If you’re working to improve your eating habits, you might think that you need to banish desserts from your roster of recipes. After all, most baked delights tend to be loaded with fat and sugar. But besides the fact that trying to completely eliminate these treats from your diet could actually lead you to overeat what you’ve been working to avoid, what’s life without a little something sweet every now and again?
At Canyon Ranch, we love dessert and offer a variety of options to our guests as part of our healthy lunches and dinners. Our trick? Putting an emphasis on quality ingredients and smart portions. “Baking is an exact science, and it is more difficult to swap things in and out than it is in regular cooking,” says former Canyon Ranch Corporate Chef Scott Uehlein. “But being willing to experiment with proportions of traditional versus healthier ingredients can help you find the ratio that produces well-balanced sweet treats.”
Consider his advice when tweaking your favorite homemade cakes, cookies and more, and try some chef-tested, guest-approved recipes straight from our kitchen.
Whole-wheat flour—made from whole grains—is a healthier option than refined-grain white flour. However, too much whole-wheat flour can make your desserts flat and dense, as well as impart an overly nutty flavor. Start with a ratio of one-third whole wheat to two-thirds white flour. If you’re happy with the results, increase the ratio next time around. With most baked goods, you’ll reach a point where you just can’t add anymore. “But whatever proportion you land on will provide you with some fiber in the process,” Chef Scott says. Whole wheat pastry flour may be a suitable substitute, in part, in recipes that call for superfine flour to achieve light and airy results.
Sugar’s hard to replace in desserts—it is, after all, what makes sweets sweet. Try cutting the amount used in a recipe by a fourth or a third, and consider adding vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg to enhance the flavor. This may, however, change how your treat bakes. “It depends on the recipe more than anything else,” says Chef Scott. Cookies are likely to hold up, since the sugar in them provides little more than flavor; in cakes, however, the sugar is a source of moisture in addition to sweetness. If you don’t want to risk a disappointing end product, look for recipes that are developed using less sugar (or natural pure stevia, our non-sugar sweetener of choice). Many desserts at Canyon Ranch use organic cane, brown or turbinado sugar; molasses or honey—they just use less of it than common preparations.
Better Than Butter
Experiment with trading some of the butter in your recipes for canola oil (we recommend expeller-pressed versions) to cut down saturated fat—the light flavor won’t impact the taste of your baked goods, and their texture should be pretty much the same. You can also limit calories and fat by substituting reduced-fat cream cheese for half of the butter in a recipe, like our kitchen does when preparing some of Canyon Ranch cookie recipes. Small steps can generally help address any changes to the properties of a recipe that this may cause. For example, cookies made with reduced-fat cream cheese won’t spread as well as those that use all butter; Chef Scott recommends pressing them down with your finger halfway through the baking process so they take a desirable shape.