Secrets and Tips for Baking Light

There's no doubt about it, baking light can be a challenge!

Makeover Lemon Raspberry Cake

The rules for low-fat baking are completely different from those for traditional full-fat baking. Reduced- and low-fat batters are more sensitive to overmixing, overbaking, ingredient substitutions, improper measuring and oven temperatures. Plus, when you change the amount of one ingredient, often other ingredients need to be adjusted as well.

With that in mind, our Test Kitchen shares some basics that you might find useful in trying to lighten up baked goods such as quick breads, cakes, brownies and bars. For example, you can see how some substitutions are used in the recipe for Makeover Lemon Raspberry Cake shown above right.

Fats

Butter, margarine and vegetable shortening add moistness and flavor to baked goods and give them a tender texture.

In traditional baking, fat is creamed with sugar to form tiny air cells in the batter, which gives the baked goods a fine light texture. When the fat is removed or reduced in a recipe, the end product may lack flavor and be tough and full of tunnels.

That is why many lighter recipes call for small amounts of butter. Not only does it add rich flavor, but it aids in the creaming process, which helps to leaven the batter, making it lighter and more able to rise.

Fruit purees work well to replace some of the fat in many recipes. Applesauce is one widely used fat substitute that does not alter the color or flavor of a baked good.

Pureed canned pears also have a mild flavor that will not interfere with the taste of the finished product. Prune purees—mainly because of their dark color—are the choice for fat replacement in chocolate recipes.

When reducing the fat in a recipe, try using half the amount of fat called for and replacing the other half with a fat substitute. For example: to replace 1/2 cup butter in a recipe, try 1/4 cup butter plus 1/4 cup fruit puree.

Flour

Our home economists usually use all-purpose flour because it has a moderate protein (gluten) content, which makes it suitable for a wide variety of baked goods.

For a very low-fat recipe, try using a flour with a lower gluten (protein) content, since this will give a softer, more tender texture. Cake flour and whole wheat pastry flour are readily available lower-gluten flours. Start by substituting a third to half of the cake or pastry flour for the all-purpose white flour in the recipe. Once the flour is added, minimize mixing, as stirring will develop the gluten and toughen the baked good.

Eggs and Egg Substitute

Eggs help to bind batters and also have leavening properties. Egg yolks provide fat, which contributes to the fine, tender texture and color of baked goods. Egg whites are a drying and leavening agent.

Replacing a whole egg with egg white or egg substitute can be a good nutritional savings, especially if you are watching your cholesterol. One whole egg contains 5 grams of fat and 210 milligrams of cholesterol. The equivalent amount of egg white or fat-free egg substitute contains no fat and no cholesterol.

If more than one egg is called for in a recipe, consider replacing some of the whole eggs with egg whites or egg substitute. For best results, our home economists like to combine whole eggs with egg whites or egg substitute. In a lower-fat recipe, too many egg whites will make a baked good dry and rubbery. Here is a good guide to keep in mind:

  • 1 large egg = 2 large egg whites
  • 1 large egg = 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1 large egg white = 2 tablespoons egg substitute

Leavening

Fat helps baked goods rise. You may need additional leavening if you have reduced the fat in a recipe.

Baking soda is preferred if there is an acidic ingredient like buttermilk, sour cream or fruit puree in the recipe. Start by adding 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for each half cup of acidic ingredient.

If there is no acidic ingredient, add some extra baking powder for lightness, starting with 3/4 teaspoon. But be careful. Too much additional leavening can leave a bitter aftertaste.

Another way to add lightness is to whip egg whites in the recipe to soft peaks and gently fold them into the prepared batter.

Sweeteners

Sugar provides sweetness and flavor and aids in the browning of baked goods. Plus, sugar (white or brown) is integral to the creaming process, which incorporates air into the batter, making it lighter. When combined with flour, sugar also helps make baked goods more tender.

If you decide to reduce the amount of sugar in a baked good for dietary reasons, start by simply reducing the amount of sugar by 25 percent. Or reduce it by 50 percent and add a sugar replacement to make up for half of that. Our Test Kitchen has had the best luck with sugar substitutes that can be measured like sugar, such as Splenda.

Flavorings and Extracts

The butter in traditional recipes contributes to and carries flavors throughout the batter. In reduced-fat baking, the use of flavorings or extracts (vanilla, almond, etc.) can be added or in some cases increased to help boost the flavor.

Avoid Overbaking

Reduced-fat baked goods tend to bake more quickly than those made with full fat. If left in the oven too long, they can become dry. If you've lowered the fat significantly, try lowering the oven temperature by 25° and/or check the product for doneness a few minutes before the end of the usual baking time.

A toothpick test does not always work with reduced-fat baking. Instead, look for lightly browned edges that are beginning to pull away from the pan. Cakes should spring back when gently pressed in the center.

Success in lower-fat baking comes from trial and error, so don't be afraid to experiment. And don't try to lighten up a recipe too much. After all, a cake or quick bread that serves 12 people and contains only 1/4 cup of oil and 1 or 2 eggs is already pretty light!