in focus The key to baking healthier desserts is simply a matter of knowing what’s in your muffin or soufflé and replacing it with better ingredients finds out ZEENAB ANEEZ

Many view the idea of healthy desserts as a paradox. The element of indulgence in the buttery smoothness of a croissant, the lightness of a meringue or the decadent sweetness of a chocolate ganache is lost if you avoid the butter, the egg and the cream that give them these qualities. But with many of the city’s home bakers experimenting with maida-free cakes and vegan desserts, it looks like we can, contrary to popular belief, have our cake and eat it too.

While most of us believe that the fluffy texture that maida provides cannot be replaced, experienced bakers think otherwise. Sitara Kadeer, who runs Chocolicious -Hyderabad, has been experimenting with alternatives for a couple of years now says that some desserts work better with whole-wheat. “Cakes and muffins made from whole-wheat are more dense, unlike those made from maida which have a spongy texture but I find that works for some desserts,” she explains. “Brownies for instance are fudgier when made with whole-wheat. At the same time, cakes which have banana or carrot have a lower shelf-life if made from whole-wheat. Some of my customers actually prefer that to the light, sponginess of maida.” Her recent experiments also include whole-wheat biscotti and barley cookies.

Amandine who runs a French bakery has taken it a step further by experimenting with millets too. “The idea is also to work with local organic products. The cookies were made using jaggery instead of sugar,” she says. Replacing processed sugar with jaggery or honey is also a great way to make desserts healthier.

“I also use seasonal fruits in my desserts,” she says. Her coconut mango tartlets are perfect ways to put the fruits of the season to good use. Amandine has also been dishing out some French desserts sans eggs, butter or any kind of dairy or animal products. “I have a lot of vegan friends who have little or no option when it comes to cakes and desserts so I started baking for them. Since options for vegans are limited, there is a huge demand for my desserts in Hyderabad,” she reveals, adding that with a few tweaks, you won’t miss the butter and cream at all! She believes that taking existent recipes and adding a bit of this and taking away a bit of that can lead to revelations.

Trial and error, it seems is the key to successful experiments in the kitchen. Blogs and websites dedicated to alternative baking provide plenty of recipes and tips for alternative ingredients, which although targeted at an American or European audience, can be modified to suit local ingredients and palates.

While a vegan cheesecake or fudge brownie may seem like the answer to all our problems, desserts are still desserts and weight watchers should be warned that they are still pack almost as many pounds, albeit in a far healthier package. Or do you feel what fun is an indulgence if it’s good for you?

Give or take

Since baking is more complicated than cooking, every ingredient has a role to play. They key is to find out what that role is and replace it with something that can do the same.

Cow’s milk can also be replaced with soymilk, almond milk or coconut milk, depending on how rich you want your dessert to be.

Eggs can be replaced with the right combination of baking powder, oil and powdered flax seed or corn starch depending on whether you want the resultant texture to be light and fluffy or dense and think. For use in custards and quiches, eggs can be replaced with pureed silken tofu.

Nut butters and vegan margarine available in the market make for great alternatives to butter.