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5 Tips for Healthier Baking

Chocolate Zucchini Brownies

Image by Kelly Garbato

Tips for Healthier Baking

Tips for healthier baking almost sounds like an oxymoron, but notice that it says healthier (meaning compared to the way you usually bake) – not completely healthy. Of course, you must add moderation into the mix. A treat now and then is not a bad thing – especially if they are relatively healthy. It is the over consumption of empty calorie desserts that can be harmful.

Everyone seems to be jumping on the diet band wagon for either gluten-free or all natural diets – which is a good thing.  Eating healthy is the key to a long life. Unfortunately, diets usually have restrictions that make it difficult to stay with them – especially when it comes to sweets. Today, I have good news. If you are smart, you can eat healthy and have your cookies too.

Baking will always haunt those who have a true passion for cooking – and baking cookies is one of the most tempting of the lot.  It you have a family who loves homemade cookies, it will be difficult to stop making them – and when they are around, you will be tempted.

With a little creativity and some determination you will be able to bake healthier alternatives for you and your family.

All you have to do is balance out your baking recipes with healthier ingredients – and still add a handful of your favorite chocolate chips to satisfy your sweet tooth, which you have worked so hard to control.  Of course, eating them in moderation is critical, even when they are a healthier version of the original.

Following are 5 tips that you can use to easily substitute into your recipes for healthier baked goods!

Healthier Fat Replacements

Most baked goods, especially cookies, require butter or some type of fat that adds flavor and acts as a binder. This is an important area where you need to get creative.

First start cooking with healthier oils that do not contain the trans-fats which are so harmful to your body and are generally the specified ingredients in cookies. Then, find other healthier replacements for the fats.

  • Replace butter with canola oil – especially if the recipe calls for melted butter. For chocolate chip cookies, try replacing ½ cup butter with ½ cup of canola oil.  Canola oil has no saturated fat.
  • Exchange pureed fruits and vegetables for the oil in muffin, cookie and cake recipes. For more details, read: Reducing Fat in Your Favorite Baked Goods Recipes.
  • Replace butter with plain, non-fat Greek yogurt at a 1 to 1 ratio.  (½ cup butter = ½ cup; not recommended for amounts over 1 cup). OR – replace ½ the butter with an equal amount of Greek yogurt.
  • If butter is required – replace half the butter with half as much yogurt.  (1 cup butter = ½ cup butter and ¼ cup yogurt.)
  • If shortening or oil is required, replace half the oil with ¾ the amount of yogurt. (1 cup oil = ½ cup oil and ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons yogurt.)
  • Replace half the amount of butter with applesauce.  (1 cup butter = ½ cup butter and ½ cup applesauce.) If you replace all the butter with applesauce to cut even more calories and fat, the result will be a more dense and moist bread – not recommended for cookies.
  • Replace half the butter with mashed avocado (good for cookies); (1 cup butter = ½ cup butter and ½ cup mashed avocado.) Lowers the calorie content and creates a softer, chewier baked good. Excellent in chocolate desserts and brownies. Peel and pit avocados and mash thoroughly. Add two teaspoons of lemon juice for every cup of avocado puree to prevent browning.

Pureed Fruits and Vegetables

This is a common substitution and if you do it correctly, it can be one of the most beneficial choices in terms of healthy substitutions.

Pureed vegetables can substitute for the qualities of egg as a binder and adds its own unique flavor. For example, use pureed apples and add them to your cookies with a dash of cinnamon and you already are on your way to success.

For example:  Roasted beets, either shredded or pureed, can be used in chocolate or spice cakes – especially good in Red Velvet Cake. They add sweetness, moisture and color, but they don’t add any weird veggie flavor when paired with rich cake. Replace fat ingredient with ¾ cup pureed beets in any chocolate recipe.)  DO NOT use without the chocolate.

Pureed zucchini is a wonderful binder in brownies. The flavor of the cocoa is so strong that you do not even taste the zucchini and if it is blended right, you won’t notice the texture either. This is perfect for kids and adults alike that don’t want to voluntarily eat healthy! For a particular tasty, healthy treat, try this recipe:  Dark Chocolate Zucchini Brownies.

Get Creative with Your Flours

There are plenty of healthy substitutes to all-purpose flour. With the current fad of gluten-free diets, finding substitutes will not be difficult.

At the very least, try replacing half the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour to add some fiber and nutrients. Or – better yet, use all whole-wheat. Experiment and see what works in various recipes. Start with cookies and brownies, they are the most forgiving. Cakes can be a little trickier.

If you want to go big with this, try looking into alternatives like chick pea flour or almond flour, which has only a fraction of the bad carbohydrates that are in white flour.

Keep in mind, that too much of one of these can overpower the flavor, especially something like chick pea flour. That means you’re going to have to experiment a little bit before you get it just right.

One final thought, for brownies replace 1 cup of flour with 1 cup of mashed black beans. Beans have much less impact on blood sugar levels and they are gluten free.

Ease Up on the Sodium

This one is easy. Recipes often call for a larger amount of sodium than necessary. You can usually shave the amount a little (¾ tsp instead of 1 tsp) However, be aware that removing too much can affect the rise in baking – so be careful with cakes.

Avoid Artificial Additives

Trans-fatty synthetic alternatives and synthetic additives and flavorings are never good for you. So, avoid all recipes that call for margarine – OR – replace the margarine with natural oils (even butter is better than margarine).

Healthy Versions of Your Favorite Recipes

For all of you bakers (novice to experienced) – baking is a wonderfully personal experience. So, when you first try some of these substitutions, it may not go very well at first – unless you are lucky. You may have to go through some trial and error to find combinations that work – and everything tastes and looks the way you want it to.

There are many healthy versions of your favorite baked goods online and in specialty recipe books (including the brownie recipe linked above). Just think about how impressed your friends and family will be when they find out that their favorite sugary snack of yours is actually much healthier for them than the ones they have been eating.

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