While we’re big fans of creating lighter versions of hearty favorites, we also believe that dessert should taste like dessert. So we were excited when our resident baking expert, Chef Sylvie, showed us how to bake a cake with good-for-you ingredients that don’t sacrifice flavor.
If you’re on dessert duty for your next holiday party, you can make one or more of these tweaks to almost any cake recipe.
1. Start with an Alternative Flour
Most cake recipes call for either cake flour or all-purpose flour. The main difference is that cake flour is lower in protein and prevents the texture from becoming too firm. In terms of nutrition, both flours are low in fiber, which gets removed when the wheat is processed.
Technically, you could substitute whole-wheat flour, but its nuttier flavor and coarser texture will likely be noticeable in the final product.
A better solution is to use a whole-grain flour specially designed for baking desserts. Chef Sylvie recommends whole-wheat pastry flour
or white whole-wheat flour
. Both are made from softer varieties of wheat but contain more fiber than all-purpose and cake flour. They also have a mild flavor, making them a good substitute in most cake recipes.
You can also experiment with almond flour
, which contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Chef Sylvie recommends using it as a partial substitute for white flour (a 50/50 mix is a good starting point) and incorporating it into recipes that have other flavors going on, like chocolate cake.
2. Replace an Egg with Soaked Chia Seeds
Nutritionally, eggs have a lot of good stuff to offer (as in, they’re not usually an ingredient you’d want to swap out). But chia seeds provide a dose of fiber, which helps balance out the large portion of simple sugars in a cake. When soaked in water, chia seeds do just as good of a job at binding a cake as eggs do.
Here’s how to replace one egg: In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon finely ground chia seeds with 3 tablespoons water. Let soak for at least 10 minutes, until the chia seeds form a gel. Then add it to the batter when you’d add the egg.
3. Scale Back Sugar and Add Some Spices
In many recipes, you can get away with adding a tad less sugar without noticing a difference in the final product. At the same time, you can enhance the sweetness by adding spices like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves. As a starting point, Chef Sylvie recommends reducing the sugar by 1/8 of a cup (about 2 tablespoons).
4. Add Some Plant Fats to the Frosting
When soaked overnight and blended at high speed, cashews develop a creamy, icing-like texture. Chef Sylvie says a cashew-based frosting makes an excellent substitute for buttercream and cream cheese frosting. Our Carrot Cake recipe
has instructions for an easy cashew frosting made with maple syrup and coconut oil.
If your cake recipe calls for chocolate frosting, you can try subbing avocados for half of the butter (the cocoa powder will cover up the color and flavor of the avocados). Just be sure to use a ripe avocado and blend it until no lumps remain (this is when a hand blender
or food processor comes in handy).