Smarter treats

When adding vegetables to desserts, there are two approaches: You can highlight the vegetables or you can hide them.

cookies 521 (photo credit: Lisa Hubbard / 'Double Delicious')
cookies 521
(photo credit: Lisa Hubbard / 'Double Delicious')
The season of indulgences, which started with Hanukka and continued with the New Year festivities, is hardly behind us, and it’s already time to think about Tu Bishvat treats.
Fortunately, it’s easier to plan wholesome desserts for the holiday of fruit than for the holiday of frying.
An obvious way to make nutritious fruit desserts is to add extra fruit. That’s what I did when I wanted to bake a healthier apple cake for my Lowfat Jewish Cookbook. In addition to the fresh apple slices, I added applesauce, which gave the cake more apple flavor and a touch of sweetness, and contributed moisture so that I could use less fat. Although some bakers use applesauce or prune puree to replace all the fat in cakes, I found these nonfat cakes not tasty enough to make baking worthwhile. I made the cake with a relatively small amount of fat and used canola oil rather than butter or margarine. I also added a modest amount of walnuts, which have healthy fat, for good flavor and richness.
Another way to make sweet treats more nutritious is to add vegetables. This is not as radical as it might sound.
Americans love carrot cake and pumpkin pie; zucchini cake is popular too, especially among gardeners using their bounty. In Honolulu I discovered delicious candied water chestnuts at a Chinese sweets shop. I also like other Asian sweets made with vegetables, such as Chinese black bean buns, Japanese mochi rice treats filled with sweetened red beans, Persian chickpea cookies and Indian squash halva. In France I learned to make the traditional Provençal specialty, tourte de blettes, or chard tourte, which has raisins, apples, sugar, rum and mild grated cheese.
But black beans in chocolate cake, or spinach in brownies? Such ideas take getting used to.
When adding vegetables to desserts for the purpose of enhancing nutrition, there are two approaches: You can highlight the vegetables or you can hide them. In their avant-garde book Desserts with a Difference, Sally and Martin Stone’s goal was to make rich, innovative, luxurious desserts that were also nutritious. To do this, they combined vegetables with creative flavorings and came up with such temptations as ginger carrot shortbread made with browned butter and fresh and crystallized ginger, chocolate velvet torte flavored with coffee, pistachios and black bean puree, and fresh tomato, date and nut spice cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting.
The Stones used vegetables to make desserts more healthful but did not try to cut calories. They felt that cutting down on fats or calories will reduce flavor and did not use substitutes for butter, cream, sugar or eggs.
Jessica Seinfeld, author of Double Delicious, advocates a different approach. She wants her creations to resemble beloved comfort foods. Her way of cooking developed out of her desire to make healthy food that was delicious so that her children would want to eat it. “I learned that suddenly changing the way your family eats is pretty close to impossible. Instead, the incremental changes I have made have meant that my family was not forced or shocked into eating food that looked and tasted different from what they were used to.” Indeed, her cakes and cookies look like “normal” cakes. The nutritious vegetable additions are hidden.
Using vegetable purees was her personal breakthrough – “a time-honored device that worked wonders with my kids through the nonintimidating foods they already loved.”
The addition of carrot puree to the dough of her cinnamon buns does not change their appearance or have much effect on their flavor. Cauliflower puree is concealed in her lemon bars, sweet potato puree in her oatmeal raisin cookies and spinach puree in her cherries jubilee brownies.
Seinfeld finds purees so useful that she recommends keeping a selection in the freezer at all times, preferably in 1⁄2- cup or 1⁄4-cup portions in zipper-lock plastic bags.
To enrich her treats, Seinfeld occasionally uses butter but prefers trans-fat free margarine spread or canola oil. She also uses fat-free sour cream, lowfat yogurt and, in some treats, egg whites instead of whole eggs.
Can such creations taste good? Yes, they can, and nutritious, vegetable-enhanced sweets are now even available commercially. Recently I sampled delicious chocolate cookies from a company called The Original Smart Cookie. They were rich tasting, and you’d never guess that they contained spinach and broccoli. The cookies were developed by Tammy Furman, a personal chef who made these treats for clients who were trying to get their families to eat healthier. I’ve also tasted her chocolate chip cookies and was surprised to discover that they contained cauliflower and squash.
Like Seinfeld, Furman’s goal is to “cleverly disguise fruits and vegetables... ensuring kids and adults get a healthy snack with vitamins in each bite.” Her cookies are kosher and organic and contain no trans fats.
Of course, no one claims that eating a cookie or a piece of cake is a substitute for a portion of vegetables or fruit. The idea is simply that, assuming that we all eat treats once in a while, it’s better that they have nutrients to contribute.
Faye Levy is the author of The Low-Fat Jewish Cookbook and Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.
Layers of apple slices alternating with a honey-lemon batter ensure that this cake will be a winner. Applesauce helps keep this low-fat cake moist. To keep the fat as low as possible make the cake with only 2 tablespoons walnuts. Nuts are now highly recommended by nutritionists, if used in moderation, and so I use 6 tablespoons; the choice is yours.
3⁄4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar 1 tsp. ground cinnamon 2 large sweet apples, such as Golden Delicious (340 gr.) 2 large eggs 1⁄4 cup honey 5 Tbsp. canola oil or other vegetable oil 1⁄4 cup applesauce
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest 11⁄2 cups all purpose flour 11⁄4 tsp. baking powder 1⁄4 tsp. baking soda 2 Tbsp. lemon juice 1 Tbsp. water 2 to 6 Tbsp. chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 175º. Lightly oil a 20-cm. square pan, line it with foil and lightly oil the foil. Flour foil lightly. Mix 1 tablespoon sugar with the cinnamon. Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda. Pare, halve, core and slice apples thin, under 6 mm. thick; set aside.
Using mixer, beat eggs with 3⁄4 cup sugar on medium speed about 3 minutes or until light. Add honey, oil, applesauce and lemon rind and beat to blend. In small cup, mix lemon juice and water. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture and lemon juice alternately in 3 batches. Add walnuts and blend on low speed.
Spoon a third of the batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Arrange half of apple slices on batter and sprinkle evenly with half of cinnamon mixture (about 2 teaspoons). Spoon another third of the batter in dollops over apples. Repeat with another layer of apples and cinnamon. Top with remaining batter. Apples may peek through in spots. Bake about 40 minutes or until cake is done; a cake tester inserted in cake’s center should come out dry. Cool cake in pan on a rack about 30 minutes. Run a metal spatula carefully around cake and turn out onto rack. Let cool before serving.
Jessica Seinfeld writes: “This combination of flavors is so delicious, so fragrant, just perfect.” Her husband, the television star Jerry Seinfeld, adds: “If these are left out at night, it is highly unlikely there will be any left in the morning.” The “secret ingredient” in these eggless cookies is carrot puree.
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour or other whole-wheat flour 1 tsp. baking soda 1 tsp. cinnamon 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt 1 cup natural peanut butter (creamy) 3⁄4 cup pure maple syrup 1⁄2 cup carrot puree (see Note below) 1⁄4 cup canola oil 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract 1⁄2 cup raisins
Nonstick cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 175º. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, maple syrup, carrot puree, canola oil and vanilla. Stir until combined.
Pour the flour mixture over the peanut butter mixture. Turn the batter over with a spatula about 7 times. Do not overmix! There will be dry spots. Stir in raisins.
While the batter is resting, spray 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. Using a small (55-gram) ice cream scoop, drop tablespoonfuls of dough onto the baking sheets 2.5 cm. apart. Fill a small bowl with water and, using a fork, press down on the dough, making a crisscross on each cookie. Wet the fork each time.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool before packing in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Note: To make carrot puree, cut 2 carrots in 7.5-cm. chunks. Put in a steamer basket set above a pan of boiling water. Cover and steam carrots for 10 to 12 minutes or until they are tender. Puree in a food processor or blender with a few teaspoons of water until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.