Food Q&A: Light Baking 101

How can I lighten up my favorite baked goods?
Light Baking 101

Need ideas for coping with restaurant buffets? Want some good snack ideas? In our Q&A series, nutritionist and food editor Leslie Fink, MS, RD, answers questions about food, nutrition and weight loss.

Q: Do you have any light baking tips for a novice baker?

A: Some people swear off anything but the "real" thing when it comes to desserts. But there are so many ways to create wonderful light versions of of baked goods. You shouldn't knock 'em until you try 'em!

One of the keys to successful low-fat baking is moisture. Some combination of oil and butter provides this for most cookies and cakes; if you cut back on these ingredients too severely, your desserts may come out quite dry. Keep your baked goods moist but light by substituting applesauce for 1/3 of the total butter or oil in light-colored cookie or cake recipes. Alternatively, if you're making a chocolate dessert, substitute puréed prunes for 1/3 of the oil (the prunes would discolor a lighter batter, but are camouflaged in chocolate!).

While this 3 -to-1 ratio works for many recipes, you can experiment with using even less oil and more fruit purée to get the perfect combo for your dish. You can also experiment with other fat replacements. Many users rely on puréed pumpkin as an oil replacement in muffins and cakes. Some have had success with puréed berries and mashed bananas, too.

Another method is to swap light butter for regular butter. (Many cooks prefer the taste of light butter to reduced-calorie margarine, which does not always heat or melt very well. In fact, many reduced-calorie margarine packages say that they're not intended for use in baking.)

More Light Baking Tips

  • Use mini chocolate chips and slivered or chopped, toasted nuts (toasting enhances their flavor) in your baking. But just use these higher-calorie ingredients in moderation. Sprinkle chips or nuts on top of cake or brownie batters, instead of throughout, so you get the taste in each bite, but don't use as much.

  • Use cooking spray and nonstick pans—or nonstick aluminum foil—instead of shortening or butter to grease baking pans.

  • Experiment by swapping 1% milk for whole milk, egg whites or egg substitute for whole eggs, light cream cheese for regular and Splenda or Truvia Baking Blend for sugar in your favorite recipes. Make sure you have a back-up plan, though, if company's coming over and your creation is a flop.

  • Consider making your favorite treat as is, but in a smaller package. For example, make your favorite muffins mini instead of regular-sized. You get the same great taste, but with the added benefit of built-in portion control.
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