Baked treats can be wholesome as well as delicious - you just need a little know-how...

When you're trying to be healthier, cakes and pastries are usually off the menu. But it doesn't have to be that way. We've asked the leading healthy baking pros for tips on how to swap not-so nutritious ingredients for the good stuff, without compromising deliciousness.

In fact, bakes often have deeper, richer flavours when you do this. 'I've always preferrred cakes with more nutritious and wholesome ingredients because the flavour, texture and overall eating experience is much more interesting,’ says Jordan Bourke, chef and author of Healthy Baking (Orion, £20). Here are nine top tips for healthier baking.

1. Say goodbye to white flour

White flour is nutritionally empty. Swap all, or some, for fibre-packed wholegrain flours – rye or spelt are good options. ‘If you’re worried wholegrain will make your bake too heavy, go for a 50/50 blend of plain to wholegrain,’ says Henrietta Inman, pastry chef and author of The Natural Baker (Jacqui Small, £20). ‘This increases the nutritional value and add loads more flavour.’

2. Go nuts

Everyone benefits from extra nuts and seeds in their diet, so toss some of your favourites into the mix for added texture, flavour and nutrient-rich oils. If the people you are baking for don’t like the texture of nuts and seeds, blitz them finely in a food processor or spice grinder first and addthem to the flour – they probably won’t notice they’re there.

 

3. Swap butter for oil

Saturated fats such as butter and lard are no longer considered dietary devils but healthier, unsaturated options still deserve to be in your bakes. Christine McFadden, author of Flour: A Comprehensive Guide (Bloomsbury, £26), suggests making pastry with extra-virgin olive oil or cold-pressed rapeseed oil, and her recipe is easy. Using a fork, mix 200g flour and a pinch of salt with 7 tablespoons of oil until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Gradually add 4-6 tablespoons of cold water. When you have a smooth dough, wrap in baking paper and chill for 30 minutes before using.

4. Slash the sugar

Most bakers agree that reducing the amount of sugar in cake recipes by one-quarter to one-third has virtually no effect on the overall result, although the cake probably won’t stay as moist for as long.

5. Play tricks

If you significantly reduce the sugar in a cake, try adding naturally sweet spices such as cinnamon, mixed spice and vanilla, says Inman, or drizzle a small amount of honey or maple syrup over the top when serving. ‘It fools you into believing it is sweeter than it is,’ explains Bourke.

6. Love dates

Try adding Medjool dates to boost the sweetness, says Bourke. Dates are stillpacked with sugar but contain nutrients and fibre as well. ‘I blitz dates with the eggs in the food processor, then add the rest of the ingredients,’ Bourke says. Dates are ideal for dense, fudgy bakes but not light sponges.

 

7. Veg out

McFadden and Bourke are fans of boosting the flavour and sweetness of bakes by adding vegetables – but don’t worry, their flavour won’t dominate. Bourke suggests folding 100g to 150g of grated parsnips, courgettes or sweet potato into cake batter – McFadden also loves beetroot – and reducing the sugar a little. ‘You are left with a cake where you can taste individual ingredients, rather than being hit by a wall of bland sweetness that masks everything else,’ Bourke says.

8. Try the dark side 

Use dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, ideally one with at least 70% cocoa solids. Aside from containing less sugar, dark chocolate has much more flavour and higher quantities of nutrients.

9. Skip buttercream 

Instead of sugar-loaded ganache or buttercream, use a ricotta cheese-based filling, says McFadden. Whiz 250g ricotta with 3 tablespoons of low-fat yogurt and 1⁄2 tablespoon of sugar until smooth. Add flavourings such as lime juice, sieved passion fruit pulp or a few drops of rose water, if you like. ‘With a quarter of the fat of double cream and a clean-tasting flavour, it comes close to perfection,’ McFadden says.

Don't miss our latest healthier bakes:

Lemon-blueberry muffin cake

Chickpea brownies

Seeded banana and apricot loaf

 

About the author

Sue Quinn