Let them eat cake: 5 ways to trim the fat from your baking with applesauce

Believe or not, you can have your cake and watch your fat grams, too.

Whether you're watching your weight or focusing on a heart-healthy diet and lowering cholesterol, simple cooking tips can help you reduce excess saturated and trans fats without entirely eliminating treats like baked goods.

One of the best tips, according to the American Heart Association, is using applesauce to replace oil and reduce fat in baked goods.

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  1. Follow the package instructions. The AHA recommends replacing the oil in muffin, cookie, cake and snack bar recipes with pureed fruit, including applesauce. If the package mix directions don't specify a substitution amount, try using the same amount of puree as you would oil.
  2. Replace half the oil with applesauce. Another simple formula from Michigan Medicine suggests that if a baking recipe calls for butter, shortening or oil, you replace half the amount listed with applesauce.
  3. Use a buttermilk-applesauce mixture in place of the oil. When a recipe for muffins, quick breads or cake from a mix calls for vegetable oil, registered dietitian Elizabeth Burt suggests using equal parts applesauce and low-fat buttermilk in its place. "Because oils are dense with calories and fat, it is important to consume them in moderation," she wrote in Diabetic Living Online. Burt also noted that 1/2 cup oil contains 900 calories and 10 grams fat, while 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce plus 1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk contains only 50 calories and 1 gram fat.

Keep in mind that while applesauce can be used instead of oil in most mixes, it can't replace the butter in cake mixes, according to the Duncan Hines website. The cake mix maker suggests that bakers seeking lower fat forgo the applesauce and instead follow the lower-fat recipe directions on the back of the box when they use a butter recipe cake mix.

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4. Make "baked with applesauce" still taste great

From the cook's perspective, coming to love baked treats made with applesauce instead of oil is a taste challenge that can require lots of trial and error.

To give you and your family members a better chance of enjoying the taste of baked goods made with applesauce, try some of these tips from Musselman Applesauce:

  • Use a 1:1 ratio for substituting applesauce for oil in baking, except for cookies.
  • If a box mix has separate directions for preparing the baked item with oil and with butter, use the oil recipe when you make the applesauce substitution.
  • If you are substituting applesauce for butter, expect a change in consistency. Bread and cake recipes that call for butter are more forgiving than cookie recipes with the applesauce switch, but you still shouldn't remove more than half of the butter. If, for example, a recipe calls for 1/2 cup butter, change to 1/4 cup butter plus 1/4 cup applesauce.
  • Baked goods might not brown as quickly when you replace fats with applesauce, so watch the bake time and temperature instead of the color to avoid overbaking. Test if it's done with a toothpick.
  • To keep reduced-fat baked goods from crumbling when you serve them, let them cool for 10-15 minutes and then cut using a plastic knife.

One more insider's tip: For those who really treasure taste in homebaked goods: consider publications that focus on recipes that begin with applesauce as at least part of the fat content in a recipe.

They're easy to follow because the taste has already been tested and you don't have to worry that beloved recipes won't taste the same without the fat you're accustomed to. Beginners will like Eating Well's gingerbread pancakes recipe, which uses 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce and 2 tablespoons of canola oil as its only source of added fat.