Fats play an important role in baking and it’s not just because butter makes everything taste better. Fat makes our baked goods soft, aerated and fluffy. It also helps them to rise higher and reduces the chances of the item crumbling into pieces on our plates. I’ve eaten cakes that were hard, flat and dense and turned into cake crumbs with one slice of my fork. Not fun, my friends. And certainly not worth repeating.

Now, with the baking season upon us, sometimes we just want a lighter twist on our favorite classics. Whether it’s to cut calories, explore new flavors, or just make due with available ingredients, recipe substitutions are an inevitable — and fun! — part of the cooking experience. I’ve played around with so many options and while some of them don’t provide the exact same texture, the flavor and health benefits rise above. So, when it’s time to satisfy that sweet tooth, consider these healthier substitutions for baking fats.

Unsweetened Applesauce

(Nana Mae’s is my favorite)

Swap For: Oil or butter

For sweeter recipes like brownies and fruity muffins, this swap is a definite winner. Applesauce offers the same consistency as butter or oil, but with zero fat, a little extra natural sweetness, and fewer calories (though it will add a touch more sugar). It even works in boxed mixes. Try it in blueberry muffins for a twist on classic flavors.

Avocado Puree

Swap For: Butter

Mashed or pureed avocado has a similar texture to butter with more heart-healthy fats and a smooth, rich taste that pairs perfectly with chocolate. (Look for my “Choco-Avo Pudding” recipe at karenschuppert.com)

Mashed Bananas

Swap For: Oil or Butter

This one’s similar to the avocado swap but a whole lot sweeter. Ripe bananas add potassium and fiber to our favorite recipes. It’s a proven star in sweet stuff, too (hello, banana bread:)

Prune Puree

Swap For: Butter

It’s no wonder prunes get a bad rap. In the dictionary after dried plums it references “an unpleasant or disagreeable person.” But not only are they delicious, they are also packed with nutrients. Just 1/3 cup prune puree can easily replace a stick of butter in denser baked goods. It’s also great for dark and dense cookies, brownies, and even cakes.

Ricotta Cheese

Swap For: Cream cheese

Ricotta — even the whole milk or almond variety— is a lighter option than cream cheese when it comes to calorie count. And it bakes into an excellent cheesecake with a lighter, fluffier texture.

Ground Flax Seed

Swap For: Oil or Butter

Rich in omega-3 fats and with a distinct nutty flavor, ground flax seed is one of the most surprising fat substitutes out there. Mix three tablespoons of ground flax with one tablespoon of water for a paste that subs in for every tablespoon of oil or butter. Ground flax is perfect for recipes that already have a strong nutty flavor. One tablespoon of ground flax plus two to three tablespoons of warm water makes a “vegan egg” and can be used as an egg replacement, too.

Butternut Squash Bread

Makes one loaf.

I love using a variety of winter squash in baking. Often times I have leftover butternut squash after roasting and this is a great option for breakfast.

1 1/2 cups butternut squash—roasted/pureed (you can substitute pumpkin or banana)

1 1/2 cups flour—any type will work, including gluten free

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1/3 cup maple syrup

2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed

1/4 cup organic coconut oil or scant 1/4 cup applesauce

2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp sea salt (or try ginger salt from Whole Spice at the Oxbow Public Market)

Preheat oven to 375. Grease an 8-inch loaf pan. (I use coconut oil.) Take ground flaxseed and combine with 6 Tbsp. of water. Stir until combined and place in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix the wet ingredients a smaller bowl. Make sure the butternut squash puree has a smooth consistency. (I toss all the wet ingredients into my blender to make sure everything is combined smoothly.)

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Pour the batter into a loaf pan.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. You will know the bread is done when a toothpick in the center comes out clean and the edges begin to brown.

Note: if using alternative flour, the bread may not rise to the same level you’re accustomed to. It’s still ridiculously delicious.

Save the date! Napa chef and nutritionist Karen Schuppert will be teaching a “Healthy Holidays Cooking Class” Monday, Dec. 4. Twenty-five of proceeds will go to Fire Relief funding. Space is limited. To reserve a spot email Karen@karenschuppert.com

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