Looking for a healthful and delicious way to trim some fat from your baked goods? Think fruit. By now, everyone has heard about using applesauce as a fat substitute, but a variety of other products including puréed canned pears, peaches, apricots, and plums; a purée made from one part prunes and two parts water; baby food fruit purées; and mashed bananas can also replace part or all of the fat in baked goods.
How do fruit purées work? Fat performs many vital functions in baking, some of which can be duplicated by fruit purées. For instance, fat adds moistness and flavor, promotes browning, and imparts tenderness. Fruit purées reduce the need for fat because their fibers and naturally occurring sugars hold moisture into baked goods. These same fruit sugars also promote browning. Fruit purées also help tenderize baked goods, though not nearly to the extent that fat does.
Some recipes are better candidates for fat reduction than others. Which baked goods are most suited to the use of fruitful fat substitutes? Quick breads and muffins, dense cakes such as carrot cakes and fudgy chocolate cakes, and brownies and chewy cookies are some of the most easily slimmed-down recipes. Packaged muffin, quick bread, and cake mixes are also easily prepared with little or no fat. Baked goods that are meant to have a very light, tender texture are more difficult to make without fat. However, you can often eliminate 25 to 50 percent of the fat in these recipes, too.
How do you go about substituting fruit purées and other ingredients for the fat in recipes? Replace the desired amount of butter, margarine, or other solid shortening with half as much fat substitute. For instance, if you are omitting 1/2 cup of butter from a recipe, replace it with 1/4 cup of fruit purée. (If the recipe calls for oil, substitute three-fourths as much purée.) Mix up the batter. If it seems too dry, add a little more fruit purée. To insure the greatest success when trimming the fat from your favorite recipes, also keep the following tips in mind.
At first, eliminate only half the fat in a recipe. The next time you make the recipe, try replacing even more fat. Continue reducing the fat until you find the lowest amount that will give you the results you desire.
Use low-gluten flours. Wheat flour contains proteins that when mixed with liquid into a batter, form tough strands called gluten. Fat tenderizes baked goods by interfering with this process. This is why removing the fat from baked goods often makes them tough or rubbery. Since sugar also interferes with gluten formation, many fat-free and low-fat recipes solve this problem by adding extra sugar. Unfortunately, this also means extra calories and an overly sweet product. What's a better solution? Use low-gluten flours like whole wheat pastry flour and oat flour in your lighter baking. Oat bran, rolled oats, and cornmeal are also low in gluten, making these products ideal ingredients for low-fat baking.
Minimize mixing. Stirring batter excessively develops gluten and toughens the texture of baked goods. Stir only enough to mix well.
Avoid overbaking. Reduced-fat baked goods tend to bake more quickly than do those made with fat, and if left in the oven too long, they can become dry. To prevent this, reduce oven temperatures by 25°F, and check the product for doneness a few minutes before the end of the usual baking time.