The straight skinny: Baking in flavor while taking out fat

January 18, 1995|By Lorrie Guttman | Lorrie Guttman,Knight-Ridder News Service

As a nutrition consultant, Sandra Woodruff talks to a lot of people who are having trouble losing weight. They often say they're on a fat-free diet -- and as proof, they point to all the fat-free cookies, muffins, crackers and such that they buy. They're surprised, Ms. Woodruff said, when she tells them "they're eating a lot of fat-free junk food that's full of calories."

In fact, many fat-free products have as many -- or more -- calories than their fattier counterparts, she said. And, in the case of sweets and crackers, the fat-free foods often have few nutrients.

But that's not to say that Ms. Woodruff isn't hooked on the idea of fat-free foods. In fact, she's well on her way to helping the entire country make fat-free baked goods; her book "Secrets of Fat-Free Baking" sold 200,000 copies in its first three months of publication. The book, a 232-page softcover (Avery Publishing Group).

The book is more than a cookbook; Ms. Woodruff helps cooks learn how to adapt their own favorite sweet recipes to make them virtually fat-free. Each of six chapters describes a different kind of fat substitute and how to use it, then gives recipes using that kind of substitute. These categories:

* Fruitful fat substitutes: Fruit purees, applesauce, and fruit juices can replace all of the fat in cakes, muffins, quick breads, scones and brownies, and at least half the fat in cookies.

* Dairy fat substitutes: Non-fat yogurt and buttermilk can replace all of the fat in cakes, muffins, quick breads, scones, biscuits, and brownies, and at least half the fat in cookies.

* Sweet fat substitutes: Liquid sweeteners like honey, molasses, jam, corn syrup, and chocolate syrup can replace all of the fat in cakes, muffins, quick breads, scones, biscuits, brownies, cookies, crumb toppings, and sweet crumb crusts.

* Prunes: Easy-to-make Prune Butter and Prune Puree can replace all the fat in cakes, muffins, quick breads, scones, brownies, cookies, and sweet crumb crusts.

* Squash and sweet potato: Mashed pumpkin and other mashed squashes, as well as mashed sweet potatoes, can replace all of the fat in cakes, quick breads, muffins, biscuits, scones, and brownies, and at least half the fat in cookies.

* Reduced-fat margarine and light butter: Contrary to popular belief, reduced-fat margarine and light butter (the kind that has 5 to 6 grams of fat per serving and 50 calories per tablespoon) can be used for baking, and can cut the fat in biscuits, scones, cakes, muffins, quick breads, cookies, brownies, pie crusts, and crumb toppings by more than half.

Ms. Woodruff says the first step to choosing a fat substitute is to look at the original recipe. If the ingredients include something such as applesauce, fruit juice, buttermilk, or yogurt, that's the substitute to use. And, you should use a flavor that goes with the ingredients -- maple syrup would be great in a spice cake but probably too strong for biscuits, where the blandness of non-fat buttermilk or yogurt would be better.

Ms. Woodruff found the fiber of whole grains helped disguise the lack of fat -- and, of course, added greatly to the nutritional value of the recipe. "Fiber, like fat, interferes with the development of gluten, the protein in wheat flour that can cause a tough texture, tunnels, and peaked muffin tops when batters are overmixed," she writes. Foods that are higher in fiber also help you feel more filled-up when you're on a low-fat diet, she said.

Through experimentation, Ms. Woodruff reduced the refined-sugar content of recipes by 25 percent to 50 percent compared to traditional recipes. She prefers sweeteners such as fruit spreads, jams, preserves, honey, maple syrup, molasses and fruit-juice concentrates.

Heavy-textured baked goods, such as carrot cake, are the easiest to remove fat from, Ms. Woodruff said. A fat-free cookie, she said, will be chewier than the same cookie with fat, but "It will still be very good." Not one to sit still, Ms. Woodruff has four more books in the works, including two books for diabetics and one focusing on ingredients. Her "Secrets of Fat-Free Cooking" is due out this month.

From "Secrets of Fat-Free Baking," here are samples:

Peachy Bran Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour

2/3 cup wheat bran

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1-pound can peaches packed in juice, undrained

2 egg whites

1/3 cup chopped dried peaches or chopped pecans

Combine the flour, wheat bran, sugar and baking powder and stir to mix well. Set aside.

Drain the peaches, reserving the juice, and puree in a blender. Add enough juice to the pureed peaches to bring the volume up to 1 1/2 cups. Add the peach puree and the egg whites to the flour mixture, and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in the dried peaches or pecans.

Coat muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray, and fill 3/4 full with the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 17 minutes, or just until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

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