Monday, April 30, 2012

Modifying recipes for health and handiness

Do we all know how to lighten-and-healthen a recipe, or adapt it to the ingredients we have on hand?
Yes, I know “healthen” isn’t a word. You knew what I meant, right?
I was looking for something to do with a brown banana, a bunch of slightly stale but otherwise fine granola, and various other miscellaneous Things In My Pantry. So I got on the internet and did a search for “banana granola bread.” Lots of potential recipes came up—including this lovely one from the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network.
Now, I love Ina Garten. She’s a little lower key than Paula Deen, whom I find exhausting, and she just seems lovely and classy. But her recipes! I see the quantities of butter and sugar in things like this simple muffin recipe and I just go, “Nope. Not a chance. We’re not eating that.” These, to me, are rare special occasion treats, not things I’d happily plop into a lunch bag for my kids several days running.
But. I made this recipe anyway—or something very like it—with a lot more good stuff and a lot less of the problem ingredients. And it was really yummy. Which made me wonder: Does everyone know the tricks for taking a fat-and-sugarful recipe and rendering it something a little more everyday good-for-you, if not as eye-rollingly decadent? So I figured, why not, let’s do a post on it! (And y’all can share your tricks in the comments too…I’m always looking for new ones.)
So, here’s her ingredient list:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 bananas)
  • 1 cup medium-diced ripe bananas (1 banana)
  • 1 cup small-diced walnuts
  • 1 cup granola
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

That’s two sticks of butter. And two cups of sugar. Right there is where my problems kick in. I also can’t sell my kids on walnuts, but that’s not a health issue—they are actually very good for you. But…I don’t want them here.
So: first step is that I only have one banana. Which means I have two choices: I can halve the recipe, or I can use applesauce in place of one of the mashed bananas. (Trick one. Pureed or mashed fruits are pretty interchangeable in recipes like this.) Since I’ve never made this before, and since it’s muffins instead of the cake or loaf I prefer, I’m going to halve it.
·         3 cups all purpose flour
This becomes 1 ½, of course, since I’m cutting the recipe, and instead of all-purpose flour I can either substitute up to half of it with whole wheat or substitute 2/3 or even all of it with white whole wheat flour. (Trick two. Never use white flour when it’s possible to substitute wheat; white whole wheat is a great product, a particular kind of wheat that’s paler and lighter while still retaining the whole grain-ness we want.)
·         2 cups sugar
Did you know that you can just omit up to half the sugar in a recipe if you choose? (Trick three.) You can also substitute honey or maple syrup for some or all of it, except that you have to be careful of  few things: first, it’s ¾ cup honey to 1 cup sugar. (Trick four.) Second, for every cup of honey you put in, you need to reduce other moist ingredients by ¼ cup. In this case, had I tried it, the math would have been overwhelming and I would have probably fudged it: ¾ cup or so honey for my half recipe, and a little less milk added to the batter. Or more likely I would have just gone with half a cup of honey, because I didn’t need that much sweetness with the natural sugars of the very ripe banana.  You also need to reduce the oven temp by 10-20 degrees because honey browns quicker than sugar. All that was more work than I needed to do, and I wanted to know how this recipe would taste without quite so many variables, so I just halved the sugar—1/2 cup. (If I’d had some brown sugar, I might have used that instead…)
·         ½ lb butter
Yeah, here we totally draw the line. Half a pound of butter is two sticks, and even for those of us who Do Not Fear The Fat it’s just a lot, you know? Even the divided version would involve a whole stick of butter…so the choices here: I can use neutral oil instead of butter, or I can substitute for some of the fat with either applesauce, mashed banana, or Greek yogurt. (Trick five. Since I already have the banana and also had a little yogurt left, I used a quarter cup of butter—half a stick—and a quarter cup yogurt.)
·         1 cup mashed banana (2 bananas) (halved, this is one banana) (you probably could have figured it out.)
·         1 cup medium dice banana (1 banana)
·         1 cup granola
·         1 cup walnuts
·         1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Here’s where the fudging happened some more: I only had the one banana, so I couldn’t do the medium dice thing. I think this is where the cake’s moistness lost some of its punch, or maybe it was using yogurt instead of fruit. This, or a chopped up apple or something, would have been good to include.
I mentioned there is no walnut love in my house, so I just doubled the amount of granola. Most of the time, when added chunky ingredients go into a recipe, you can just do one-for-one substitution, although you need to be a little careful of moisture content. (Trick five.) And why would I add sweetened shredded coconut when I have perfectly good unsweetened? In it went.
I don’t have the patience to make muffins, so I put this into my handy dandy 9x9 square baking pan, lightly greased, and baked it at 350 as the recipe said. No reason to feel bound by pan size or type, as long as you’re careful—muffins can be cake can be loaf can be bundt whatever. (Trick six.) Vaguely in general, the conversion below mostly works:
1 bundt cake @60 minutes
=2 square 9x9 pans @35-40 minutes
=18-24 muffins depending on size @30-40 minutes also depending on size.

So here also I needed to watch carefully; the muffin recipe says 30-35 minutes, so I started checking this one at about 25 minutes.  It took 35. I didn’t do any sprinkling of stuff on the top, though in hindsight that would have been a nice touch.
It’s a really nice little cake/bread/whateverthingy. Plenty sweet enough, though not decadent; the butter I did use helped give it a nice little crunch to the outside and it has a nice simple flavor with the granola, banana, and coconut all working together but nothing overwhelming everything else. It would have been helped along by keeping a few elements I needlessly dropped: the moisture of the added diced banana and the moisture of the sweetened coconut (the unsweetened is very dry) would have made a pretty big difference, I suspect, so attentiveness to that aspect of the substitution would have been a good thing. Ina would probably shake her head and gently but emphatically stamp her bare foot upon the recipe (if not the cake itself), and just to be clear, hers is probably way more amazing—butter has a way of doing that in a recipe, as do some of the other little touches—but this gets the job done and I feel comfortable passing it out for breakfast or lunch.
Anyone have any other recipe-modification tricks you like to use?
Jenn the Greenmom


knutty knitter said...

I have to say I avoid those sorts of recipes. There are enough good ones in my book anyhow.

The best I have done was a bread recipe. It started out with a cup of sugar (and said it wasn't an overly sweet recipe!!!) So I halved that the first time - too sweet. So I took it down to an eighth. Still a bit sweet to my mind. I now use a teaspoon and that is fine for two loaves. I never could understand why any recipe has to have so much sugar. Specially bread.

viv in nz

Laura said...

Thank you for saying you can cut the sugar... Sometimes I am a little ruthless as I slash the measurements! This recipe sounds great, too!

Anonymous said...

I'm German but bake a lot of american recepies, and the first thing I always, ALWAYS do is cut the sugar by at least a third, often a half. tastebuds here are not used to so much artificial sweetness.
Thank you for mentioning apple sauce as a substitute, a friend of mine is allergic against eggs and dairy and I've recently started baking for her: apple sauce works great :-))


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