;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; WHAT ROLE DOES FAT PLAY?
WHAT ABOUT FAT AND FLAVOR?
S I N F U L L Y D E L I C I O U S
A Diabetes Self-Management Book
f desserts were meant to serve a purely nutritional role in our
diets, we would not save them for last or use them to reward
ourselves for good deeds! If we recognize the importance of a little indulgence in our lives, can we reconcile that with our desire
for a healthier diet?
You bet we can! The right philosophy, a few good recipes, and a
wise approach to modifying recipes are the keys to success.
Let’s start at the beginning...
Fat in cakes, filling, and frostings provides moisture, tenderness,
creaminess, and blended flavors. Fat provides the texture in certain cakes and the dense, smooth body of some mousses and
creams. Fat in desserts may be in the form of butter, shortening,
oil, egg yolks, milk products, chocolate, and nuts. Removing fat
without understanding how and when to compensate can result
in tough, rubbery baked goods, sticky or dry textures, cakes that
don’t rise properly, cakes that don’t taste good, frostings that sag,
and mousses that won’t set. It can also result in desserts with
unbalanced flavors or desserts that are excessively sweet and cloying. The trick to reducing fat in desserts is knowing which fat to
reduce, how much to reduce, and whether to compensate in any
way for the fat that is removed.
Fat “carries” and “fixes” flavors. It also mutes and softens flavors—which is probably why it marries and blends them so effectively. But at high levels, fat actually obscures flavor. In the most
successful reduced-fat recipes, you can actually taste purer, cleaner flavors—especially as you grow accustomed to less fat.
Fearing a loss of flavor in low-fat dishes, many chefs compensate
with a “high flavor strategy,” using aromatics, chilies, spices, citrus juice, and assertive ingredients to spike leaner dishes with lots
of flavor. In dessert making, this can backfire. Without the fat to
soften, blend, and marry these flavors, they can overwhelm a lowfat dessert and make it taste unbalanced or incomplete. For that
reason, I use strong accent flavors with great care so that they
remain very understated and soft.
Low-fat chocolate desserts offer one of the best illustrations of
this philosophy. Low-fat recipes cannot afford much chocolate in
the first place; too much chocolate means too much fat. To get
lots of chocolate flavor without the fat, I use cocoa or a combination of chocolate and cocoa. But the chocolate flavor in a low-fat
dessert can easily be upstaged by strong accent flavors (spices,
mint, citrus, liquors, for instance). So to keep a low-fat chocolate
dessert tasting ultra chocolaty, keep competing flavors very much
in the background.
All the principles described above are incorporated in the recipes
that follow. I hope you enjoy making these recipes. I certainly
had fun writing them and tasting the results!
DEVIL’S FOOD CAKE
This cake is as tender and chocolaty as traditional devil’s food,
and it is good enough to serve plain, without glaze or frosting. For
a three-layer cake, divide the batter among three 8-inch round
pans and bake only 25 to 30 minutes.
Makes 24 servings. Best baked one day ahead.
2 cups all-purpose flour
⅔ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
Scant ½ teaspoon baking soda
Scant ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 egg whites
2 tablespoons instant coffee
3 tablespoons hot water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup low-fat buttermilk, at cool room temperature
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1⅓ cups granulated sugar
1⅓ cups packed light or dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
½ cup low-fat evaporated milk
1½ ounces chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
12-cup decorative tube pan or bundt pan
Mixer, preferably on a stand
1. To make the cake: Have ingredients at room temperature
(68˚–70˚F). Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to
350˚F. Coat pan with vegetable oil spray.
2. Combine and sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking
powder, and salt. Set aside. Whisk whole egg with egg whites in
a small bowl. Set aside. Dissolve coffee powder in water and combine with vanilla and buttermilk in a measuring cup or bowl.
3. Cut butter into chunks and place in an electric mixer bowl
with orange zest. Beat to soften butter, about a minute. Add the
granulated sugar and brown sugar gradually, beating constantly
for a total of about 3 minutes at medium speed. Dribble beaten
eggs into sugar mixture gradually, beating at medium-high speed
for a total of 2 to 3 minutes. On low speed, beat in one-third of
the flour mixture, scraping the bowl as necessary. On medium
speed, gradually dribble in half of the buttermilk mixture, scraping the bowl as necessary. On low speed, beat in half of the
remaining flour mixture, followed by the rest of the buttermilk,
always scraping the bowl as necessary. On low speed, beat in
remaining flour mixture until well combined.
4. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake 45 to
50 minutes or until cake starts to shrink from sides of pan and a
toothpick plunged into the center comes out barely clean. Do
not overbake. Cool cake, in the pan, on a wire rack for 5 to 10
5. To make the glaze: In a small, heavy-bottom saucepan, combine sugar with cocoa. Use a wooden spoon to stir in just enough
evaporated milk to form a smooth paste, then stir in the remaining evaporated milk. Cook over medium heat until mixture simmers and then begins to boil, stirring constantly and scraping the
sides and bottom edges of the saucepan religiously. Boil gently for
a full 2 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Off heat,
stir in chopped chocolate and vanilla. Cool until thickened.
Spoon glaze over cake, leaving some of the cake bare. This cake
will keep several days. It freezes well, too, but it’s best when baked one
day ahead of serving.
Carbohydrate: 30 g
Protein: 3 g
Carbohydrate Choices: 2
Fat: 6 g
Saturated fat: 4 g
Cholesterol: 34 mg
Dietary fiber: trace
Sodium: 109 mg
Here’s one that’s everybody’s favorite. It has to chill at least
12 hours before serving, so make it a day ahead.
2 cups low-fat (2%) small-curd cottage cheese, drained at least
30 minutes in a strainer set over a bowl in the refrigerator
8 ounces Neufchâtel cream cheese (Kraft in the box is
good—don’t buy the kind in the tub)
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons strained lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
3–4 tablespoons Chocolate Espresso Cookie (see recipe on
page 8), graham cracker or zwieback crumbs
2 cartons (10 –12 ounces) fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, optional for sprinkling
8-inch round cake pan with a solid bottom (not springform), at
least 2 inches deep
Ovenproof baking dish or skillet, at least 11 inches in diameter
and 2 inches deep
8-inch cardboard cake circle or pan bottom (optional)
1. Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 350˚F.
Place a round of parchment paper in the bottom of the cake pan,
and spray sides of pan with vegetable oil spray. Put water kettle
on to boil for step 5.
2. Process the cottage cheese in a food processor for 2½ to 3 minutes or until silky smooth, scraping the sides and bottom of the
bowl once or twice as necessary. Set aside.
3. In a small microwave-safe bowl, soften the Neufchâtel cheese
in a microwave oven on High for about 30 seconds, or warm gently in the top of a double boiler. Stir until smooth. Scrape into
the food processor with the cottage cheese. Add the sugar, eggs,
vanilla, lemon juice, and salt. Pulse until incorporated and perfectly smooth. Do not overprocess.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Level the surface if necessary.
5. Slide the oven rack partway out. Put cake pan in baking dish
or skillet and place on the oven rack. Carefully pour boiling
water around the pan to a depth of about 1 inch. Slide oven rack
in gently to avoid sloshing. Bake until cheesecake has puffed and
risen slightly and is just beginning to shrink from the edges of the
pan, about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove cheesecake from water
bath and cool on a rack. When completely cool, cover and chill for
at least 12 hours or up to two days before serving.
6. To unmold and serve: Cover the pan with tightly stretched
plastic wrap. Place a flat dish on top of plastic wrap. Invert pan
and dish and rap pan gently until cheesecake releases from pan.
Remove pan and peel parchment liner from bottom of cake. Place
cake circle or serving plate on the cake and carefully invert so
that cake is right side up. Remove plastic wrap. Press crumbs
around sides of cake. Arrange raspberries over the top of the cake
and sieve powdered sugar very lightly over the top. Cut with a
sharp thin knife. Dip the knife in hot water and wipe it dry
The smooth texture of this cheesecake relies on ultrasmooth cottage cheese. This requires a food processor and at least 2½ to 3
minutes of processing—no cheating.
Once the Neufchâtel cheese has been added, pulse only enough
to incorporate. Overprocessing thins the batter.
If you use nonfat cottage cheese instead of low-fat, the results will
be not be nearly as good and you will save only about 0.4 grams
of fat per serving. It’s not worth it.
Carbohydrate: 16 g
1 very lean meat
Protein: 9 g
Fat: 6 g
Carbohydrate Choices: 1
Saturated fat: 4 g
Cholesterol: 71 mg
Dietary fiber: 2 g
Sodium: 292 mg
Steeping milk in aromatics gives these little dinner-party desserts
a subtle sophistication, evoking memories of much richer custards. They are quite pretty, too. Find the softest apricot halves
possible so that you can use them whole.
Makes 6 servings
6 very soft, moist, dried apricot halves
3–4 tablespoons rum
3 cups low-fat (1%) milk
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2-inch stick of cinnamon
Strips of lemon zest from one-fourth of a medium lemon
½ cup plus ¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg whites
Six 5-ounce soufflé or custard cups
Baking dish large enough to fit the six cups
1. Soak apricots in enough rum to cover for 30 minutes or until
needed. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring milk to a simmer with vanilla
bean, cinnamon stick, and lemon zest. Lower heat and keep just
below the simmer for about 15 minutes to infuse the milk with
3. Meanwhile, line the cups with caramel: In a 3- to 4-cup
saucepan, combine ½ cup of the granulated sugar with ¼ cup of
water. Stir to moisten the sugar. Cover and bring to a simmer.
Uncover and wash down any sugar crystal clinging to sides of pan
with a pastry brush or paper towel dipped in water. Increase heat
and simmer uncovered without stirring until syrup begins to
color. Watch saucepan carefully, swirling it from time to time
until syrup turns a medium-dark amber color. (It is easiest to
judge the color if you drip a few drops onto a white plate).
4. Quickly pour an equal quantity of caramel into each soufflé
cup. Tilt each cup to spread caramel all over the bottom of each
cup. Drain apricots, reserving liquid for another use. If the apricots are very soft, place a whole half in the center of the caramel
in each cup. (If the apricots seem a little firm, cut or dice them
before adding to the cups). Place the cups in baking dish and set
aside. Put a kettle of water on to boil.
5. Beat eggs and egg whites with the remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar and the brown sugar until well combined. Strain milk
mixture to remove vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and lemon zest.
Gradually whisk hot milk into the egg mixture. Strain again to
eliminate foam, and pour into caramel-lined cups up to ¼ inch
from the rim. Pour boiling water into baking dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cups.
6. Bake until knife inserted in to the centers of each custard
comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Custards will still seem
very liquid when the cups are tapped; don’t worry. Remove cups
from the water and cool on a rack until room temperature.
Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight before serving.
7. To serve, run a knife around the edge of each custard to loosen
it. Tilt back and forth until custard begins to slide in the sauce,
then invert onto individual serving plates. Use a small rubber
spatula to scrape any leftover caramel sauce from the cups onto
the custards. (To retrieve even more caramel sauce, divide the
rum left from soaking the apricots among the cups and set them
in a skillet of simmering water to melt. Scrape the melted sauce
over the custards). Serve immediately or chill until needed.
Carbohydrate: 32 g
Protein: 7 g
Carbohydrate Choices: 2
Fat: 3 g
Saturated fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 76 mg
Dietary fiber: trace
Sodium: 96 mg
These thin, crisp cookies are deliciously spiked with espresso flavor. For a chewy consistency, slice them a little thicker and bake
them a little less. The combination of margarine and butter
makes for a flavorful, tender cookie.
Makes 40–45 cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened Dutch Process cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ tablespoons powdered instant espresso
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
3 tablespoons stick margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white
Several baking sheets
1. Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set
2. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, and
coffee. Mix with fingers to press out lumps.
3. In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter and margarine together until creamy. Add the sugar mixture and vanilla extract. Beat
on high speed for about one minute. Beat in egg white. On low
speed, beat in flour mixture just until incorporated. Knead with
hands briefly until smooth.
4. Form dough into a neat cylinder 9–10 inches long and about
1¾ inches in diameter. Wrap securely in waxed paper. Chill at
least 45 minutes or until needed. Dough can be prepared to this
point and refrigerated up to three days, or it can be wrapped, airtight,
and frozen up to three months.
5. To bake cookies: Place oven racks in the upper and lower
thirds of oven and preheat to 350˚F. Use a sharp knife to slice
rounds a scant ¼ inch thick from the chilled dough. Place one
inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake 10 to 14 minutes.
Rotate baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back about
halfway through baking to ensure even baking. Cookies will puff
and crackle on top and then begin to settle down slightly when
done. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before
storing or stacking. Store, airtight, up to two weeks, or freeze up to
Serving size: 1 cookie
Carbohydrate: 5 g
Carbohydrate Choices: ½
Fat: 3 g
Saturated fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 7 mg
Dietary fiber: trace
Sodium: 40 mg
LEMON MERINGUE PIE
Old-fashioned lemon meringue pie filling is easy and can be
made in advance. Ditto the flaky phyllo pie crust. Assemble all
and toast the meringue shortly before serving. To be safe from salmonella bacteria, the meringue pie topping is precooked before it
is spread on the pie. A brief stay in a hot oven simply browns the
meringue without further cooking.
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ cup cake flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups sugar
1½ cups water
Grated zest of 3 large lemons
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons sweet butter
Phyllo pie shell:
6 phyllo sheets (12″ × 17″ or 14″ × 18″), defrosted
2 tablespoons clarified butter
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
3 teaspoons water
3 egg whites
7 tablespoons sugar
9-inch glass pie plate
A foil-wrapped square or round of cardboard about the size
of the pie plate
1. To make filling: In a small bowl, whisk eggs until yolks and
whites are well combined. Set aside.
2. Combine cornstarch, flour, salt, and sugar in a heavy twoquart saucepan. Stir in enough of the water to form a smooth
paste, then slowly add remaining water. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until mixture just begins to bubble at the edges.
Continue to cook, stirring constantly for 2 more minutes. Take
off heat, stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and butter. Whisk about
½ cup of hot mixture into the eggs, whisking to prevent eggs from
scrambling. Scrape egg mixture back into saucepan and cook
over medium heat until mixture just begins to bubble at the
edges again. Cook, stirring constantly for an additional minute.
Turn mixture into a clean shallow bowl. Use as soon as cool or
refrigerate several hours until needed. Filling may be completed and
refrigerated up to one day in advance.
3. To make phyllo pie shell: Unroll and stack defrosted phyllo
sheets on a tray. If you are using the larger-size phyllo sheets, trim
about 2 inches off the width only; discard trimming. Cover closely with plastic wrap and cover the plastic wrap with a damp
towel. (Be careful that the damp towel never comes in direct
contact with phyllo sheets or they will dissolve into paste.)
4. Melt clarified butter if it has cooled. Place one sheet of phyllo on a dry pastry board or on the counter in front of you (always
keep the remaining sheets under wraps until needed). Transfer
one teaspoon of clarified butter to a small cup. Use a pastry brush
to cover the phyllo sheet evenly and completely with the teaspoon of butter. Cut the buttered phyllo in half; place one half
into the pie pan and the second on top of it, rotated a few degrees
so that the corners are offset. Remove a second sheet of phyllo
from the pile. Butter it and cut it in half. Place one half at a time
in the pie pan, rotating each from the one below it. Continue to
prepare, cut, and line the pan with the remaining four phyllo
sheets. You will have 12 overlapping layers in the pie plate.
Overhanging points can be adjusted attractively, or folded under
a bit, or trimmed. Lined pan can be wrapped carefully and refrigerated up to a day in advance of baking, if desired.
5. To bake: Position oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 375˚F. Prick bottom of pastry with a fork. Place a square
of waxed paper or foil in the bottom of the lined pan and place a
small (6- or 7-inch) cake pan on the paper to weight the pastry.
Bake 6 minutes. Remove weight and paper and continue to bake
another 8 to 10 minutes, watching carefully, until nicely
browned all over. (If pastry puffs up, prick again and push down
with the cake pan that was used as a weight). I like well-browned
pastry, even at the expense of a little scorching around the top
edges, which can easily be broken off later. A glass pie plate
enables me to check the browning on the bottom. Cool crust
completely, on a rack, before using. Cooled crust can be wrapped
and stored, at room temperature, up to one day ahead.
Up to two hours before serving, make meringue topping, assemble pie, and brown the meringue
6. To make meringue topping: Bring one inch of water to a simmer in a large skillet. Combine the cream of tartar and water in
a 6- to 8-cup heatproof bowl. Whisk in the egg whites and sugar.
Place the thermometer near the stove in a mug of just-boiled
water. Set the bowl of egg whites in the skillet and beat on low
speed with a hand-held electric mixer until the egg whites reach
140˚F. Increase speed and continue to beat either 5 minutes or
until the thermometer registers 160˚F, whichever happens first*!
(Do not stop beating as long as the bowl is in the skillet, or the
egg whites will be overcooked). Remove the bowl from the skillet and continue to beat at high speed until cool and stiff.
* If the mixture remains at or over 140˚F for 5 minutes, it need
not reach 160˚F.
7. To assemble pie and brown the top: Without mixing or beating, spoon the cool or chilled lemon filling into the cooled pie
shell. Use a large, clean spoon to cover the filling with large dollops of meringue. Be sure that the meringue touches the phyllo
crust all around the edges, sealing in the filling. Use the back of
the spoon to swirl the meringue attractively and make sure that
no filling shows through. Place the pie on the foil-wrapped cardboard (which will insulate the bottom of the pie and keep the
filling from heating up) on a cookie sheet. Slide everything into
the oven and bake 3 to 5 minutes, watching carefully, to brown
the edges and tips of the meringue swirls. Pie can be served immediately or cooled on a rack and then chilled first. Serve within two
hours for the crispest pastry.
Carbohydrate: 28 g
Protein: 5 g
Carbohydrate Choices: 2
Fat: 9 g
Saturated fat: 4 g
Cholesterol: 56 mg
Dietary fiber: trace
Sodium: 109 mg
This lightly spiced, refreshing spoon drink is like a sophisticated
slushy. Serve in a frosted goblet with a stick of cinnamon.
Makes 7 servings
½ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
¾ cup sugar
⅛ teaspoon grated orange zest
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Good pinch of ground cayenne pepper
Good pinch of ground black pepper
1½ teaspoons instant espresso powder (optional)
2½ cups low-fat (2%) milk
¼ cup water or cold coffee
1. In a small saucepan, combine cocoa powder, sugar, flavorings,
and enough of the milk to form a smooth paste, then stir in the
rest of the milk. Stir over low heat until mixture is warm and
sugar is dissolved.
2. Pour into shallow pan or ice cube tray and freeze hard, several hours, or overnight.
3. Break up frozen mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted
with a steel blade. Process with the water or cold coffee until
smooth and lightened in color. Serve at once in frosted goblets as a
spoon drink. Or scrape into a bowl and freeze; scoop and serve frozen.
Carbohydrate: 20 g
½ low-fat milk
Protein: 7 g
Carbohydrate Choices: 1
Fat: 2 g
Saturated fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 6 mg
Dietary fiber: 0 g
Sodium: 44 mg
TECHNIQUES FOR BUILDING YOUR
LOW-FAT DESSERT REPERTOIRE
First, let someone else do the work! Probably the first and
smartest bit of advice is to take advantage of someone else’s hard
work. When you find low-fat and reduced-fat recipes that are delicious, that work for you, and are hailed by family and friends, by all
means use them as models. Improvise on them and try your own
variations and flavors within the basic structure of the recipe.
Someone else—a professional baker, food scientist, or chef—took
the time and trouble to figure out the hard part, like how to keep
the cookie tender, the cake moist, or the frosting creamy. You get
to enjoy the results and play the variations. Before you know it, you
will have your own repertoire of healthy dessert recipes.
Keep ingredient quality and standards high. Don’t let making
desserts with lower fat turn into a chemistry experiment. Keep your
standards high by using high-quality ingredients. Read labels, and
trust the instincts that normally guide your shopping and eating.
The desire to reduce the fat in your recipes shouldn’t drive you to
use low-fat or nonfat ingredients loaded with chemicals, preservatives, unrecognizable additives, or ingredients that don’t taste good.
Concern about food additives aside, ingredients with poor flavor are
even more noticeable in lower-fat desserts than in very rich ones
because, among other things, fat helps to marry and blend flavors.
Recipes with less fat are less forgiving, so an undesirable flavor is less
likely to be masked or blended with other flavors.
When choosing dairy products, select carefully among the low-fat
and nonfat products. In the case of cottage cheese, sour cream, and
cream cheese, you may find that low-fat products taste better and
have fewer additives than nonfat products.
Cocoa and chocolate must be used in small quantities in low-fat
recipes. Premium domestic brands or imported brands of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate will give you more chocolate flavor
per ounce than the semisweet and bittersweet chocolate “baking
squares” that you find in the supermarket. The best quality really
does pay off.
Use all techniques judiciously. Sooner or later, you will strike out
on your own and attempt to reduce some of the fat in your old
favorites—desserts that you’ve always loved and still do, or desserts
that have begun to taste a little too rich and heavy to the enlightened palate. Because there are so many different types of dessert
recipes, and so many different techniques for making them, there
is no single set of rules for reducing fat without ruining recipes. The
techniques presented here are great guidelines, but not silver bullets, so use them judiciously. Techniques that work for some types
of recipes do not work for others. Even for the professional, there
is no substitute for a certain amount of trial and error.
Easy does it! Unless you are willing to throw away a lot of experiments, start slowly. If the recipe calls for eight ounces of butter, try
using six or seven. Instead of four whole eggs, try two whole eggs
and two egg whites. Instead of whole milk, use low-fat. Consider
each dessert a work in progress—if it is still good with a little fat
removed, you might try removing a little more the next time.
Above all, if you plan to eat and enjoy these desserts-in-progress,
never make enormous changes or change too many things at once.
Drastic changes yield inedible desserts! Failures that result from too
many changes at once cannot teach you which changes work and
which do not. In my experience, it is often possible to ease up to
25 percent or even 30 percent of the fat out of desserts by taking it
slow and easy, without adverse effects and without having to “compensate” or substantially revise the formula of a recipe.
Swap egg whites for egg yolks. This is a good technique when
applied with moderation. If you literally replace every yolk with an
egg white, your cake or cookies are likely to be tough, your custards
may weep moisture, your chocolate mousses will surely disappoint,
and the only good use you’ll find for your cakes is as doorstops.
While egg whites and yolks both function to leaven, moisten, and
give structure to baked goods, they are fundamentally different
substances. Egg whites are protein; too many of them toughens
baked goods, especially in the absence of yolks. Egg yolks are fat;
they tenderize, emulsify, and moisten. Do not automatically eliminate all of the yolks from your recipes. Keep a yolk or two for the
texture and flavor that they contribute. If a recipe calls for four
eggs, try using two whole eggs and two whites; it’s usually a good
Replace butter with fruit puree. Fruit purees such as applesauce or
strained prunes can provide moisture and tenderness to compensate for a reduction in butter or other fat in a recipe. This technique is most successful when the flavors and textures in the recipe
are already compatible with the addition of fruit—such as a spice
loaf, carrot cake, gingerbread, or quick bread with other fruit in
it—so there is no need to cover up additional fruit flavor.
Attempting to cover the flavor of an ingredient that was added for
reasons other than flavor results in a muddy taste. You will get the
very best results if you leave a little of the butter or fat in the recipe
along with the added fruit puree. Problems usually occur when we
approach fat reduction as an all-or-nothing proposition.
Is cake flour better than all-purpose flour? Cake flour produces
more tender cakes than all-purpose flour. Since we need all the
tenderness we can get in cakes with reduced fat, it stands to reason
that replacing all-purpose with cake flour might be a good technique. To know whether this technique really works for a specific
recipe, the substitution should be made ounce for ounce, rather
than cup for cup, since cake flour weighs less than all-purpose. For
purposes of comparison, one cup of sifted all-purpose flour should
be replaced with 1 cup plus 2½ tablespoons sifted cake flour. Cake
flour will produce a cake with greater volume and more tenderness,
but all-purpose flour produces cakes with more flavor. You may prefer the more tender cake in recipes with lots of chocolate or spices,
and you may prefer the more flavorful all-purpose flour in a plainer cake. Hey, did we say there were easy answers?
Must we replace fat? One of the biggest fallacies, and the most fun
to debunk, is the concept that fat removed from a recipe must be
replaced by something. Do not feel obliged to add something back
to the recipe to compensate for small quantities of fat eliminated.
If you simply remove one egg yolk from a recipe, or a little of the
butter, there is no need to “replace” it. If you substitute low-fat
milk for whole milk, there is no need to compensate. This is especially true if you are making slow and gradual changes, where the
point is to see how much fat you can ease out of a recipe without
destroying its pleasurable qualities. Once you have crossed the line
and the dessert is disappointing, consider adding back a bit of the
fat, or finding some other ways of compensating for the qualities
that the fat contributed in the first place. Read on for ideas on how
to compensate for fat reductions.
Budget the fat and juggle the ingredients. All fats are not equal
in their contribution to an individual recipe, and most recipes
have at least two or three sources of fat. Sometimes the key to success is knowing which fat to remove and which to retain.
Chocolate dessert recipes provide a good example. If you want a
chocolate dessert to be as chocolaty as possible but lower in fat,
eliminate fats other than chocolate. You might reduce butter, egg
yolks, and cream. If the fat in the chocolate is still too much, you
can trade some of the chocolate for cocoa, since cocoa boosts and
reinforces the flavor or chocolate while adding relatively little fat.
But adding cocoa is also a bit of a challenge: Since cocoa is dry and
bitter, you might need to compensate by adding sugar and some
kind of moisture such as water, milk, or coffee.
If you reduce or eliminate whipped cream in mousse recipes, you may
miss the volume, airy texture, and creaminess that it provides. You
can compensate by folding in a little Safe Meringue (see page 18).
Make it pretty! Low-fat recipes have a bad reputation. Many people think they are good enough for the family but too homey for
company. If you can make your recipes taste good enough for company, you can certainly present them as elegantly and artfully
as you do other desserts. Serving dessert on a beautiful plate or
using a pretty stencil for dusting powdered sugar on a cake can contribute a lot to the enjoyment of a good dessert.
Reducing the fat in desserts is a challenge, and the road to success
is paved with—well, cakes suitable for paving stones. Some of the
following troubleshooting tips may help you achieve success a little less painfully.
Tough cookies: If you like crisp cookies but find them tough
when fat is removed, here are a few tricks. Substitute margarine or
shortening for one-third to one-half of the butter in the recipe.
Cream the fat and sugar extra long for extra lightness. Adding a little leavening such as baking powder or soda to cookie dough can
transform a crisp, hard cookie into a crisp, tender cookie by aerating the structure. Make crisp cookies thin rather than thick; thin,
crisp cookies are perceived as tender, but thick, crisp cookies seem
hard. Acidic dairy products are legendary tenderizers, so try a
tablespoon or two of nonfat yogurt in a cookie batter. As always,
do not try all of these techniques at once.
Tough or heavy cakes: If a cake is mixed by the creaming method
(the fat is beaten together with the sugar to lighten the mixture),
take extra time to beat the butter and sugar since this is a part of
the leavening or aeration process that traditionally yields the best
cake textures. While extra beating is good for sugar and butter,
even an ultra-rich butter cake will get tough if the batter is overbeaten after the flour is added (if in doubt, stir or fold the flour in
by hand). You can lighten some cake batters by beating some of
the egg whites with a little of the sugar until you get stiff but not
dry peaks, then folding this mixture into the batter at the end. You
can also try the cake-flour swap described on page 15 or add a little fruit puree to the batter.
Mousses and creams that won’t set: Gelatin or starch can provide
some stiffness or body in mousses, creams, fillings, and frostings
that go limp from fat reduction. If you miss the fluffy, creamy qualities of whipped cream, you can fold in a little Safe Meringue (see
Dry or sticky baked goods: Fat-reduced recipes are more fragile
and less forgiving than fat-rich recipes. They are especially sensitive to baking time and temperatures. A minute or two extra in the
oven can produce a dry cake. Without the extra moisture from fat,
the baker has less leeway. Conversely, a couple of minutes of
underbaking can result in a cake with a sticky texture, especially in
a recipe where fruit puree was substituted for some of the fat.
While much of our family cooking tolerates oven inaccuracies of
25 degrees to 50 degrees in either direction, baking is less forgiving
and low-fat baking is even touchier. Get your oven calibrated or
use an oven thermometer to check accuracy; use a timer and extra
patience in watching for that moment of doneness.
Low-fat desserts that are too sweet: When fat is removed from a
dessert, excessive sweetness may be one of the side effects. There
are two reasons for this, and they make perfect sense. First, when
you remove some of the ingredients in a recipe (in this case the fat)
without changing the sugar, the percentage of sugar compared with
the other ingredients becomes higher. Second, just as fat mellows
other strong flavors, fat mellows the sweetness of sugar, so reducing the fat “unleashes” the sugar and makes it more potent. The
remedy is to remove a little sugar when you reduce the fat. Do this
only after tasting, however, since it is not always necessary.
Now that you know the solution to this problem, you may wonder
why commercial low-fat products are still too sweet. There are several reasons. Sugar adds moisture and tenderness to baked goods,
thus increasing the shelf life. Sweetness also helps to cover up the
flavors of additives or artificial ingredients, and sugar makes people, especially children, think that they are eating dessert. Sugar
also provides lots of calories without fat, and this reduces the calculated percentage of calories from fat, which looks good on the
label (but not so good around your waist). These are all compelling
reasons to make low-fat desserts at home, where you can control
the quality and enjoy your dessert while it is still fresh and moist
without added sugar.
Meringue is a versatile ingredient in low-fat baking and dessert
making. It provides a creamy, fluffy texture without fat. It can be
used to replace some of the whipped cream in a mousse, and it can
be used as a traditional pie topping or as a cake frosting slipped
briefly into a hot oven to toast. Our need to avoid salmonella prevents our using meringue in uncooked or partially cooked applications such as these unless the meringue can be heated to 160˚F or
held at or above 140˚F for 5 minutes.
My method for making safe meringue relies on the use of a handheld electric mixer, a skillet of barely simmering water to serve as a
water bath, and an instant-read thermometer kept near the stove in
a mug of boiling water so that it can be rinsed in water hotter than
160˚F in between readings. Before they are heated, the egg whites
are combined with water, cream of tartar, and sugar to prevent the
proteins in the eggs whites from cooking at too low a temperature.
The bowl of egg whites is placed in the skillet and the egg whites
are beaten constantly until they reach 160˚F or remain above 140˚F
for 5 minutes, whichever happens first. The egg whites are removed
from the heat and beaten at high speed until cool and stiff. This
method works best with at least two egg whites and two tablespoons
of sugar per egg white (the sugar can be reduced a little when you
make larger batches). If only a single-egg-white meringue is needed
(about 1 to 1½ cups), make a two-egg-white recipe and use only
half of the results. A three-egg-white version appears as part of the
Lemon Meringue Pie recipe (page 10).
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons water
¼ cup sugar
Hand-held electric mixer
Heat one inch of water in a large skillet, and adjust heat so that it
barely simmers. Combine the cream of tartar and water in a 4- to
6-cup heatproof bowl, preferably stainless steel. Whisk in the egg
whites and sugar. Place the thermometer near the stove in a mug
of just-boiled water. Set the bowl of egg whites in the skillet and
beat on low speed with a handheld electric mixer until the egg
whites reach 140˚F (since the thermometer is kept in hotter water,
the needle will adjust downward). Replace the thermometer in the
hot water in between readings. Increase speed and continue to beat
either 5 minutes or until the thermometer registers 160˚F,
whichever happens first*! (Do not stop beating while the bowl is
in the skillet, or the egg whites will be overcooked.) Remove the
bowl from the skillet and continue to beat at high speed until cool
*If the mixture remains at or over 140˚F for 5 minutes, it need not
Alice Medrich is a cookbook
author, pastry chef, and teacher.
Considered an expert on chocolate,
she is the only author to win the
coveted Cookbook of the Year
award and Book of the Year awards
from the James Beard Foundation and the International
Association of Culinary Professionals three times, most
recently for Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in
Ms. Medrich writes for Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Fine
Cooking, Cooking Light, and Cook’s Illustrated, among other
magazines. She appeared on the TV Food Network in the
“Chef du Jour” and “Baker’s Dozen” series and was a featured chef with Julia Child in the PBS Television series
“Baking at Julia’s” and with Joan Nathan in “Jewish
Cooking in America.” Ms. Medrich was a major contributor to The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking (Simon &
Schuster, 1997). She wrote Alice Medrich’s Cookies and
Brownies (Warner Books, l999) and Year in Chocolate: Four
Seasons of Unforgettable Desserts (Warner Books, 2001) and
contributed to The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook (HarperCollins,
2001). Ms. Medrich consults in the baking and chocolate
industry and teaches extensively in the San Francisco Bay
area and in cooking schools across the country.
Copyright © 2006 Diabetes Self-Management Books.
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