In a recent Food section, Eat Right, Live Well columnist Toby Smithson shared several insights on how to cut dietary fat. Her suggestions, such as substituting fat-free plain Greek yogurt for sour cream, were terrific.
For trimming fat from muffins, quick breads, cakes and brownies, Smithson recommended fruit purees, such as apple (as in sauce), bananas, peaches or prunes. Certainly valid, but a method that I'd like to shed more light on.
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Fiber is the reason puréed fruit is considered a fat substitute. One hundred grams of puréed banana, for example, delivers 2.6 grams of fiber. That fiber duplicates what food folk's call the "mouth feel" of fat. In addition, fiber holds air bubbles that create "lift" when leavening (baking powder or baking soda) inflate those bubbles with carbon dioxide released in the oven.
I don't use puréed banana as a fat substitute because other fruit purees, such as prunes, deliver more fiber. Puréed prunes pack a big fiber punch (3.3 grams per 100 grams), but puréed prunes have their own issues, the first being strong flavor. Prunes taste good (they're a dried plums, just like raisins are dried grapes), but mix prune purée with anything chocolate and that flavor becomes not-so-good. There's a reason why dipping prunes in chocolate never caught-on like strawberries.
Issue two: color. A prune purée is a deep purple-black. That dark color can be concealed in a brownie, but use puréed prunes in a yellow or white cake and the batter looks like mud. Since we eat with our eyes; that just ain't pretty.
Issue three: water. Smithson suggested puréeing 6 tablespoons water with 8 ounces prunes. That homemade purée can cause problems with home-baked desserts that are a careful balance of ingredients. Add too much or too little and the end results can be dramatically altered.
So I count on unsweetened applesauce for an ideal fat substitute. It delivers a light, almost neutral flavor, working in harmony with everything from chocolate to vanilla. Plus, it doesn't hang on to apple juice as sweetened applesauce does, making it possible to wring-out much of its juice (water); leaving fiber to work its wonders.
Applesauce's pale color works beautifully in cookies, brownies and cakes whether white or spiced. Measure-for-measure, applesauce is the low-calorie winner.
One fruit purée caveat: it doesn't matter which fruit-based fat substitute is used, it's best to replace no more than half the fat in a recipe.
Try this recipe: I started working with a pumpkin bread recipe from a 1995 Bon Appetit issue. Substituting olive oil for vegetable oil heightened the nutrition profile of this quick bread while adding a buttery flavor note. Applesauce helped cut almost 500 fat calories. Cutting back on the sugar by substituting light brown sugar kept this bread from being too sweet and trimmed another 200 calories.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at email@example.com.