Susan Purdy's new book was no piece of cake.
The baking teacher and author spent three years experimenting with recipes for low-fat baked goods. There were "unredeemable failures" that went directly from the ovens to the raccoons who live near her Roxbury, Conn., home. There were recipes that became obsessions, such as the lemon poppy seed cake that she tested 43 times before she felt it was worthy of the book.
"This book was much harder than the other books," Ms. Purdy says in classic understatement of the new "Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too" (Morrow, $25). An earlier book, "Piece of Cake" (Atheneum, $24.95, 1989), took two years, but "that was a question of finding the best examples of the most luscious cakes."
The challenge in developing recipes for "Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too" was to cut the saturated fat and cholesterol, yet save the flavor.
"Fat carries flavor, and fat contains flavor," Ms. Purdy says. "In baking, when you take out the fat, you have to put something back in for flavor and that affects the chemistry. Now you have a food chemistry problem. That's what took so long, to get delicious, reliable recipes."
Ms. Purdy, who is a baker, not a food scientist, did not realize how difficult these chemistry problems would be when she first became interested in writing such a book. After many years of using butter, eggs and chocolate with abandon, Ms. Purdy learned that her afternoon baking sessions with her mother would end when her mother was advised to go on a low-fat diet. She also quickly realized that it was just too cruel to take to a family party an angel-food cake for her mother and a rich chocolate cake for everyone else.
Ms. Purdy used her cake book as a starting point, analyzing the recipes and studying the role of the ingredients. She started by eliminating all of the fat. In some recipes, she replaced the fat with prune puree, which mimics the characteristics of fat. "I ended up with what I call a jogger's special cake," she says. "It was like a sneaker dipped in mud. It was flexible and rubbery and the outside was sticky."
The baker came to the quick realization that she couldn't completely eliminate fat. She decided to cut back on fat and go for flavor. "My goal was to make a good dessert that someone wanted to eat," she says. "The point is, if you're going to bother to bake, you should be rewarded. It should be something good, great."
The book's recipes passed Ms. Purdy's taste test: If tasters asked for more, it was good. Each recipe has a per-serving nutritional analysis and a "Light Touch" note at the end, explaining the differences between the original recipe and Ms. Purdy's adaptation.
For example, her classic carrot cake recipe derives more than half of its calories from fat -- and that doesn't include the traditional cream cheese frosting that adds 322 calories and 18 grams of fat to each slice. The new version gets only 15 percent of its calories from fat. Ms. Purdy cut the oil to 3 tablespoons, substituted egg whites for whole eggs and eliminated the nuts, which are high in fat. She keeps the cake light with a pineapple glaze instead of frosting.
Some recipes couldn't be altered, however. Creme brulee made with egg whites and non-fat milk was just too far from the real thing. Ms. Purdy has common-sense words for dealing with these recipes that fight adaptation: "I think you should eat creme brulee once in a while and get on with life."
Ms. Purdy shares many fat-cutting tips that she learned by trial and error or from Shirley Corriher, an Atlanta-based food scientist she called for technical help. But, she says, there are no hard-and-fast rules for low-fat baking that work in every recipe. She believes her recipes are well-developed and reliable and could be used as a guide for adapting a home baker's favorite recipe.
But Ms. Purdy's three inch-thick file on the lemon poppy seed cake shows that adapting recipes is difficult. "I cut down on the amount of poppy seeds because they are high in fat, and I folded a meringue into the batter," she says. "It would bake fine, but as it cooled, the center would collapse." Between Ms. Purdy and Ms. Corriher, they managed to alter the meringue so the recipe worked.
While Ms. Purdy's other cookbooks aren't collecting dust on her shelves, she says working on this project has raised her consciousness. "Every time I look at a recipe, I'm aware of the amount of fat," she says.
After testing 600 to 700 recipes, Ms. Purdy included about 200 recipes in the book. They cover all types of baking and baked goods: breakfast coffee cakes, muffins and quick breads; cakes, cheesecakes and pudding cakes; pies and tarts; cookies and biscotti; miscellaneous desserts; and frostings. There also are some gluten-free recipes.
The introductory chapters of the book are worthwhile reading for anyone who likes to bake. In her careful way, she explains why fats are both good and bad for us, how ingredients work in baking, and what equipment is necessary. She also worked with Dr. Paul D. Doolan, a clinical professor of medicine at Yale University, to write the final chapter -- a technical yet readable explanation of the chemistry of fats.*
Here are three recipes reprinted from "Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too" and including some of Ms. Purdy's "Light Touch" comments.
One of her favorite recipes from the book is a no-bake pineapple cheesecake that can be made in either an 8-inch springform pan or a 10-inch-deep pie plate. The crust contains egg white, so it must be baked first. Cheesecake aficionados should realize this cake doesn't have the intensely rich and creamy feel of regular cheesecake. It is much lighter.
The mocha pudding cake, one of six pudding cakes in the book, is easy and quick to make.
The cinnamon-cider-cranberry cake is a nicely spiced treat to serve warm with coffee. Ms. Purdy says it freezes well.
12 2 1/2 -inch graham cracker squares (16 squares for 10-inch plate)
1/3 cup Grape Nuts cereal ( 1/2 cup for 10-inch plate)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon hazelnut, walnut or canola oil
1 teaspoon unsalted butter, melted (2 teaspoons for 10-inch plate)
1/2 large egg white (1 tablespoon for 10-inch plate)
1 to 2 teaspoons fruit juice or water, or as needed (1 tablespoon for 10-inch plate)
1 1/4 cups non-fat vanilla or plain yogurt
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, unsweetened or in regular light syrup
3/4 cup non-fat cottage cheese
3/4 cup low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pineapple extract
3 tablespoons lemon juice
scant 3 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
To make crust: Position rack in center of oven, and heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Crumble graham crackers into the bowl of a food processor and process until crumbs form. Add the cereal, sugar, oil, butter, egg white and 1 teaspoon juice or water. Pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Pinch a spoonful of crumbs together, and test if they are moist enough to hold the print of your finger. If necessary, add a few more drops of juice or water and pulse once or twice.
Turn the crumbs into an 8-inch springform pan or a 10-inch pie plate and use your hand or the back of a metal spoon to press an even layer around the sides of the pan. Spread the remaining crumbs evenly over the pan bottom. Top with a piece of wax paper, and press to form an even layer, taking care not to build up the crumbs in the corner. Bake the shell for 7 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before filling. The crust firms and crisps as it cools.
To make filling: Place the yogurt in a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl and set aside to drain for at least 20 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl, and discard the whey. Drain the crushed pineapple in a strainer set over a bowl. Press the fruit lightly with the back of a large spoon to release all the juice. Transfer the pineapple to a small bowl, and reserve 1/2 cup of the juice.
Place the cottage cheese in a strainer set over a bowl. Cover it with a piece of plastic wrap, and press down firmly on the cheese to force excess liquid from the curds.
Place the cottage cheese and cream cheese in a blender or a food processor. Process for at least 3 minutes, or until absolutely smooth, with no trace of graininess, stopping once to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
Add the sugar, vanilla, pineapple extract and drained yogurt. Pulse until well blended. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, and pulse several times. Add 1 1/2 cups of the drained crushed pineapple and pulse just to blend.
In a small saucepan, combine the reserved 1/2 cup pineapple juice and the lemon juice. Sprinkle on the gelatin and allow to sit about 3 minutes to soften. Then stir the mixture over low heat just until the gelatin is dissolved; do not boil. With the blender or food processor running, add the gelatin mixture and pulse to blend.
Pour the filling into the crust and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight before serving. Once the top is firm, cover it with plastic wrap.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 245 calories, 8 grams protein, 6 grams fat, 0.7 grams saturated fat, 42 grams carbohydrate, 270 milligrams sodium, 10 milligrams cholesterol; calories from fat: 22 percent.
Mocha pudding cake
butter-flavor no-stick cooking spray
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, divided
1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of cinnamon
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup 1 percent low-fat milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 heaping teaspoons espresso coffee powder or regular or decaffeinated coffee powder
1 cup boiling water
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 350 degrees. Coat the baking pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine 2/3 cup of the sugar, the flour, salt, 1/4 cup of the cocoa, baking powder and cinnamon, and stir well to blend. Whisk in the oil, milk and vanilla. The batter will be stiff. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 2/3 cup sugar and 1/4 cup cocoa. Sprinkle evenly over the cake batter. Dissolve the coffee powder in the boiling water, and pour it over the batter. Do not stir.
Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top of the cake looks crisp and crackled, and a cake tester inserted in a "cakey" area comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. Serve warm from the baking pan.
Nutritional analysis: 342 calories, 4 grams protein, 10 grams fat, 0.8 grams saturated fat, 64 grams carbohydrate, 215 milligrams sodium, 1 milligram cholesterol; calories from fat: 25 percent.
Cinnamon-cider cranberry cake
butter-flavor no stick cooking spray
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh cranberries or frozen whole cranberries, picked over, rinsed and patted dry
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (see Light Touch note)
1 large egg
1 cup apple cider or apple juice
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
Position rack in the center of the oven, and heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat a 9-inch bundt pan with cooking spray. Dust with flour, and tap out excess flour.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Combine about 3 tablespoons of the flour mixture with the cranberries in another bowl, and toss well. Set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the sugar, oil and butter until well blended. Add the egg and beat well.
In a small saucepan, bring the cider or apple juice to a boil. Remove from heat and add the molasses, stirring until it dissolves.
With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the molasses mixture to the beaten sugar-egg mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir in the cranberries. The batter will be quite thin.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 50 'D minutes or until the top is springy to the touch and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then invert onto another rack and let cool.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 221 calories, 3 grams protein, 5 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 43 grams carbohydrate, 166 milligrams sodium, 23 milligrams cholesterol.
Light Touch: The texture of this rich, moist cake really varies depending upon the type of fat used. I have tried making it with all oil, but find it is appreciably better with a small amount of solid fat. My personal preference is for the butter-oil combination, which weighs in with 20 percent of its total calories from fat. To reduce the calories from fat to 18 percent, substitute 4 tablespoons hard stick corn oil margarine for the butter and oil; this cuts 4 calories, 1 gram of fat and 0.7 grams saturated fat from each serving.