So… I didn’t MoFo yesterday. Oops.

Today, I want to discuss baking and health. I get enormously frustrated when people say to me, “Oh, you’re a vegan baker? Your stuff must be really healthy.”

Uh, no, actually. It’s not.

And then I have to try to explain to them that while it’s not full of animal ingredients and white sugar and bleached flour, it’s still full of fat and sugar and white flour. Plenty of vegans make things super healthy but, for better or worse, I’m not one of them, at least not when it comes to my books. My objective is to make things taste as “normal” as possible. I don’t want an omni to be able to tell the difference and I don’t want a vegan or someone with food allergies to feel like they are eating anything less than.

That said, sometimes it pays to clean up your act a little bit. I tend to bake way too much quite a bit and because I don’t like not baking, I have to mix it up in order to keep us healthy. It’s no secret that the recipes in my cookbooks are sometimes foods. But because I have a particular taste pallate, I don’t want my baking to taste too healthy. Where’s the fun in that?

Here are some of my tips to help you make your baked goods healthier without sacrificing flavor.

1. If a recipe calls for sugar, use a little! Even if I’m cutting the sugar content siginifcantly or are substituting a liquid, I always add a little bit of regular sugar (I use evaporated cane juice) to a recipe. Granulated sugar breaks down differently than liquid and greatly contributes to the mouthfeel of a baked good, which is the most important consideration when healthifying any recipe. Keeping a bit of sugar in there helps retain that mouthfeel, ensuring your muffins won’t be mealy like a biscuit.

2. Always use a little bit of fat. Substitute applesauce or whatever to your heart’s content, but always use at least 1-2 tablespoons of fat. Fat-free baked goods have a rubbery texture. Fat is also important to help you feel satiated, so you don’t end up eating 3 muffins instead of just 1. Oops.

3. Blend your flours. Even when baking healthier, I always do a blend of whole wheat and white flour. This goes back to mouthfeel. Whole wheat flour is grittier and more dense. It also absorbs more liquid, so you may need to add an additional tablespoon or two of liquid when substituting flours. I usually do a mixture of white flour, whole wheat and some ground oats when I’m baking for my health. This creases the fiber and protein of the baked good without it tasting like I’m eating something that came from a 1960s co-op bakery.

3. A little sprinkle (of sugar) goes a long way. I tend to cut back significantly on the sugar content in my baked goods but often, although the texture is okay, they just don’t taste that sweet on their own. I love to add a sprinkle of coarse sugar to the top of whatever I’m baking (typically muffins or cookies). This sugar doesn’t dissolve into the baked good and is then immediately available to your tongue when eating, ensure your get that desired sweetness without ingesting a mass of sugar.

4. Mix it up. It’s amazing how far a sprinkle of chocolate chips, some berries, lemon zest or a teaspoon of ginger can take a recipe. Extracts are great, too, to help create a pronounced flavor without adding calorie-heavy ingredients.

5. Don’t forgo the topping. Find a lesser-evil if something you’re making is usually really decadent. If you feel deprived you will go to the other end of the spectrum and then binge on super unhealthy things. Trust me, I’ve been there. If a recipe calls for fatty frosting, add a light glaze. Create a fruit compote to top it off. Just because you’re making things healthier doesn’t mean you have to be without.

What things to do you do to help make a recipe healthier?

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11 Responses to tips for healthy baking (that still tastes good)

  1. Leigh says:

    These are good tips. I get a little frustrated having to explain to people that “vegan” does not equal “healthy” when talking about a double layer chocolate fudge cake or some other decadent treat! My canned response is usually, “They still have plenty of sugar and fat”.

  2. Hope says:

    Ugh, everyone says that! It’s hard not to get annoyed when people think vegan baking always super healthy. Though being vegan in has definitely helped keep me healthier, sometimes I gotta watch it with the baked goods. I like to use all those great tips you mentioned, especially the topping! Toppings make things taste special!

  3. Fat Fudge says:

    Sure all vegan baked goods are healthy…healthy for animals!!

  4. Josiane says:

    What I usually do is to cut down on the amount of sugar called for, and use whole wheat pastry flour (I haven’t bought all purpose flour in years). I agree with you: extracts and spices are a nice way to up the flavor without having to resort to tons of unhealthy stuff.
    No one has ever complained about my treats tasting too healthy – I guess they know I’d answer with “good! there will be more for me”! 😉

  5. Lizzie says:

    I think that some of my baking failures have been from recipes that do try to remove all of the fat. I wish that I was better at figuring out myself what to change in order to “fix” things. I’m working on it. :)

  6. meansoybean says:

    Since my sweet tooth appears to be waning, I cut down the sugar in a recipe if it looks excessive.

    I usually buy flour in large 10 kg bags every two months, due to bread-baking, and I found out from a recent trip to the grocery store that they no longer sell unbleached in bags of this size. I had to settle for bleached, and I’m not comfortable with the edible bleaching agents. I’ll have to try blending flours.

  7. Courtney says:

    I bake and bring things into work all the time, and EVERYONE thinks it is “healthy” because it is vegan. I don’t want to tell them that it is just as bad for them as their omni baking because I do want them to eat it, but still…flour, sugar, and oil are all vegan, people! I am not sure why “vegan” = “healthy” to most people. It certainly CAN be very healthy, but I know plenty of junk food vegans who eat crap and are certainly less healthy than many omnis I know.


  8. FoodFeud says:

    I always lessen the fat and sugar portions when I bake…unless I’m baking for omnis.
    I find that WW pastry flour is pretty comparable to white flour, so I use that more often than regular WW flour.
    I like your “topping tip” too – I find a drizzle of a glaze or a sprinkling of sugar goes a long, tasty way.
    Thanks for the list :)

  9. Great tips… I do most of them, but I like the add sugar tip, I’ll have to try that.

    As for the goodies still having fat and sugar and are therefore ‘not healthy’… I have to disagree… I think that by removing the cows milk and the egg, we greatly healthify any baked good. My cupcakes might still have fat and sugar, but it certainly doesn’t have cholesterol and hormones and antibiotics, etc. So I guess it all depends on how you define ‘healthy’… perhaps we could agree that vegan baked goods are ‘healthier’ than non-vegan baked goods. :)

  10. Mo says:

    Thanks for the tip!