The (Baking) Substitute Teacher

When it comes to baking it seems you need a chemistry degree to make healthier changes to recipes. One wrong move and you can turn cookies into hockey pucks, which is why we’ve pulled together our best baking substitution pointers for sweet success.

Thankfully, it doesn’t take a chemistry degree to make healthier changes in many recipes: subbing nutty brown rice for white in a stir-fry or making your own salt-free chili powder with ground dried chiles.

But when it comes to baking, going rogue on recipes can turn cookies into hockey pucks or tender quick breads into paperweights. You don’t have to derail your healthy eating at breakfast, dessert or snack time: try these baking substitution pointers for sweet success.

Banana Oatmeal Snack Cookies
Gluten Free Jalapeno Cornbread

Choose fabulous fat stand-ins

Fat not only adds great flavor, but the (caloric) baking workhorse provides moisture and keeps proteins in flours from becoming too tough.

If you take out fat, other liquids must be introduced. Fruit purées work wonders in this department, which is why these superfast cookies opens in a new tab are a great option to up the health ante in the cookie jar. All of the fat is replaced with a double-play of mashed-up fruits, and to great effect. (The whole-grain oats and omega-3-fats-heavy walnuts boost the nutrient quotient, too.) The moist cookies are the perfect dessert or after-school snack with the oats and nuts. We also love using applesauce and almondmilk to add richness to this zippy cornbread recipe opens in a new tab.

If you just can’t give up butter, choose a nut butter. Sure, nuts are calorie-dense, but they offer more of the good types of fats than, say, dairy butter’s sole saturated type. Plus, nuts and seeds offer some fiber and plant-based compounds that may boost health, too.

We love these quick, no-bake treats opens in a new tab at my house, and I don’t hesitate when my son asks for seconds.

Banana Cocoa Snack Cake
Lightened Whole Grain Morning Glory Muffins

Go with the (whole) grain

All-purpose flour may not have the best rep from nutritionists, but it’s a baking staple for its, well, all-purpose utility. Experiment with other flours by swapping out one-fourth of the all-purpose flour for a more nutrient-packed type (think rye flour, oat flour or whole wheat flour).

This adaptable quickbread opens in a new tab is a great example of using some regular flour with a heartier one, and it’s a go-to at our house when we’re craving a not-too-sweet snack. Bonus: it’s made with fresh and dried fruit. Try this easy snack cake opens in a new tab, too.

Whole wheat pastry flour is tender and light enough to make 1 to 1 substitutions a snap. Try your favorite pancake mix with whole wheat pastry flour instead or try these muffins opens in a new tab for a guaranteed good start to your day.

Whole wheat pastry flour is easy to use, with a very mild (we might even say undetectable) flavor that allows for a just-sturdy-enough treat, while the applesauce, sweet potato purée and honey add moisture and sweetness without any fat.

Carrot Oat Cake
Flourless Brownies

Reach for veggies

Although carrot cake sounds like it would be good for you, the traditional cream cheese frosting and oil-rich batter negates any carotene benefit you’d gain. Thankfully, this carrot-stuffed snack cake opens in a new tab is full of good things: a blend of hearty oats, walnuts and whole wheat pastry flour is grounded by plenty of grated carrots, which keep the mix moist along with some maple syrup (and no oil or eggs). I like a piece with my morning coffee.

And on occasion I like to cap off my day with a fudgy, decadent brownie. I don’t have to tell anyone the brownie’s secret weapon is a can of fiber-filled beans opens in a new tab, which stand in for nutrition-poor all-purpose flour.

How do you have your nutritious cake and eat it, too? Share your tips, ideas and suggestions below. 

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