Answers to frequently asked questions and recipes that hit the sweet spot.
Most commonsensical cooks can easily figure out ways to decrease fat in certain dishes: Use less oil in your pasta. Substitute fat-free or reduced-fat dairy items for their full-fat counterparts. Choose leaner cuts of beef and pork, and remove the skin from poultry.
But baking is different. Many cooks quake at the thought of attempting to change the chemistry of a cake or puttering with pastry. Quite right they are to quake, too, for the less-than-precise baker can end up with a doughy mess and a mass of disappointment.
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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We offer answers to some of the most common questions we receive on the topic, along with helpful advice from Cooking Light Test Kitchens Director Vanessa Johnson and food scientist Shirley Corriher, author of Cookwise. They explain which changes you can easily make and which need more careful consideration. The recipes that follow demonstrate that low-fat baking is an art indeed.
What does sugar do in baked goods?
Shirley Corriher: Sugar prevents the flour proteins from joining and making gluten; gluten development would make a cake or cookie tough. In this way sugar acts as a tenderizer and can replace some of the fat in the recipe. When sugar is present in amounts above 2 tablespoons per cup of flour, the two proteins in flour that normally join with each other and water to form gluten join with the sugar instead.
Sugar also caramelizes in baking, which enriches flavors. Substituting as little as a tablespoon of corn syrup for sugar can make cookies much browner, because corn syrup browns at a lower temperature than sugar. Some sugars, like honey and brown sugar, absorb moisture from the atmosphere, which means that things baked with them will stay soft and moist longer.
Why does butter make cookies crisp, and how can you lighten cookies?
Corriher: Cookies made with butter spread during baking, which means they're thinner. Trimming the amount of fat just a little will limit their spread. If you want to reduce the amount of butter but preserve the crispness, add a little corn syrup to the cookie dough. If you want a puffy cookie that stays soft, use shortening to limit the spread in baking.
Vanessa Johnson: Of all the desserts, cookies are truly the hardest for us to lighten. Because we use less butter, our cookies generally err on the chewy, fudgy side rather than the crisp side. However, small amounts of yogurt, applesauce, or egg whites can help give lower-fat cookies the texture of high-fat ones, as in our Cinnamon Cookies.
Why are butter and eggs necessary in cakes?
Corriher: Butter has three roles in cakes: to make the cake light and delicate by holding air bubbles produced by leaveners like baking powder or soda; to make the cake tender by coating the flour protein; and to carry rich flavors. Stick margarine and shortening can substitute for butter; in fact, shortening is already aerated before you buy it, so it can produce a fine, tender cake. A margarine spread that is soft at room temperature can't substitute for butter, though.
Eggs have two parts, whites and yolks, which do two different things. Whites are an incredible drying and leavening agent, and yolks are nature's great emulsifiers for creamy texture.
Why can't you replace all the eggs in baking with egg substitute?
Corriher: Egg substitutes are usually composed of egg whites and oil, along with other ingredients like coloring and stabilizer. Because they don't have yolks, they can't serve as emulsifiers; it's the natural lecithin in the yolks that helps make an emulsion.
The lack of yolks is the reason you can't use egg substitute to make custards, either. With no yolks, custards wouldn't be smooth and creamy.
Johnson: We generally use fewer yolks and more whites than an equal amount of egg substitute simply from a practicality standpoint: Everyone usually has eggs in the fridge, but not necessarily egg substitute.
What difference does the way you measure flour make?
Johnson: It can make a terrific difference-as much as an ounce per cup of flour!
When fat is reduced in baking, the exact and precise measurement of flour becomes crucial. When a reader says she's had a problem with one of our recipes, one of the first things we suspect is that she's used the measuring cup to scoop flour out of the canister.
We advise readers to use the spoon-and-measure method: Stir the flour to aerate it, then lightly spoon into a dry measuring cup and level with a knife. By this method, a cup of all-purpose flour will weigh four and a half ounces. For more precise measurements, we've included cup and weight measures in these recipes.
Why doesn't Cooking Light use applesauce or fruit puree to replace fat?
Johnson: Because it generally doesn't work to do so. In our opinion, baked products made with fruit purees have an inferior texture and taste. We get far better results by simply reducing the fat.
Why does Cooking Light use sugar instead of sugar substitutes?
Johnson: Sugar is a key ingredient in baking, providing structure and mass in many desserts. Consider a cake: If you substituted artificial sweetener for sugar, you would lose the volume that sugar contributes, and the cake batter would not have enough substance to become a cake. Also, the tastes and textures of sugar substitutes may change when they're heated.
Because sugar also acts as a tenderizer in baking, it can actually replace some of the fat in reduced-fat baked goods. Sugar substitutes don't tenderize like sugar does.
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This is the third in a 6-part post series to help you start the process of adapting your recipes (did I call this a 4-part series before? Yes, I just realized I needed two extra parts and I reserve the right to expand this to a 7-part series if needed!). In the first post, I discussed Paleo flours and other ingredients that add bulk to a recipe. In the second post, I discussed binders (ingredients that hold baking together). In this post, I will discuss leavening agents and fats. In part 4, I will discuss sweeteners. Part 5 will discuss liquid ingredients and wet-to-dry ratios. Part 6 will discuss some strategies for doing iterations and troubleshooting your recipes. You may also be interested in some of my posts that reference Paleo baking ingredients: Important Pantry Items for The Paleo Baker, Paleo Flour Substitutes, Sugar vs. Sweeteners, and Is Sugar Paleo?).
Let&rsquos start with leavening agents. Leavening means anything that puts little bubbles of air into your baking making it lighter, often &ldquorising&rdquo while baking. Classic leavening agents are baking soda, baking powder, yeast, butter (or more specifically the butter sugar combination), and eggs.
Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. It comes from a natural mineral that was originally mined, but is now made industrially using the miracles of chemistry. Sodium bicarbonate is an alkali, so when it mixes with acid, it undergoes a chemical reaction and CO2 bubbles are released (woohoo for acid-base chemistry!). Depending on how much acid it is mixed with, it either reacts slowly or very quickly (think homemade volcano science projects). If your recipe calls for baking soda, then no substitution is necessary.
Baking powder is not Paleo. It contains corn starch (corn-free versions typically contain potato starch). It&rsquos actually one of my biggest pet peeves to see baking powder in Paleo recipes because that little bit of corn starch can be a big problem for many people. However, the active ingredients in baking powder, baking soda and potassium hydrogen tartrate (a.k.a. tartaric acid, a.k.a. cream of tartar), are Paleo.
Tartaric acid is an acid naturally found in grapes and is a byproduct of wine making. You can buy cream of tartar in the spice or baking section of just about any grocery store. Cream of tartar is an acidifying agent. It provides the necessary acid for baking soda to react with to make its little CO2 bubbles. Baking powder contains both baking soda and cream of tartar (and the aforementioned corn starch as a drying agent), so if you recipe calls for baking powder, here are some simple substitutions:
Low Fat Recipes: A Well Balanced Meal
A well balanced meal starts from low fat recipes. Those recipes are meant for people who control their meal in terms of fat .Low Fat is a full source of energy food. For a low fat balanced meal here are 3 recipes for you.
Low Fat Banana Bread Recipe
2 Cups of sugar
1 cup of applesauce
8 oz of Healthy Choice Egg Product
2 teaspoon of vanilla
6 ripe bananas-mashed
4 cup of flour
2 teaspoon of baking soda
Low Fat Banana Bread instructions:
Mix up the sugar and applesauce then add egg product after that mix all well. Second step add bananas and vanilla and also mix well. Stiff flour with soda then adds little by little all blended in. Cook both loaves at about 320 degree for about 1 hour in the oven. Depending of the oven you have , it will take more time if you put both inside the same oven .
2 Oz of baking chocolate
2 Teaspoon of vanilla
1 1/2 cup of sugar
1/ 4 of salt
3 large eggs lightly beaten
2 large eggs whites lightly beaten
3/ 4 maple syrup
1 cube of unsweetened applesauce
1/ 4 of canola oil
1 cup of cake flour sifted
3 /4 cocoa powder
6 Oz of extra bittersweet chocolate
Low Fat Brownies instructions:
Heat the oven up to 350-360 degrees. Place them in a 9 X 9 inch on a parchment paper in a baking pan grease a little. Melt the chocolate together with vanilla in a recipient place in boiling water. Put the mixture in a large bowl.
Mix the salt, sugar, eggs white and eggs until it look like smooth .stir in honey or syrup, canola oil and applesauce. Mix the flour with the cocoa powder over and with care, fold until the mixture is smooth. Gently combine the bittersweet chocolate.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and cook for about 45 minutes. Dust with confectioner sugar and let it cool on the rack
Low Fat Lemon Cheesecake Recipe
1 box crushed graham crackers
1 package sugar free Jello lemon flavored gelatin
2/3 cup boiling water
1 cup 1% low fat cottage cheese
8 ounces light cream cheese
2 cups cool whip Lite thawed
1 cup reduced calorie cherry pie filling
Low Fat Lemon Cheesecake Instructions:
Take a 9 inch pie plate and spray it with a non stick cooking spray. Dust side with half box of graham cracker crumbs. Melt totally the gelatin in the boiling water dispense into blender, add cream cheese and cottage cheese and cover.
Mix together at a medium speed, rubbing down sides occasionally about 3 minutes or until it is found smooth. Put it in a large bowl and mix in cool whip until found smooth. Transfer into the pie pan and spay the remaining crackers on the top. Let it chill for about 4 hours then top with the pie filling.
Use blended prunes/plums
You can use soaked dried prunes that are pureed as an oil substitute in many bread, muffin, or cookie recipes. What you need to do:
Add the following to a glass bowl:
- 2 cups pitted dried prunes (plums)
- 3 cups warm or hot water
Let the prunes sit in the hot water for about 10 to 15 minutes (or, you can boil them). Then put them in a high speed blender, and puree until smooth.
Egg-Free Chocolate Pudding With Olive Oil and Sea Salt
Mitch Mandel and Thomas MacDonald
Premade pudding is often high in calories and with the boring chocolate flavor you end up eating, it's not really worth the splurge. So why not make a better version right at home? This homemade chocolate pudding recipe skips the eggs, which cuts down on the calories and cooking time. Plus, we amp up the flavors even more, thanks to the peppery olive oil and crunchy flakes of salt. The end result is a pudding you can't find just anywhere!
What is Focaccia?
Focaccia is an Italian bread that is often shaped and baked into a large, flat rectangle, and is very similar in flavor and texture to pizza dough, and there are as many focaccia recipes as there are Italian grandmothers. Recipes can range from incredibly time consuming to quick and easy, and everywhere in between.
Some make their focaccia fairly thin, while others like a thick, spongy dough. Which is best? It depends on your personal taste and your recipe (some bakers take up to two days to ferment their dough, while others take considerably less time, which affects the texture of the dough). Whether you like your focaccia thick or thin, with a long rise or short, most often it is topped with olive oil and herbs and has characteristic dimples on the surface.
After trying many different techniques and ingredients, I came up with a focaccia recipe that strikes a nice balance between a traditional yeasted dough and something quick enough to prepare in a leisurely weekend bake.
A household essential that tends to disappear from grocery store shelves when people over-buy in the name of disaster preparedness, bread is one of the most rewarding baking projects you can undertake. Under quarantine, the phenomenon of a distractibaking has quickly taken hold. Social media has been filled with photos of cookies, muffins and the miraculous no-knead bread that has long been one of the most popular recipes ever published by The New York Times. For AJC readers who want to get in on the action, we've dug up an article from 2016 that has several recipes for everyday breads, including ones for old-fashioned white loaf and hearty country bread.
Old-Fashioned White Loaf
- 1/4 cup warm water, 110 to 115 degrees
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast, or 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast
- 1 cup warm whole milk, 110 to 115 degrees
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Place the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is activated and foamy or bubbling. In a medium bowl, whisk together the warm milk and melted butter.
- Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix for 1 minute on medium speed to blend. Add the yeast mixture and milk mixture and mix on medium speed just until the dough comes together, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp, lint-free cotton towel, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes to allow it to fully hydrate before further kneading. Turn the speed to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough is firm, elastic and smooth, 3 to 6 minutes. (To mix by hand, mix the flour and salt in a large bowl, add the yeast mixture and milk mixture, and mix until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead until firm, elastic and smooth, about 8 to 10 minutes).
- Lightly oil a large bowl, scrape the dough into the bowl and lightly coat the surface of the dough with a little oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp, lint-free cotton towel and let the dough rise until doubled, 45 to 60 minutes (longer if the room is cold). If you are using a glass or see-through plastic bowl, be sure to mark the starting level of the dough with a pencil or piece of tape so it's easy to tell when the dough has doubled.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down on the dough firmly to expel some of the air bubbles, but don't knead the dough again or it will be too springy and difficult to shape (if this happens, simply cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp, lint-free cotton towel and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes to give the gluten some time to relax).
- Shape the dough into a loaf by pressing it into a flattened rectangle whose sides are a couple of inches shorter than the long sides of a loaf pan. Arrange the dough so a long side is parallel to the edge of your work surface. Fold the long side opposite you up into the center of the rectangle fold the long side near you into the center, pressing the edges together with the heel of your hand. Turn the dough 90 degrees and roll the short side opposite you toward the center, rolling it as tightly as you can. When you reach the bottom edge closest to you, pinch the final seam closed. The dough should be the same length as your loaf pan.
- Lightly coat the loaf pan with melted butter or an oil spray (not olive). Place the dough, seam-side down, in the pan. Lightly oil the top of the dough to keep it moist. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap or a damp, lint-free cotton towel, and allow the dough to rise again until its top is 1/2 to 1 inch above the rim of the pan, 45 to 60 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and position an oven rack in the center. Brush the top of the loaf with a thin film of the beaten egg. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the internal temperature registers 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Yield: 1 medium loaf.
Per serving (based on 16): 115 calories 3 g fat 1 g saturated fat 17 mg cholesterol 4 g protein 19 g carbohydrate 1 g sugar 1 g fiber 230 mg sodium 23 mg calcium.
Recipe from “The Art & Soul of Baking,” by Cindy Mushet
- 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
- 2 1/3 cups water at room temperature, divided
- 4 1/2 cups bread flour, divided
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup rye flour
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Note: This bread takes 2 days to make
- For the sponge: In a medium bowl, stir the yeast into 1 cup of the room-temperature water until dissolved. Mix in 1 cup of the bread flour and the whole wheat flour with a rubber spatula to create a stiff, wet dough. Cover with plastic wrap let sit at room temperature for at least 5 hours or preferably overnight.
- For the dough: Use a rubber spatula to mix the remaining 3 1/2 cups bread flour, rye flour, the remaining 1 1/3 cups tepid water, honey and the sponge from step 1 in the bowl of a standing mixer. Attach the dough hook and knead the dough at the lowest speed until the dough is smooth, about 15 minutes, adding the salt during the final 3 minutes (see note at end if kneading by hand). If the dough looks dry after the salt is added, add water in 1-tablespoon increments every 30 seconds until a smooth consistency is reached. Transfer the dough to a very lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until tripled in size, at least 2 hours.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough and your hands with flour. Lightly press the dough into a round by folding the edges of the dough into the middle from the top, right, bottom and left, sequentially, then gathering it loosely together. Transfer the dough, smooth-side down, to a colander or basket lined with heavily floured muslin or linen. Cover loosely with a large sheet of aluminum foil let the dough rise until almost doubled in size, at least 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and place a large baking stone on the rack. Adjust the other rack to the lowest position and place a small empty baking pan on it. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Cover a peel or the back of a large baking sheet with a large piece of parchment paper. Invert the dough onto the peel and remove the muslin. Use a single-edge razor blade or sharp knife to cut a large X about 1/2-inch deep into the top of the dough. With scissors, trim the excess parchment around the dough.
- Slide the dough, still on the parchment, from the peel onto the stone remove the peel with a quick backward jerk. Pour 2 cups hot tap water into the heated pan on the bottom rack, being careful to avoid the steam. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the bottom of the bread reads 210 degrees and the crust is dark brown, 35 to 40 minutes, turning the bread after 25 minutes if it is not browning evenly. Turn the oven off, open the door and let the bread remain in the oven 10 minutes longer. Remove, then cool to room temperature before slicing, about 2 hours. To crisp the crust, place the cooled bread in a 450-degree oven for 10 minutes.If kneading by hand: Make the sponge as directed. Place the sponge and 1 1/2 cups of the bread flour, the rye flour, the remaining 1 1/3 cups tepid water, honey and salt in a large bowl. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until smooth, about 5 minutes. Work in the remaining 2 cups bread flour and then turn out onto a floured work surface. Knead by hand for 5 minutes, incorporating no more than an additional 1/4 cup flour as you work. The dough will be very wet and sticky. Proceed with the recipe. Yield: 2 loaves, about 1 1/4 pounds each.
(based on 20): 148 calories 1g fat no saturated fat no cholesterol 5 g protein 31 g carbohydrate 2 g sugar 2 g fiber 234mg sodium 8 mg calcium.
Recipe from “Baking Illustrated,” by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine
Low Fat Chocolate Banana Souffles
Sometimes my kitchen has a glut of bananas. I can only eat so many each week, you know. Of course, I freeze them, add them to my cereal and make banana bread. As much as I love banana bread, sometimes I actually want to put my overripe bananas to some other use. I know that other people have similar issues.
Fortunately, I learned an easy way to use up a few bananas when I took a class a while back (not affiliated with my baking class). The class, if you’ll recall, was about making souffles. The instructor named this as a low fat souffle, but I think she included it to reinforce just how easy it is to make a souffle.
For these, a mashed up banana provides the majority of the base – no cooking necessary! It is thickened with a bit of cornstarch, flavoring is added and then egg whites beaten with sugar are folded in. The whole process takes less than 5 minutes, including the time to grease and sugar your ramekins. The taste is light and airy, with a nice banana-y richness. Once you’ve made the basic recipe, you can easily add other flavors or spices for variety. In the photo above, you can see ginger (with crystalised ginger), molasses and buttermilk, honey and chocolate (with mini chocolate chips) banana souffles.
The chocolate souffles are very chocolatey. I make these often because they’re so easy and light. And because I have bananas. Lots of them.
Chocolate Banana Souffles
1 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
Coat 6, 6-oz ramekins with butter and sugar. Place on a baking sheet.
Mash bananas and vanilla together. Sift cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt over bananas and stir well. Beat egg whites with sugar until they form soft peaks. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into banana mixture. When incorporated, fold in the rest of the egg whites – you can fold in some mini chocolate chips at this point, if you’d like. Spoon mixture into ramekins.
Run your finger around the top 1/4 inch “collar” of the ramekin, removing any batter, sugar or butter, so that the souffle will rise straight and place baking sheet in the oven. Bake at 400F for 15 minutes.
Types of Fat
There are two categories of fat used in baking: Liquid fats and solid fat. Solid fats can always be melted into liquid fat form, but they do re-solidify when cooled so they function slightly differently than true liquid fats.
Types of Solid Fats
There are 3 main types of solid fats used in baking: butter, vegetable shortening, and lard. Coconut oil is also a solid fat that is gaining popularity in baking.
Butter is the most common type of solid fat used in baking because it adds great flavor to our baked goods and the presence of water in butter makes it great for assisting with leavening. Butter contains about 80-82% fat. You can read more in depth about butter and its role in baking here.
Note: Margarine is not a direct substitute for butter because it can contain as little as 35% fat which makes it function much differently than butter. If you do want to use margarine in your baking it is best to find recipes that are written specifically to be used with margarine.
Vegetable shortening is a hydrogenated fat made from vegetable oils. Shortening contains 100% fat which means it creates baked goods that are even more tender than baked goods made with butter and can also lead to less shrinking in the oven. A pie crust made with all shortening will shrink less than a pie crust made with all butter because of the water evaporating out of the butter crust.
Vegetable shortening also has a higher melting point than butter, around 118 F. Due to this, shortening leads to less spreading in baked goods like cookies. This is because the cookie has time to set before the fat melts and spreads out. While this can be desirable for creating really thick cookies, the downside of shortening is that it can leave a really greasy mouthfeel. Where butter literally melts in your mouth, (melting point around 90-95F) shortening does not.
Lard is rendered pig fat and was widely used until the mid 20th century when vegetable shortening was developed and lard was advertised to be a less healthy option. Lard is also 100% fat, so it functions similarly to vegetable shortening though it has a lower melting point which makes it more desirable in baking.
Leaf lard is a snowy white form of lard that is extremely mild in flavor. High quality leaf lard is very difficult to find and typically needs to be ordered online, however it makes the absolute best biscuits in the world. You can read more about lard and how to render your own here.
Coconut oil is a solid fat with an extremely low melting point, so it is sort of on the edge between solid and liquid fats in the way it functions. Coconut oil has a melting point around 76 F, which is the lowest of all of the solid fats. But it can be creamed with sugar and does solidify so it falls in the solid fat category.
Types of Liquid Fats
Liquid fats are all of your oils. For baking you want to use a neutral flavored oil like canola oil, vegetable oil, or grapeseed oil. Olive oil is not desirable for baking, unless it is specifically called for, because it is very flavorful and can be off putting.
All oils function the same in baking as they are 100% fat. The main function of liquid fats (oils) is to add richness and tenderness, and because they do not solidify when cooled they create baked goods that are more tender than baked goods made with solid fats.
Oils cannot help with leavening, because they do not become solid, and therefore are typically not a good substitute for solid fats. All solid fats can be substituted for liquid fats by melting them first, however keep in mind that because the fat will solidify when cooled it will create slightly different final results.
2 1/2 cups (325 grams) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking soda
1 cup (225 grams) unsalted butter , at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (350 grams) granulated white sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk, at room temperature
3 large egg whites (90 grams), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup (or golden syrup)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (150 grams) sweetened or unsweetened dried coconut (shredded or flaked)