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Avocados for butter and chia seeds for eggs—here are a few of our favourite things for a healthy twist on X-mas cakes

Sunny side up

3It’s not just vegetarians and vegans who want to go eggless with their treats. Many of the health conscious would like to steer clear of these (and their artificial substitutes), too. So we say, try some seeds—chia and flax to be exact. “Combine one tablespoon of chia or flax seed powder with three tablespoons of water, let it sit for 15 minutes, then use it as a one-to-one substitute for your baking,” says Dr Sunitha Raja, the baker behind the Facebook page, Sugar Cube. What’s more, every addition will get you proteins, fibre, minerals, antioxidants, omega-3 and much more. Tip: If you are allergic to seeds, then combine a half teaspoon of baking powder, one tablespoon of vinegar and one tablespoon of water, and use in place of an egg. Details: Pick up chia and flax seeds at Brown Tree, 45022210

Go fruity
In your cookies, replace half a cup of sugar with an equal amount of apple sauce. Or soak raisins, figs, dates, apricots or any other dried fruits overnight, blend and use as a liquid sugar substitute (reduce the remaining liquid ingredients accordingly). Details: 45022210

Butter me right
2Don’t think we are barking up the wrong tree if we say avocados and prunes are great substitutes for butter. Puréed avocados—with their heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids—have almost the same consistency as butter. “You cannot make out the difference if you replace all of the butter in a recipe with the neutral-tasting purée,” informs Raja. But she warns that since butter has a smidgen more fat, you may need to use a little extra purée to get the right consistency.
In dark baked treats, add prune puree (blend ¾ cup of prunes and ¼ cup of boiling water, and substitute in equal amounts) to halve the calories and fat. Tip: If fruits are not your thing, try some silken tofu (rich in protein and calcium) in a one-to-one ratio. Details: Pick up avocados at Nilgiris (42139840) and prunes at Nuts ‘n’ Spices (28268180)
Nut result

Many of you may try to walk the slippery path of healthy desserts by introducing whole wheat or soy flour into your batter, but we say go the whole hog. Why don’t you get creative with your cake mix and give almond flour a try? “I make my dulche de leche cakes with all almond flour and the result is a decadent treat,” says Linu Paul, a home baker. This gluten-free switch will also give your cakes a healthy dose of proteins and omega-3, besides imparting a delicious nutty flavour. Tip: You might want to increase the amount of rising agent (about 1/2 teaspoon per cup of almond flour added) to make up for the extra weight. Quinoa flour is great too, but cut it with an equal portion of your regular flour. Details: Pick up a kilo of California Almond Flour (Rs.3,236) at in.evitamins.com

Egg facts
For those who like their eggs, we say stick with them—just ditch the ones sourced from battery cages and choose free range instead. According to a Mother Earth News survey, the latter contain twice as much omega-3, three times the vitamin E, seven times more pro-vitamin A beta-carotene, a quarter less saturated fat and a third less cholesterol. Pick them up at Vaer Organics,  9444667070

Sugar rush
There are several options when it comes to going healthy with the sweetener. The most common: substituting white sugar with muscovado or unrefined brown sugar. With benefits like iron and minerals, it is much sweeter than regular brown sugar. Honey (benefits that include ‘energy booster’) is a great option, too. Use three quarters of a cup of honey for every cup of sugar and get more nutrients for your calories. Agave nectar, with its low glycemic index (sweetness that won’t spike your blood sugar levels), is another good pick.
Tip: Sometimes, cutting the sugar (almost half in some cases) and adding an extra teaspoon or so of vanilla extract can give just as much flavor. But this needs some testing to get the ratio right. Details: Pick up agave nectar (Rs.630 for 360 ml) at Annai Organic and Naturals, 9443206790

Beet story
If you are baking brownies, how about replacing half of the butter or oil with an equal amount of cooked and pureed black or cannelloni beans. It cuts calories and gives a boost of proteins. And while you are at it, replace a quarter cup of sugar with two-thirds of a cup of finely-grated raw beetroot—to get both sweetness and added moisture.

Beyond frosting
Dark-chocolateFat in the frosting needn’t be a downer. Replace the cream with evaporated skim milk (one-to-one swap). While it might have a tad more sugar (two grams more), it will get you a significant drop in fat. Or melt some bittersweet chocolate with low-fat milk and drizzle over. Another fat-free option—serve warm fruit purée for a side of sweetness and a serving of antioxidants.

It’s not just the season to be merry, but also the season of excess—of gifts, parties, cakes and, of course, calories. From the rich plum to the decadent spiced chocolate cakes, there’s always way too much on offer and too little will to say no. But taking a page from cooks like Nigella Lawson (and her gluten-free treats like the Gorgeously Golden Fruit Cake), we give the much-maligned cake a healthy twist by elevating it to a source of good cholesterol, antioxidants and hi-fibre. Don’t believe us? Check out our alternative baking ingredients before you slip on your oven mitts this season.

By Surya Praphulla Kumar

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