Photo: Blueberry Cheesecake

by Sabra Rebo, R.D. Down to Earth Community Outreach Team Leader

When I think about the holidays, nothing says home like the smell of baking. There is something so comforting and festive about holiday baking. Perhaps it’s the smells associated with baking or the thought of spending time in the kitchen with the people I love. However, with holiday baking comes additional calories, sugar, and fat added into our diets. There are several easy baking substitutions that can help reduce the amount of calories, sugar, and fat in baked goods without compromising taste. Festive, healthy and delicious are possible when you make smart substitutions.

In college I had to take several classes about the “science of food”. Baking is chemistry… and the science that involves baking and taste testing was one of my favorite subjects! When making substitutions it is important to understand that you are changing the chemistry of the item you are baking. Every ingredient serves a purpose and starting with small changes will help you to make healthy and successful baking substitutions.

Sugar

Beyond tasting sweet, sugar adds tenderness and moisture to baked goods. If you remove too much sugar from a recipe you may end up with a dry and tough product. Reducing the amount of sugar in recipes is one of the easiest baking adjustments that you can make, and one of my personal favorites. Reducing the amount of sugar by 25% in recipes won’t affect the final product, but will  cut down the calories in baked goods. If your recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, decrease the amount to ¾ cup. In all of my baked goods and desserts I follow this simple tip and my family and friends don’t even notice the difference.

There are also flavors and spices that help intensify sweetness in foods. If you decrease the amount of sugar, you can add vanilla, nutmeg, or cinnamon to intensify the sweetness of the product you are baking. More flavor and less sugar is a wonderful combination!

Flour

Adding more whole grains to your diet can be a fun experiment when it comes to baking. Whole grains add nutrients and fiber to food. In most recipes you can replace half of the white all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of white all-purpose flour use ½ cup white all-purpose flour and ½ cup whole wheat flour. If you increase the amount of whole wheat flour over 50% or opt for 100% whole wheat you will need to add more liquid to your recipe. Usually 2 teaspoons of additional liquid per 1 cup of whole wheat flour is needed. Also, let your batter or dough rest for 20-25 minutes so the whole grains can hydrate.

Nut flours are another tasty way to add nutrients to your baked goods and decrease the amount of carbohydrates. You can replace the flour in recipes with 25% nut flour such as almond flour. Nut flours tend to be heavier so you may need to add extra leavening power. Add an additional ½ teaspoon of baking powder or baking soda to your recipe for a successful substitution.

Fat

Mouthfeel, tenderness, and moistness are a few of the functions of fat in recipes. However, there are some easy substitutions you can make to decrease the amount of fat you use in recipes without compromising taste. Unsweetened applesauce is my go-to for replacing oil and butter in recipes like quick breads, gingerbread and muffins. You can replace 50% of the fat in recipes without a noticeable difference in taste and texture. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of oil or butter use ½ cup applesauce and ½ cup oil or butter.

Prunes get a bad rap but they work well replacing fat in chocolate desserts, spice cakes, and cookies. Replace 50% of the fat in the recipe with prune puree. You can also use pureed prune baby food for a quick alternative.

If you have extra cans of plain pumpkin puree use it to decrease fat in recipes. Replace ½ of the fat in your recipe with plain pumpkin puree. It tastes great and saves you from keeping that one can of pumpkin in your pantry until next year! 

If fudge is on your holiday baking list, silken tofu should also be on your shopping list. Silken tofu can be used to replace half the fat in your favorite fudge recipe. Not only do you decrease the amount of fat, but you also add protein and calcium to your fudge. You will definitely be on the “Nice” list with this healthy baking substitution!

Eggs

When substituting eggs in recipes it is important to know what the purpose of the egg is. Is it for binding or leavening? If the final product is light and fluffy then the egg is for leavening. A dense and thick product usually uses eggs for binding.

Substitutions for 1 egg as a binder:

  • ½ of a medium banana
  • ¼ cup fruit puree
  • 1 tablespoon milled flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water (let sit for 5 minutes to gel)

Substitutions for 1 egg as leavening:

  • Commercial egg replacer
  • 1½ tablespoons vegetable oil mixed with 1½ tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon baking powder per egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder + 1 teaspoon vinegar

This holiday season try a healthy baking substitution in your favorite family recipes. You will see how easy it can be to make healthy and delicious treats for friends and family. Happy holidays and baking!