I can’t begin to tell you how many people tell me they “can’t have that piece of cake” or “better not have a scone” because they’re “being good this week” when we’re talking about food. When I sit there eating my giant piece of delicious-looking apple crumble, they shoot me glances that combine confusion with anger and mumble under their breath about me being a hypocrite.
What they don’t seem to realise that treats shouldn’t be out of bounds when you’re eating healthy – I know this because cakes, cookies and other delights are always being made in my kitchen.
But how to treat yourself without piling up on sugar, bad fats and other processed junk? The key is good ingredients and good substitutions. Despite what your Grandma taught you, butter and sugar aren’t the only things that make baking tasty
My vegan baking always surprises the people around me, with vegan cupcakes especially being so much more moist and decadent than their eggy counterparts. But how do you start making your treats more healthy? Here are a few pointers.
Ditch the Dairy
One easy way to pump up the nutritional content of your treats and tone down their guilt-ridden qualities is to ditch the dairy and bake vegan – and the good news is that it’s not half as difficult as you would imagine. Vegan cakes or cupcakes rely on almond or soy milk that has been stirred together with apple cider vinegar or white vinegar, and allowed to curdle slightly. This acts as a milk or buttermilk substitute and is what makes vegan cakes so wonderfully moist! 1- 1/2 cups almond milk with 1 tbsp vinegar should be perfect for a recipe that uses 2 cups of flour – and all you need then is a sweetener, baking soda and a fat, and your basic vegan cupcakes will be ready to go!
Non-dairy replacements for butter can be as simple as canola oil or vegetable oil, but if you really want to supercharge your vegan baking, you’l be reaching for the coconut oil. Coconut oil doesn’t need to be refrigerated and is almost waxy in its solid state. It has a beautiful coconut taste, can be melted down before use, is one of the most stable fats and has been linked to many health benefits, including keeping Alzheimer’s at bay.
In some recipes, you might not even need an additional fat. In this recipe for Chocolate and Beet Cupcakes, the beet was so moist and the mixture so perfect that no butter substitute was even needed, and these are probably the best cupcakes I’ve ever made.
Switch the Sweetener
We were all told by our parents that sugar would rot our teeth, yet we all went ahead and built up a mild (or in my case, massive) addition to it. That’s ok – but next time you’re making cookies remember that there are lots of more natural sweeteners that won’t cause you cavities and won’t cause you to gain as much weight either.
My favorite of all sugar substitutes is unsweetened apple sauce. Whenever I see a bag of apples going cheap at my local market, I’ll peel them, chop them, and cook them own into apple sauce and store it in the fridge. I find it perfect for replacing sugar in things like banana bread and even for spreading on toast for a quick breakfast.
My second favorite is date puree. This is also super simple; just blend some pitted dates together with some water and you have yourself an all-purpose sweetener that can be used for anything from muffins to crumble topping – and it tastes delicious and will help you stay “regular”, if you know what I mean!
Other fantastic, natural sugar substitutes include honey, agave nectar (a great vegan choice), maple syrup (which is wonderful for you in many ways) and blackstrap molasses, which is a great source of iron for vegetarians. Play around depending on what you’re making and you’ll never use sugar again.
Note: please don’t be sucked in to using artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, which are often much worse for you than sugar itself. You can read more about this here.
Get Rid of the Gluten
I’m sure you’ll know at least one person who suffers from a gluten intolerance, but what you might not realize is that using too much flour can bloat you out even if you don’t have celiac disease.
Gluten-free baking is something that I’m fairly new to, but there are many flour alternatives, including rice flour, atta flour, peanut flour and tapioca flour. I wouldn’t recommend chickpea flour for sweet baking as it has a very strong chickpea taste, but it can be great for savory crepes and things like that. Creating a gluten-free flour mix to use in cakes can be difficult, but you can buy great gluten-free flour mixes in many stores these days, so give it a try and see how you feel.
Reap the Raw Benefits
The raw food movement is relatively new and is something that many people find confusing. The basic premise is that food loses a lot of its nutrients when it’s cooked, so raw foodists never cook anything over 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
Of course, such a strict diet might seem out of reach for many of us, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t dip into some great raw recipes once in a while to keep our treats supercharged with goodness! This recipe for Raw Vegan Apple Crumble Squares is one of my all-time favorite treat recipes, and it leaves you feeling energized and refreshed without feeling sluggish.
Of course, you can’t make a cake raw (although we do all love eating cake mix raw, don’t we?) so this type of “baking” requires a little change of style than just switching up the sweetener. However, it can also open you up to a whole new world of tastes and flavors, so it is more than worth the effort. Raw energy bars made from ground nuts and even raw vegan “cheesecakes” made from blended cashews like this one are like nothing you’ve ever tasted, and are so filling due to their nutritional density.
Of course, you needn’t do all of these at once. You can, and it is more than possible to makes delicious treats that are dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free and even raw all at once, but if your next step towards a healthier diet is just to use unsweetened apple sauce instead of sugar in your next batch of cookies, you’re more than on the right track.
Remember that the most important thing is that you make steps, however small, towards better health. Everything else is a bonus!
@2014 Heather Parry