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No- and Low-carb diets have begun to fade, but that doesn’t mean all lights are green when it comes to eating baked goods. For those of us who simply cannot live without bread, there are ways to be health-conscious while still enjoying delicious breads and desserts. Most options for making baking healthier also serve to spruce up the baked goods considerably, adding flavor, texture, nutrients, and heartiness.
The first ingredient we will look at is the fat in baking recipes. To reduce unhealthy trans- and saturated fats, my first suggestion is to replace all solid fats with liquid fats.
Fats that are solid at room temperature generally contain higher concentrations of saturated or trans-fats, while those that are liquid generally contain more heart-healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. This means throwing out the butter, shortening, or margarine, and replacing those with an equal amount of oils, whether vegetable, canola, or olive.
Olive oil is a great choice for non-sweet breads where its flavor can enhance the bread, while vegetable and canola oils will not add a noticeable flavor to baked goods. (Here’s some olive oil dispensers you may like)
Of course, removing the solid fats will remove their heavy buttery tastes, which may take some getting used to. However, we can use this opportunity to throw in other flavors from flours, oats, nuts, seeds, herbs, fruit, or vegetables to spruce up our baking.
Although switching from solid to liquid fats will reduce the ratio of unhealthy to healthy fats in the baking, it does nothing to reduce the over-all calories in the finished product. If this is your desire, try replacing the oil (or any fraction of it) with a fruit puree, such as prune or mashed banana, applesauce, or even mashed yams. Be aware that these options will make the baked goods heavier and more cake-like, while at the same time adding their own distinctive flavors and nutrients (and sometimes even color!). You could also experiment by adding non- or low-fat yogurt. You can use flavored yogurt to add different flavors to your baking; using vanilla yogurt often reduces the need for vanilla extract.
Baking with whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, or other whole grain flours can be used to replace refined white flour. Whole grain flour retains the nutrients and almost nutty flavors of the grains they are milled from, as well as fiber and protein. You can replace white flour with the same amount of whole wheat flour, but be aware that the more whole grain flour you use the more dense your baking will become. For interesting texture and flavor, as well as nutrition and fiber boosts, try replacing a small amount of flour (say one-fourth of that called for in the recipe) with oats.
You can throw nuts, dried fruit, flax seeds, or herbs into almost anything without affecting your baking. This is a great way to experiment with different flavors and textures in your baking. Sweeten muffins with dried fruit or berries, or make a loaf of bread reminiscent of Europe by using olive oil and adding herbs before baking. Throwing things other than raisins (such as dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots or apples, or dried blueberries) into oatmeal cookies will put your own individual signature on your baked goods. Too many nuts, however, will raise the calorie and fat content of your baking. Although the fats in nuts are generally mono- or poly-unsaturated, do use them in moderation.
Vegetables and fruits such as carrots, apples, and zucchini can also be shredded and added to baked goods. Make sure you shred them or you will have visible chunks in your finished product (which, depending on your tastes, may or may not be desirable). Because these are fresh, not dried, ingredients, the finished product may be moister and take longer than usual to bake through to the center. Beware of the top burning while the inside is still battery; to avoid this, place a sheet of aluminum foil over the goods in the oven to protect the upper surfaces from the heater coil in the top of the oven. Fresh and frozen berries will also add moisture.
Cutting the sugar a recipe calls for by up to half usually does not noticeable affect the taste of baked goods. In addition, if you do notice a difference in sweetness, try adding sweet ingredients like bananas, berries, or applesauce instead of putting sugar back in. One last tip to help reduce the small amount of fat that may be added when using non-stick cooking sprays is to line pans with parchment paper or use non-stick silicone baking pans or muffin cups.
Enjoy the rich, unique results of your experimenting with healthy baking this year!
While you’re here, be sure to check out our kitchen product reviews!