the selection of low-fat favorites and you’ll see that there are many options. And while some of these lower fat foods simply aren’t very good, many of them are just divine and you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them and the high-fat stuff.

If you enjoy baking at home but have avoided doing so because you’re on a diet or have undergone a lifestyle change when it comes to eating, there are a number of tricks you can use to keep your creations healthy. You may not like the end result of all of them, but if you experiment in your own kitchen with ways to make your desserts and baked items healthier, no doubt you’ll discover some methods that produce the end result you seek.

Sugar Substitutes

Obviously, sugar is one of the ingredients that is responsible for the many calories in your favorite cake, muffin, or other baked item. Sugar provides empty calories and no vitamins or minerals to go along with that wonderful sweetness.

If you’re watching your sugar intake, however, you know that there are myriad sugar substitutes on the market. But baking with sugar substitutes can be tricky. Sugar substitutes are best used in recipes where sugar functions simply as a sweetener, not as a main ingredient.

The biggest problem is, however, that sugar substitutes do not act like sugar, so things that you might expect to happen in your baked goods simply won’t if you use a substitute. For example, sugar provides volume, moisture, color, and texture, but substitutes do not. Furthermore, prolonged cooking of the sugar substitute often results in a bitter aftertaste.

If you must use the substitute, consider using half real sugar and half substitute for better results. (Be sure to look for the substitution guide on the package.) You’ll still be cutting calories substantially. To make up for what the substitute lacks, use flavor enhancers (lemon vest, vanilla or almond flavoring), experiment with spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger), or top your cupcakes or coffeecakes with a fruit spread. To add volume, whisk egg whites and use those instead of whole eggs. And to add sweetness, use fruit juices in place of water or add small, dried fruits to the recipes.

Other Substitutions

There are myriad other ways to lower the fat and sugar content in most basic baked goods. Some are as simple as having the right items on hand while others might demand a bit of creativity.

In most recipes, butter and oil can be replaced by items like applesauce or yogurt. Though that might seem strange, these items add moisture and a great taste to many baked goods. Some cooks even opt for flavored yogurts (i.e. cherry or banana for your chocolate cake recipe) to add a new twist to old favorites. The texture will be different and you may have to experiment with measurements but the end result is generally very good.

Using an egg substitute instead of eggs will also help you to reduce the fat in your baking recipes. Egg substitute does little to alter the flavor of a recipe (you shouldn’t be able to taste the difference). You can also substitute low-fat versions of certain items for the full-fat kind. Cream cheese, for example, comes in three varieties: regular, 1/3 less fat, and fat-free. The low-fat variety offers 10 less calories per tablespoon; the fat-free has 30 less calories for each tablespoon. These days, you can also find fat-free evaporated milk, which you can use in place of the regular kind and see little or no difference.

If you’re making pies, remember that the crust is usually the biggest culprit when it comes to fat and calories. Instead of using a standard pastry-type crust, opt for making a graham cracker crust. You can mix it with a few pecans or walnuts, add some cinnamon, or doctor it up in a variety of other ways for a more interesting taste.

Most of all, be bold and experiment! With a little imagination and ingenuity, you’re sure to find a number of ways to make your favorite baked goods healthier yet still delicious.