How to live the sweet life Desserts: Fat levels can be dropped, even in traditional meal-enders.

September 15, 1996|By Lucy Barajikian | Lucy Barajikian,LOS ANGELES TIME SYNDICATE

As a child, I lived in a rather exalted world. My father was a baker of pastries, and my brother and I lived in a continual sweet tooth paradise. Not only did desserts appear at every meal, but we spooned frosting straight from the bowl for treats, ate chocolate sprinkles and cashews by the handfuls, and crunched on silver dragees left over from decorating wedding cakes. Dentists loved us.

I'm not about to dissolve in tears over those early health choices, but oh, my, how times have changed. Unless you've been beamed over onto some alien planet, you know that health experts in every field are advocating lighter and healthier fare; in particular, the message is: "Lower the fat." This I've tried to do. Leaner cuts of meat and poultry, pasta, fish, fresh vegetables and fruit have reduced the level of fat in our household without reducing our enjoyment of food.

That part was easy, but lowering the fat in cherished desserts turned into awfulness. My taste buds, geared to memories of childhood desserts, were not sparked by the recipes I was making from low- and nonfat cookbooks, magazines and friends' suggestions. And, I wondered, what's the use of lowering the fat in dessert if it doesn't taste good?

But I kept on trying. What I wanted was to make dazzling finales that family and guests would enjoy with arteries intact, while eliminating desserts that might bust everyone's fat budget for the month and alarm cardiac specialists. I feared that my drop-dead pies might one day begin to live up to their billing.

Well, things did change, and occasionally the last course turned out truly sublime. The fat had been trimmed, but not the flavor. For those who take dessert -- and their health -- seriously, here are some of those winning recipes. They are a pleasure to serve to family and guests with a fluff of frozen yogurt, nonfat ice cream or nondairy whipped topping.

The recipe for this upside-down cake came to light just as I was about to add the cornstarch-water mixture to the stir-fry dish I was preparing one night. On the back of that bright lemon-yellow box of Kingsford cornstarch -- a product chiefly used to thicken puddings, gravies and sauces -- I saw a claim that immediately captured my attention. Fat-free desserts! This self-decorating cake included no eggs or butter. I puzzled over the composition of the batter. No eggs or butter, but 1/4 cup cornstarch? Only a food chemist can uncover the reason why this thing works, but the cake is wonderful. Great-tasting flavor, moist-- and no fat.

The recipe is supposed to make 12 servings. But tiny servings are not going to satisfy anybody. It's more reasonable to assume that the cake will serve 6 to 8 people.

Fat-free pineapple upside-down cake

TOPPING:

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 tablespoon lemon juice

7 canned pineapple rings, well drained

7 maraschino cherries

CAKE:

1 cup flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup nonfat milk

2 egg whites

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

To prepare topping, place brown sugar, corn syrup and lemon juice in 9-inch round cake pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Stir to combine. Place pan in 350-degree oven 3 minutes. Remove. Arrange pineapple rings and cherries in pan. Set aside.

To prepare cake, combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt in large bowl.

Combine sugar and milk in separate bowl, and with wire whisk or fork mix together 1 minute. Add egg whites, corn syrup and vanilla and stir until blended. Gradually stir into flour mixture until smooth.

Spoon batter over pineapple. Bake at 350 degrees 35 to 40 minutes or until wood pick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately loosen edges of cake from pan and invert onto serving platter. Garnish with additional pineapple slices and cherries.

Chocolate buttermilk cake

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa plus extra for dusting pan 1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar, packed

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup canola or safflower oil

3 tablespoons dark corn syrup

1 large egg, separated, plus 2 large egg whites

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups sifted flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

scant 1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Lightly coat 9-by-13-inch or two 9-inch baking pans with cooking spray. Line pan with wax paper or parchment and spray or oil paper. Dust evenly with sifted cocoa. Tap out excess cocoa.

In large bowl of electric mixer, beat brown sugar, buttermilk, water, oil, corn syrup, egg yolk and vanilla until well-blended. Place strainer over bowl and add flour, cornstarch, 3/4 cup cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, sifting onto egg mixture. Blend well with mixer on low speed. Set aside.

In large, grease-free bowl, using clean beaters, whip egg whites until foamy. Add granulated sugar and whip on medium speed until stiff but not dry.

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