TORONTO After holiday indulgences, baking might not be uppermost on the minds of most home cooks. Yet it’s not necessary to give it up if you use a few tricks to inject some stealth health into muffins, scones, cakes and other goodies.
Using Canadian agricultural stars like lentils, barley and canola, along with taking steps to reduce fat and sugar, can go far in making sweets and snacks healthful without sacrificing taste, says registered dietitian Zannat Reza.
“Canada is the largest producer of lentils and 2016 is the International Year of Pulses and what better way to celebrate than baked goods with lentils,” says Reza, adding they are high in fibre and protein, inexpensive, and easy to add to baking when pureed.
“On the weekend I’ll puree up a whole bunch of lentils, scoop them out in half-cup (125-millilitre) measurements and freeze them,” says Reza, who is based in Toronto.
“If you have the urge to bake you can take out one of these little pucks, thaw it in the microwave and add it to your baking.”
Greek yogurt adds more protein and calcium to recipes and can be used in place of sour cream and mayonnaise.
Here are some other ways to put a healthier spin on baking:‚Äî FLOUR POWER
Swap in whole-wheat flour for half the all-purpose flour in a baking recipe. Then add 30 ml (2 tablespoons) of wheat germ, needed because federal rules allow manufacturers to remove up to five per cent of the wheat kernel to reduce rancidity and prolong shelf life.
“The portion of the kernel that is removed for this purpose contains much of the germ and some of the bran,” Health Canada says on its website ‚Äî in other words, the majority of nutrients, vitamins and healthy fats. Yet the flour that results can still be called whole wheat.
“You do need to add a little bit extra liquid,” says Reza. “For every two tablespoons of wheat germ I find that you need to add at least a quarter cup (50 ml) of liquid. It could be milk, water. Say if a recipe calls for sugar and you’re using maple syrup, you’re adding a liquid to the baking so that will add towards the liquid.”
Look for products that have “whole grain” on the label or in the ingredients list, she says.
Barley flour can be swapped for all-purpose flour. Barley, which is Canada’s third-largest crop after wheat and canola, contains vitamins, minerals and amino acids and is low in sodium, fat and sugar. Health Canada has approved a claim linking the consumption of barley beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre, to reduced blood cholesterol.
Barley flakes resemble rolled oats but pack more fibre and are great in granola or as part of a topping for fruit crisp.
‚Äî CANOLA OIL
Cut the amount of butter with canola oil. In a recipe calling for 125 millilitres (1/2 cup) of butter, you can swap in 75 ml (1/3 cup) of canola oil.
“When it comes to a lot of muffin recipes I tend to use canola just because it has that neutral taste and also has that source of plant omega-3s which are heart healthy,” says Reza.
But for pastry or scones, butter is still better for its consistency.
‚Äî HEMP SEEDS
Hemp seeds or hearts boost protein and add heart-healthy fats along with a nutty flavour.
“Sometimes I’ll add it to smoothies or on my cereal, but lately I’ve added it to some granola that I’ve made. I just add it in the last 10 minutes (of baking),” says Reza.
‚Äî PUREED OR MASHED FRUIT
Swap out about half the fat in a recipe with pureed fruit.
“For people who have a bit more of a sweet inclination, then I think a date or prune puree would work for them,” says Reza. “And if they want something a little less sweet that’s where applesauce would come in handy.”
For every 250 ml (1 cup) of unsweetened applesauce, reduce the liquid called for in the recipe by 50 ml (1/4 cup).
You can buy strained dark prunes in the baby section of the grocery store. Or to make prune puree, combine 175 ml (3/4 cup) pitted prunes with 50 ml (1/4 cup) boiling water and whirl in a blender.
To make date puree, cover dates with water and soak overnight, then puree until creamy in food processor. Alternatively, microwave for two minutes in a glass bowl and then puree.
Swapping in an equal amount of mashed avocado for butter works well in chocolate baked goods.