Baking the healthier way

Baking the healthier way

Autumn is on its way and The Great British Bake Off allows us to snuggle down and prepare for a season of dough mixing and carb-loading. As comforting as home baking is, it’s a sure-fire way to lose that hard fought-for summer figure. So is there a way to make home baking healthy?

One answer would be to resist temptation and just bake for other people, but watching as they tuck into a large slice of delicious buttery cake would surely be torture – the best way is to try and cook with ingredients that lessen the calorific content of your bake.

You can substitute most ingredients with a healthier alternative if you know where to look. Firstly, let’s talk flour. Every mouth-watering pastry and cake is most likely going to involve flour, but you can find flour made from almonds and rice rather than wheat – which standard flour comes from. White flour is heavily refined and so not as good for you as whole-wheat flour, which tends to be a light brown colour and contains several vitamins, including folate, riboflavin and vitamins B-1, B-3 and B-5. These vitamins are lost in the refining process, which is why it’s better to look for alternatives to white flour. Other types of flour include Spelt, barley, buckwheat, potato and corn flour. Or you can try polenta, which makes a much lighter cake texture. Check recipes using alternative flours.

Milk is a fatty option when baking and with so many milk substitutes on the market at the moment it’s fairly simple to make it lower-fat. You could try milk made from soya, rice, or almond in order to cut down the calories.

Sugar is a tricky one. It’s used in most of the tastiest sweet treats and baked goods, but there are ways around using too much. Try a cake that uses sweet fruit in it to try and cut down the sugar content, or add honey as an alternative. There are sweeteners on the market that you could also try as a substitute, the latest to make bold claims about being much better for you than sugar is Stevia, made from a plant extract. If you’re going to use sugar try some unrefined varieties like Demerara or Muscovado, which contain higher levels of natural minerals that white sugar.

Fats are pretty much unavoidable in home baking. Often a recipe will call for half a block of butter, but there are alternatives. Olive oil cakes or cakes that call for less butter in them are a good option, or you could substitute butter with margarine.

For a healthier cake option, think about using vegetables in your bake. It might sound strange, but beetroot and chocolate cake and courgette and polenta is a popular choice. You wouldn’t think twice about using carrots in a cake – so don’t be afraid to experiment. Think pumpkin pie, apple and carrot muffins, or even sweet potato and white chocolate cake.

You don’t have to cut out all the bad stuff of your bakes – you can just use a few of these shortcuts to help you make a healthier version of your favourites. And if you’re struggling for inspiration, here’s a recipe to get you started:

Beetroot and Chocolate cake

For the cake

  • 250g good-quality dark chocolate
  • 3 medium free-range eggs
  • 250g light Muscovado sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, cut in half lengthways and seeds scraped out
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp clear honey
  • 40g self-raising flour
  • 40g plain flour
  • ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 250g raw beetroot, peeled and finely grated
  • 100ml strong black coffee
  • 30ml sunflower oil

For the topping

  • 150g good-quality dark chocolate
  • 3 tbsp strong black coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 3 tbsp clear honey
  1. Preheat your oven to 160ºC, (140ºC for fan oven). Grease the surface of a round 20cm diameter by 8cm high loose-bottomed tin.
  2. Melt the chocolate gently in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, the vanilla seeds, maple syrup and honey for approximately three minutes with an electric hand whisk until pale and fluffy. Gently fold in the flours, bicarbonate of soda, salt, cocoa and ground almonds.
  4. Dab the grated beetroot thoroughly with kitchen paper to remove some of the excess moisture. Fold in the beetroot, cooled chocolate, coffee and oil with a spatula until thoroughly mixed together.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook in the middle of the oven for 1 hour 30 minutes. After this time, cover the cake with foil and bake for another 30 minutes.
  6. Test the cake by inserting a skewer into the centre to see if it comes out clean. And leave to cool on a wire rack.
  7. For the topping, melt the chocolate gently in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, then remove from the heat and add the coffee and the vanilla essence.
  8. Add the honey and gently mix.
  9. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes before icing the cake.



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