Now you can eat your cake and have your diet, too

May 09, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

It has to be a dream . . . Chocolate triple layer cake with fluffy chocolate icing. Cinnamon streusel coffee cake. Pumpkin pie with fresh ginger and nutmeg. Country French pear tart. Lemon cheesecake. Almond biscotti. Pecan brittle cookies. Molded rum cream pudding with two sauces . . . All with very few calories, very little fat.

Surely a dream. Can desserts so luscious really be part of a

low-fat diet?

"It's perfectly possible to fit these things into a regime that's low-calorie," said author Nancy Baggett, whose latest book, "Dream Desserts," includes recipes for all of the above. "They fit quite comfortably into a 25-percent-or-less-fat-from-calorie diet."

There are good resons why people on reduced fat diets should eat dessert, Ms. Baggett said. Take cheesecake, for instance. In her recipe for "deli-style lemon cheesecake," the 2 cups of

low-fat cottage cheese are a good source of calcium and protein. Eggs are also a good source of protein. And flour provides protein, carbohydrates, calcium and phosphorus. Desserts "do offer nutritional value," said Ms. Baggett, a Columbia resident who was in Baltimore recently to talk about her book.

And besides that, "I find if you tell people they can't have something ever again, they won't follow the diet regimen," she said. "It just deprives people of too much of the pleasure."

When she started experimenting with recipes, she said, "I didn't set any arbitrary rules. I just started working toward the 'fat point.' " She calls the fat point "the point beyond which the recipe will be compromised."

"As soon as I got to the point where the recipe lost taste or texture, I went back a step. Then," she said, "I submitted them to a registered dietitian, and I was surprised at the numbers. I didn't have to compromise."

She also refused to compromise on serving sizes. "One thing that really annoys me is grossly deflated portion sizes" to lower calorie counts, she said. "If you make them arbitrarily small, people will go back and eat two slices."

There are many techniques for reducing the fat and calories in traditional dessert favorites, Ms. Baggett said. "Just because eggs come with a white and yolk, you don't need to use both." You can use one or two whole eggs and a couple of whites and no one will be able to tell the difference, she said. A standard muffin recipe calls for 1 egg, she noted. "It's easy to omit the yolk. And you don't need to add another white."

(So what do you do with all the extra yolks? "A friend of mine gives them to her cats. It's gotten so when the cats hear eggs cracking, they come running.")

Other things in her bag of dessert tricks: using brown sugar instead of white ("It has a rich flavor on its own"); substituting cocoa powder for some (but never all) of the chocolate in a recipe; using plain non-fat yogurt instead of cream cheese or sour cream ("You can almost sub it one for one"); and making tarts, or pies, with only one crust.

Ms. Baggett has written seven other cookbooks, including "The International Chocolate Cookbook" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1988). She calls "Dream Desserts" a natural evolution. "I'd been specializing in desserts for six or seven years." The idea for the book grew out an article she wrote for Eating Well magazine on working with meringues -- which are already low in fat.

The new book contains more than 80 recipes for desserts with "improved" fat ratios. Not all are, strictly speaking, low-fat; but all are reduced-fat from the standard versions. Her deli-style lemon cheesecake, for instance, reduces grams of fat per serving to 9.25 from the standard 35 grams.

The main thing is, "virtually nothing is forbidden," Ms. Baggett said. "It's not, 'We're not using any butter, cream or cream cheese.' I don't think that works.

"I feel like it's a really valuable contribution to give people recipes that taste perfectly normal, so they don't feel deprived." After all, she said, "Most of us don't have the will power to stay on that no-fat regime."


Here are some of Ms. Baggett's "indulgent" but fat-reformed recipes:

Chocolate triple layer cake

Serves 10 to 12.

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped

2 cups cake flour (do not substitute)

6 tablespoons unsweetened American-style cocoa powder, such as Hershey's

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup canola or safflower oil

2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 large egg plus 4 large egg whites

1/4 cup room-temperature coffee (or water, if preferred)

2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain, non-fat yogurt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease (or spray with non-stick spray coating) three 8- or 8 1/2 -inch round cake pans.

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