In 2005, Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster abandoned his raison d’être and
declared cookies a “sometimes food”
. A few years later, I began the process of losing almost 30 kilograms, and I’ve kept it off for more than four years now. But unlike the Cookie Monster, I think life’s too short to not indulge at least daily.
Cookie Monster’s vice of choice – those choc-chip ovals the size of your head – are most definitely a “sometimes food”. Cake could never be described as a health food of the same order as fresh fruit, vegetables and lean protein.
Zucchini is a fantastic binder, meaning you can use less butter.
But I like to eat cake, and I like to eat it every day. Now, I’m not talking about cakes with layers or frosting. Those kinds of cakes are occasional indulgences. I’m talking about simple, everyday treats such as scones, yoghurt cakes or bread made from banana, carrot or zucchini. Cakes that are, in many ways, just like bread.
As an academic researcher with an interest in nutrition, I’ve been on a mission over the past year to turn the traditional versions of these recipes into everyday foods that are delicious, satisfying, and can be enjoyed daily. With some smart substitutions and a little bit of creativity, you can too.
The first thing to understand is the composition of your food. At a biological level, this can be incredibly complex but the main thing to know is that all foods have an energy and a nutrient profile, and these are key to understanding how each food affects your appetite and health.
Understanding the relationship between nutrient composition and energy content is what makes it possible to bake cake you can eat every day.
When it comes to healthy eating, most people only consider the energy (or kilojoule) content of their diet. This is what people do when they count calories.
Outside of nutrition and dietetics studies, however, nutrient profiling is not often considered. But it is, in many ways, a far more accurate and important measure. And when we’re talking about turning a sometimes-indulgence into a daily treat, understanding its role in food composition is vital.
How do you solve a problem such as nutrient-dense baking?
The nutrient profile of a food refers to its composition in terms of the six essential nutrients that are vital for our bodies to function: water, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins A-K, and minerals such as iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
Nutrient profiles allow nutritionists to rank or classify foods in terms of their benefit to health. Take, for example, a slice of white bread and a slice of whole-wheat bread. Both contain almost the same energy content – about 300 kilojoules – but the whole-wheat slice has about four times the amount of potassium and magnesium, three times the zinc, and double the fibre and protein.
by Australian dietitian Dr Regina Belski demonstrated that a diet high in protein and fibre – such as those found in whole-wheat bread – was effective at reducing appetite and energy intake. Yet, because of the popularity of diets that promote a low-carb, high-protein approach, Dr Belski and her team noted the difficulty in
encouraging people to increase their fibre intake
The point is, by providing your body with both energy and nutrients, that whole-wheat slice of bread contributes to a healthy daily carbohydrate intake. It also keeps you satisfied for longer than the plain white slice. And that’s why counting calories is only half the picture.
Understanding the relationship between nutrient composition and energy content – combined with your personal nutrition needs – is what makes it possible to bake cake you can eat every day.
In practice, this boils down to three key ingredients.
1. Making better substitutions
Standard baked goods are refined sugar, saturated fat and refined carbohydrate congealed into a delicious mass of calorific intensity. By making a few simple substitutions, you can greatly reduce the energy content and increase the nutrient density of the slice you’re about to bite into.
This is the main ingredient in conventional cakes but if you want to eat cake daily steer clear of plain white or cake flour.
Nutrient-dense flours such as rye, spelt and buckwheat provide low-GI carbohydrate, protein, and many B vitamins. They will also alter the flavour of your cakes. But this can be a good thing, and you can choose your flour to balance the other flavours you are using.
Buckwheat has long been used across Europe to make pancake and crepe batters, and in Asia to make delicate noodles. It is a light, fluffy flour that lets the other flavours speak for themselves. It easily mimics the taste and texture of plain white flour and is good to use with light flavours such as fresh fruit or citrus.
Spelt is heavier than buckwheat, but not as rich as rye. It adds an almost nutty flavour and a wonderful gritty texture to a cake. Its medium heaviness makes it a great flour to use in German-style bundt cakes that are quite dense and whose all-around crust makes them the perfect candidate for the gritty nuttiness of spelt. It’s also offsets the sweetness of fresh or frozen berries.
Rye is the heaviest flour of the three. It holds a dense sweetness, making it the perfect accompaniment to bold flavours such as carrot bread spiced with ginger, cloves and cardamom, or scones made with currants and caraway seeds.
Full-fat milk and buttermilk may have a place in treat foods, but adding it to your everyday baking isn’t a good idea. Substituting full-fat milk for skim milk or milk alternatives such as soy is a healthier way to go.
Skim milk contains fewer kilojoules than full-fat milk, but retains the same nutrient profile. High-quality soy milks with no added sugar provide many of the same nutrients at an even lower energy content.
You’re only using a small amount, so even when substituting at a rate of 1:1 for these healthier options you’re unlikely to notice a flavour difference in the end result. Try substituting skim or soy milk the next time you make banana bread – you’d be hard-pressed to notice a difference through the sweetness of the bananas.
The role of butter in baking is basically to make the flour wet and sticky enough to form a dough. Because of this, you have a wide range of choice when it comes to what fat to use as a replacement.
The best butter substitutions are olive oil or olive oil spread, Greek-style yoghurt (made from skim milk and live cultures with no added cream or sugar), and 100 per cent nut butters.
While most of these substitutions have a similar energy profile to butter, they also add a nutrient profile rich in good fats, protein, calcium and fibre. They are both more nutritious and more satisfying than butter.
Because they are all very dense fat-based ingredients, you will generally only need to use around half the amount that the recipe calls for in butter – meaning you will have already greatly reduced the amount of fat in the recipe.
If the recipe calls for a ½ cup of butter, you can use a ¼ cup of oil, yoghurt or nut butter. If you find you need to add more, you can, or you can even add a bit of water to the mixture to get it to stick together. It doesn’t dilute the flavour or alter the cooking time, and your final cake will be a much lower fat version.
And they are very easy to use.
Yoghurt or olive oil spread can be massaged through your choice of flour to make the crumbly dough of scones. Nut butters can be mixed with mashed banana to replace both butter and eggs in any fruit-based loaf. And cakes made with vegetables such as carrot and zucchini – which already have a stickiness to them that wets and binds flour – can very often act as their own dough-binding ingredients, meaning you can add even less again of these fat-based ingredients, while retaining a moist dough and a delicious flavour.
Any recipe that calls for refined sugar can be safely ignored, or saved for special occasions. Sugar is only necessary when you want to alter another ingredient in a specific way. For example, when you add it to egg whites to make meringue. All sugar does is adds sweetness with empty energy.
Instead, use naturally sweet ingredients such as dried fruit, honey, frozen berries or fresh fruits and vegetables. Watch out for oil or preservatives added to dried fruits in the packaging process. They are unnecessary if you are going to use these products in baking, as you can add your own oil to plump up your sultanas or currants. The less refined or processed your ingredients, the better.
These substitutions are still all high in unrefined sugars – and should be consumed in moderation – but they are also rich in potassium, niacin and fibre. Like the butter substitutes above, these sugars will leave you feeling full and satisfied,
rather than desperately raiding the cupboard for your next sugar hit
And that’s handy because another key ingredient in every-day baking is:
2. Portion control
The size of your piece of cake depends on how often you indulge and your activity levels.
As a general guide, portions for daily treats should be half (or less) of what you would have on a special occasion, and about a quarter of what might be served at a cafe.
If you find it hard to restrain yourself, there are many things you can do to prevent overindulging.
Roll your biscuits to the size of 5 cent rather than 50 cent pieces. Make your scone dough thinner before you cut it. Cut up your cakes into small portions as soon as they have cooled, wrap them in foil and freeze them. It’s surprisingly easy to make an eighth of a cake last a week when you know you have to wait for the next piece to defrost before you can enjoy it.
You should be aware how much energy even daily cake adds to your diet, and adjust your meals accordingly. Personally, I think of my daily cake as part of my daily bread consumption. This means I might have only one slice of bread with lunch, or a slightly smaller serving of rice or couscous with dinner.
This is why it’s so important that the cakes you make are satisfying – both in terms of nutrients and taste. Which brings me to my final, and in many ways most important, ingredient for every-day baking:
3. Creativity and imagination
Everyday baking is great fun and lets you experiment with new tastes and textures.
Some excellent flavour combinations are peanut butter and banana; lemon and poppyseed; or carrot with walnuts and currants. You could even try black tahini and dates; pistachios and dried figs; or fresh rosemary, cocoa powder and cherry.
It may take a little extra time to tweak your baking methods, but creating a flavour combination you love that truly satisfies and can be eaten every day makes it all worthwhile.
Georgie Churchill is a Melbourne researcher and health and fitness writer who blogs at
This is is a syndicated post. Read the original at www.goodfood.com.au