There is something so comforting and homely about the smell of
freshly baked biscuit and cakes. The scent that wafts from the oven, begs you to sit dangling your legs from an oversized kitchen stool, salivating as you eagerly wait to devour the home baked goodness, just as you did as a child.
Unfortunately, home baked goodness isn’t always so good for your
health, often hiding a treasure trove of butter, cream and sugar. But rather than simply depriving yourself and your children the joy of baking and creating wonderful memories together, a few modifications to your favourite recipes can help reduce the empty kilojoules from fats and sugar, while also increasing the fibre, protein and overall nutrient profile of your recipe, without sacrificing flavour.
The key to successfully modifying a recipe is to reduce, remove or replace ingredients with healthier alternatives with similar texture, consistency and cooking properties.
Reduce the Sugar
Although our preference for sweetness is innate, it is a flavour
that we learn to tolerate. That is, over time as you gradually reduce your sugar intake you become accustom to a reduced level of sweetness (the same applies for
When baking sugar acts primarily to add sweetness and doesn’t
have a huge functional role (unless using yeast), which is great as it means that we can quiet simply just reduce the amount of sugar used. Typically sugar can be reduced by half if not more (1/4 cup sugar: 1 cup flour), without a huge impact on flavour. Further to this, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg can be added
which gives the illusion of sweetness without any of the kilojoules.
If you want to try replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener
make sure they indicate they are suitable for baking - some are not and they will turn bitter. Also keep in mind that artificial sweeteners, as well as stevia, are an ‘intense’ sweetness, so wont assist in taming that sweet tooth.
Adding fruit is also a great option to add sweetness with the
additional benefits of increasing the vitamins, minerals and fibre content, while also helping to keep your baking moist. Try mashed banana or pureed apples, which can also be used to replace fats and oils, like butter.
Reduce the Fat
Unlike sugar, adding fats and oil to your baking typically has some functional properties along with adding flavour. Given this, the best approach to modifying the fat content of your baking is to replace the source of fat with something which will act similarly, keeping in mind that we want to minimise “added” fats in our diet (we can derive a balance of all the fat we need from within the foods we eat, such as eggs, nuts, seeds, avocado, meat, fish etc.).
I really don’t want to get into the butter, margarine, coconut oil debate again, as ultimately these are all added fats which are not necessary and should be minimised.
The quickest way to reduce the fat in your cooking is simply switch from full fat varieties of milk, cheeses and yoghurts (but watch for added sugar), to reduced fat (25% less fat) or low fat varieties (3% fat or less).
Specifically in baking cream can often be replaced with natural yoghurt, evaporated milk or ricotta. If it is a sweet cream, these can be whipped sweetened with vanilla or a little sugar just as you would normal cream.
You might have noticed in most of my muffin recipes, I replace the butter or margarine with a reduced fat dairy, such as yoghurt or reduced fat cream cheese and use the addition of fruits to add moisture and sweetness.
In biscuits or slices 1-3 tablespoons of milk can be used to replace butter or margarine, however this doesn’t give the same great crunch of butter, so I often use a nut butters or tahini (sesame seed paste – I use this often as my children attend nut free schools).
Boot the Nutrients
Along with reducing fats and sugars, boosting the overall nutritional profile of your baking means you really can have your cake and eat it too!
Try replacing half your regular flour with wholemeal flour (much more than half does get a little hard to stomach) and add extra oats, bran, cereals, quinoa flakes, meals, nuts and seeds, which all add fibre as well as other nutrients and give great texture to your baking. Chia or ground flaxseed can also be used to replace egg (1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons water = 1egg).
I have mentioned adding fruits for sweetness and moisture already, but don’t stop there, try adding different vegetables too; Chocolate and Beetroot, Carrot and Banana, or even some kidney beans or chickpeas.
If you’re not ready to wholeheartedly reduce, remove or replace
the ingredients in your favourite dish, you might like to just slowly transition to a healthier alternatives or even just focus on reducing your portion size.
If you have any other great recipe modification tips please share
them with us in the comments.
- Nikki -
Nikki is a PhD qualified Nutritionist and an expert in children's eating.