Where's the party without the cake? Dessert: Cakes take celebrations from ordinary to outstanding, and they don't have to be loaded with fat to do it.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

What is it about cake that casts such a spell over us? Think of a birthday, a wedding, a graduation dinner - it's not really a party until the cake's brought out. With the cake comes a chorus of oohs and aahs, as well as those inner feelings of anticipation and anxiety - secretly, everybody wants the biggest piece. Cake is the essence of both joyful festivity and childhood desire.

We are entering the season of celebrations, occasions that call for cakes as genuinely glorious to eat as they are to look at. Why, then, consider making a low-fat cake for a party? Well, why not? If it's possible to serve a gorgeous layer cake filled with fresh strawberries and rhubarb and iced with a gooey-rich cream-cheese frosting - and it just happens to have a reasonable nutritional profile - a better question is, why choose a recipe that is laden with fat? All of these cakes are fabulous and low-fat. These are most certainly cakes to show off: Bring one out and let the party begin.

Fresh Orange Cake

Makes 16 servings

CANDIED ORANGES:

2 medium seedless oranges, scrubbed

3 cups water

3 cups sugar

CAKE:

3 cups sifted cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 medium seedless orange, scrubbed and cut into eighths

2 cups sugar

2 large eggs, separated

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large egg whites

fresh mint sprigs for garnish

To make candied oranges:

Cut oranges into paper-thin slices.

In a wide pan, mix water and sugar. Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add orange slices and poach, keeping syrup at a bare simmer and ladling it over oranges

occasionally, until skins are translucent, 1 1/2 to 2 hours (handle gently to avoid tearing). Carefully transfer oranges to a sheet of wax paper; let cool. Reserve about 1/2 cup syrup. (The candied oranges will keep, covered, for up to 2 days.)

To make cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 10-inch angel food cake pan or coat it with nonstick spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a food processor, pulse orange until finely chopped. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar; process until smooth. Add 2 egg yolks, buttermilk, oil and vanilla; pulse to combine. Transfer to a large bowl.

In a clean bowl, beat 4 egg whites with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in remaining 1/2 cup sugar, beating until stiff and glossy.

In 2 additions, add dry ingredients to orange mixture, folding with a whisk until just blended. Whisk one-quarter of the beaten whites into the batter. With a rubber spatula, fold in remaining whites. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Tap the pan on the counter to release air bubbles.

Bake cake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen edges and invert cake onto rack. Remove paper and let cool completely.

Place cake on a platter and brush with reserved 1/2 cup orange syrup. Arrange candied orange slices on top and garnish with mint sprigs.

Per serving: 245 calories; 4 grams protein; 4 grams fat (0.5 gram saturated fat); 50 grams carbohydrate; 145 milligrams sodium; 27 milligrams cholesterol; 1 gram fiber

Nutrition note: Only 1/2 cup of the sugar used to candy the oranges goes into the finished cake.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Layer Cake

Makes 12 servings

CAKE:

1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, separated

3/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 large egg white

FILLING:

1 1/4 cups diced fresh rhubarb

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

pinch of salt

pinch of ground cloves

3/4 cup diced fresh strawberries

FROSTING:

12 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

strawberries for garnish

To make cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-inch springform pan or coat it with nonstick spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk 2 egg yolks, yogurt, 1/2 cup sugar, oil and vanilla.

In a clean bowl, beat 3 egg whites with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in remaining 1/2 cup sugar, beating until stiff and glossy.

Make a well in the dry ingredients. Fold in yogurt mixture with a whisk until just blended. Whisk 1/4 of the beaten whites into the batter. With a rubber spatula, fold in remaining whites. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Tap the pan on the counter to release air bubbles.

Bake cake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen edges and invert cake onto rack. Remove paper and let cool completely.

To make filling:

In a medium saucepan, combine rhubarb, 1/4 cup sugar, cornstarch, salt and cloves. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until cold.

In a bowl, toss strawberries with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until juicy, about 30 minutes. Drain and discard juice. Stir strawberries into rhubarb.

To make frosting and to assemble cake:

In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and vanilla; beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.

Slice cake into 2 layers. Place top layer cut-side up on a platter. Spread with strawberry-rhubarb filling. Top with remaining layer.

Not more than 2 hours before serving, spread top and sides of cake with frosting. Garnish with strawberries.

Per serving: 255 calories; 6 grams protein; 8 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated fat); 41 grams carbohydrate; 295 milligrams sodium; 46 milligrams cholesterol; 1 gram fiber

Berry-Ricotta Cheesecake

Makes 12 servings

CRUST:

4 hazelnut or almond biscotti (4 ounces)

1 tablespoon canola oil

FILLING:

4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese

1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt

1/3 cup cornstarch

2 large eggs

3 large egg whites

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

TOPPING AND GLAZE:

2 cups fresh berries, such as halved strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries

1/4 cup red-currant jelly

To make crust:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-inch springform pan or coat it with nonstick spray.

Break biscotti into several pieces. In a food processor, pulse biscotti until finely ground. Add oil and pulse until incorporated.

Press crumbs evenly into bottom of prepared pan.

To make filling:

In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add sugar and beat until smooth. Add ricotta, yogurt, cornstarch, eggs, egg whites, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt. Beat until well-blended. (Alternatively, mix ingredients in a food processor.) Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake cheesecake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until edges are puffed but center still jiggles when pan is tapped. Turn off oven and let cheesecake stand, with the door ajar, for 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. (The top may crack.)

To assemble:

Remove pan sides and place cheesecake on a platter. Arrange berries on top. In a small saucepan, warm jelly over low heat, stirring until melted. With a pastry brush, coat berries with jelly glaze. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate until cold. (The cheesecake will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.)

Per serving: 245 calories; 9 grams protein; 9 grams fat (3.4 grams saturated fat); 37 grams carbohydrate; 205 milligrams sodium; 52 milligrams cholesterol; 1 gram fiber

Pub Date: 6/10/98

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