Mary Holda of Elk Grove Village proposed a challenge I couldn't walk away from: remake her family's favorite streusel-topped banana bread.
"We love it, but I wondered if I could cut some fat (butter or sugar)," Mary wrote in an email. "I tried subbing applesauce and it was nasty."
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I put on my leanwizard's cap and headed to the kitchen to see what magic I could conjure up for Mary.
Her recipe called for a stick of butter in the batter and another half-stick in the streusel. That butter alone contributed 1,215 calories and 137 fat grams to Mary's bread. No wonder she needed my help.
Now I know what Mary said about her applesauce experiment, but I was willing to give that method another shot. Here's why: Mary may have used a typical supermarket applesauce, one sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Yes, some applesauce is made with more than just apples. High fructose corn syrup gives applesauce a gluey consistency that may have transferred to her banana bread.
Unsweetened applesauce, on the other hand, is just what that label states; sweetener free. Just apples. No gluey texture, no added calories.
Mary didn't tell me how she used applesauce, but regular column readers know that the key to its success is to drain it first, a step Mary may not have taken.
Mary's recipe called for two whole eggs and she wanted to know if she could use Egg Beaters. Yes, but the resulting texture and flavor wouldn't be the same as using whole eggs. With the current thinking about eggs being that their fat and cholesterol aren't the health issue once thought, I left the eggs alone.
Next, I reduced the ½ cup of walnuts Mary used to a ⅓ cup to retain the nut's essential fats and flavor.
Mary used two medium bananas in her bread; I went with three to kickup the flavor, fiber content and moisture. That added banana, with its natural sweetness, allowed me to cut 2 tablespoons sugar. Good deal.
Referring to the streusel, Mary wrote: "It's probably the topping that's the killer." She's right; her topping called for a ½ cup brown sugar and 4 tablespoons butter. I cut the amount of topping in half, switched from butter to 2 tablespoons no-cholesterol, less saturated-fat peanut oil and went with dark brown sugar (vs. light) to boost the flavor. And then, to give my streusel-like topping some crunch (and fiber), I added rolled oats.
As my banana bread baked, the aroma filling my kitchen made my mouth water. Once cooled, I cut a slice and did the math: I'd trimmed 1,175 calories and 123 fat grams from the whole loaf. I'm sure Mary will be smiling when she sees that.
How did it taste? I took the rest of the loaf to the office and watched it disappear. Several of my co-workers said they loved this better-for-you banana bread. I hope Mary, and you, will too.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.