It has to be a dream . . . Chocolate triple layer cake with fluffy chocolate icing. Cinnamon streusel coffee cake. Pumpkin pie with fresh ginger and nutmeg. Country French pear tart. Lemon cheesecake. Almond biscotti. Pecan brittle cookies. Molded rum cream pudding with two sauces . . . All with very few calories, very little fat.
Surely a dream. Can desserts so luscious really be part of a
"It's perfectly possible to fit these things into a regime that's low-calorie," said author Nancy Baggett, whose latest book, "Dream Desserts," includes recipes for all of the above. "They fit quite comfortably into a 25-percent-or-less-fat-from-calorie diet."
There are good resons why people on reduced fat diets should eat dessert, Ms. Baggett said. Take cheesecake, for instance. In her recipe for "deli-style lemon cheesecake," the 2 cups of
low-fat cottage cheese are a good source of calcium and protein. Eggs are also a good source of protein. And flour provides protein, carbohydrates, calcium and phosphorus. Desserts "do offer nutritional value," said Ms. Baggett, a Columbia resident who was in Baltimore recently to talk about her book.
And besides that, "I find if you tell people they can't have something ever again, they won't follow the diet regimen," she said. "It just deprives people of too much of the pleasure."
When she started experimenting with recipes, she said, "I didn't set any arbitrary rules. I just started working toward the 'fat point.' " She calls the fat point "the point beyond which the recipe will be compromised."
"As soon as I got to the point where the recipe lost taste or texture, I went back a step. Then," she said, "I submitted them to a registered dietitian, and I was surprised at the numbers. I didn't have to compromise."
She also refused to compromise on serving sizes. "One thing that really annoys me is grossly deflated portion sizes" to lower calorie counts, she said. "If you make them arbitrarily small, people will go back and eat two slices."
There are many techniques for reducing the fat and calories in traditional dessert favorites, Ms. Baggett said. "Just because eggs come with a white and yolk, you don't need to use both." You can use one or two whole eggs and a couple of whites and no one will be able to tell the difference, she said. A standard muffin recipe calls for 1 egg, she noted. "It's easy to omit the yolk. And you don't need to add another white."
(So what do you do with all the extra yolks? "A friend of mine gives them to her cats. It's gotten so when the cats hear eggs cracking, they come running.")
Other things in her bag of dessert tricks: using brown sugar instead of white ("It has a rich flavor on its own"); substituting cocoa powder for some (but never all) of the chocolate in a recipe; using plain non-fat yogurt instead of cream cheese or sour cream ("You can almost sub it one for one"); and making tarts, or pies, with only one crust.
Ms. Baggett has written seven other cookbooks, including "The International Chocolate Cookbook" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1988). She calls "Dream Desserts" a natural evolution. "I'd been specializing in desserts for six or seven years." The idea for the book grew out an article she wrote for Eating Well magazine on working with meringues -- which are already low in fat.
The new book contains more than 80 recipes for desserts with "improved" fat ratios. Not all are, strictly speaking, low-fat; but all are reduced-fat from the standard versions. Her deli-style lemon cheesecake, for instance, reduces grams of fat per serving to 9.25 from the standard 35 grams.
The main thing is, "virtually nothing is forbidden," Ms. Baggett said. "It's not, 'We're not using any butter, cream or cream cheese.' I don't think that works.
"I feel like it's a really valuable contribution to give people recipes that taste perfectly normal, so they don't feel deprived." After all, she said, "Most of us don't have the will power to stay on that no-fat regime."
Here are some of Ms. Baggett's "indulgent" but fat-reformed recipes:
Chocolate triple layer cake
Serves 10 to 12.
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups cake flour (do not substitute)
6 tablespoons unsweetened American-style cocoa powder, such as Hershey's
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 4 large egg whites
1/4 cup room-temperature coffee (or water, if preferred)
2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain, non-fat yogurt
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease (or spray with non-stick spray coating) three 8- or 8 1/2 -inch round cake pans.
In a small, heavy saucepan over lowest heat, melt chocolate, stirring constantly until smooth; be careful not to scorch. Set aside. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt onto a sheet of wax paper. In a large mixer bowl, with mixer set on medium speed, beat oil, butter, and sugar until very well blended and fluffy. Beat in chocolate. One at a time, beat in egg, then whites, coffee and vanilla, until smoothly
incorporated. Gently stir in half of dry ingredients, then yogurt, into mixture just until mixed. Stir in remaining dry ingredients just until well-blended and smooth. Divide batter among pans, spreading to the edges.
Bake in the middle third of oven for 23 to 28 minutes, or until tops are firm when tapped and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out moist but clean. Transfer pans to racks and let cool until completely cooled. Layers may be wrapped airtight and frozen for later use. Let return to room temperature before using.
Calories per serving (unfrosted), 262; grams of fat, 9; milligrams of cholesterol, 25; milligrams of sodium, 202. Percent calories from fat, 26.
Fluffy chocolate frosting
Makes enough to generously cover cake.
3 large egg whites, completely free of yolk
1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup granulated sugar
generous pinch of salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon instant coffee powder or granules dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water
1/4 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Place egg whites in a large grease-free mixer bowl. Set the bowl of whites in a large bowl of very hot tap water and let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. (This ensures that the egg whites are actually cooked while being whipped, Ms. Baggett notes.) In a small heavy saucepan set over lowest heat, melt chocolate, stirring constantly, until smooth; be careful not to scorch. Set aside to cool slightly.
Combine corn syrup, 1/4 cup of water and the sugar in a 2-quart saucepan, stirring until well blended. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and boil for 2 minutes to allow steam to wash any sugar from pan sides. Uncover and continue simmering, without stirring, for 1 1/2 minutes longer, or until mixture bubbles loudly and reaches 244 degrees to 245 degrees on a candy thermometer. (To test for doneness without a candy thermometer, drop a teaspoon of syrup into ice water; when cooked to the proper temperature, it will form a firm ball that holds its shape when squeezed.) Immediately remove pan from heat and set aside.
Transfer mixer bowl to mixer set on medium speed and beat whites until very frothy and opaque. Raise speed to high and beat until whites just begin to stand in soft peaks; be careful not to over beat. Meanwhile, return syrup to burner and reheat just to boiling. As you begin to beat whites on high speed, begin pouring boiling syrup in a stream down bowl sides (avoiding beaters), pouring rapidly enough that all the syrup is incorporated in about 15 seconds. Add salt and continue to beat on high speed until mixture is stiffened, glossy and cooled to barely warm. Beat in vanilla and coffee dissolved in water until evenly incorporated. Sift powdered sugar and cocoa onto a sheet of wax paper. A bit at a time, beat into egg mixture. Whisk in chocolate just until smoothly incorporated.
Frost cake immediately, swirling frosting decoratively, or store frosting airtight for up to 48 hours; frosting may soften and gradually deflate upon longer standing.
Calories per serving, 79; grams of fat, 0.8; no cholesterol; no sodium. Percent calories from fat, 8.
Easy raspberry ice
1 10-ounce package frozen red raspberries in syrup, thawed
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur (optional)
1 cup water
Press raspberries through fine sieve into a medium-sized non-reactive bowl. Stir in lemon juice, corn syrup, liqueur (if used), and 1 cup water, until evenly mixed.
Cover and freeze mixture for at least 4 hours, or until mixture is frozen and firm but not hard. (Let mixture thaw slightly if you inadvertently freeze it for too long.)
Place frozen mixture in a food processor. (Return storage container to freezer so it stays cold while you process ice mixture.) In on/off pulses, process mixture until fine, stopping and scraping down mixture with a rubber spatula several times. Then process continuously until completely smooth, about 1 1/2 minutes longer. Return ice to chilled container and freeze for at least 45 minutes or until firm before serving.
Store in freezer for up to three days; if very firm let soften for a few minutes before serving.
Calories per serving, 116; grams of fat, 0.1; no cholesterol; milligrams of sodium, 7. Percent calories from fat, 1.
Makes about 35 2 1/2 -inch cookies.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon water
4 1/2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
1/3 cup light or dark molasses
2 1/2 tablespoons light or dark corn oil
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
about 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, for forming cookies
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease (or spray with non-stick spray coating) several baking sheets.
Thoroughly stir together flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, baking powder and baking soda; set aside. In a large mixer bowl with mixer set on medium speed, beat together 1 tablespoon water, oil, molasses, 1/3 cup sugar, egg white and vanilla, until well-blended and smooth. Beat in half the dry ingredients just until mixed. Using a large wooden spoon, stir in remaining dry ingredients just until evenly incorporated.
With lightly oiled hands, pull off portions of dough and shape into scant 1-inch balls. Space about 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Lightly grease the bottom of a flat-bottomed drinking glass. Flatten balls to about 1/4 -inch thick and about 1 3/4 inches in diameter, dipping glass into sugar after flattening each cookie to prevent glass from sticking to next cookie. (If necessary, regrease bottom of glass once or twice.)
Bake cookies for 7 to 9 minutes or until slightly darker at the edges and almost firm on top. Remove sheets from oven and let stand for 1 1/2 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer cookies to racks and let stand until completely cooled. Store airtight for up to two weeks.
Calories per serving, 62. Grams of fat, 1.8; no cholesterol; 27 milligrams sodium; percent calories from fat, 26.