Not that I have ever actually aspired to be a food writer for a mainstream newspaper or periodical, but occasionally I see an article that really brings home the truth that I could never cut it in that job.
The most recent was an article just before Christmas in a national paper. It was a question from a reader who 'loves to bake for family and friends during the holiday season.' Her problem was how to make healthier treats without losing great taste. The food columnist had several suggestions.
First was reduce the amount of sugar by half. The problem with this is reducing the amount of sugar will change the moisture of the end product. Since sugar is is hydrophilic (Latin for 'loves water'), it hold moisture making baked goods softer with a smoother mouth-feel. The amount of sugar, depending on what you are making, can affect browning and texture. So blindly reducing the amount of sugar can dramatically affect the end product. My suggestion - Bake half as much and put out half as much for people to eat.
The next two suggestions were to replace sugar and fat with puréed fruits such as bananas, apples, pears, etc. As noted above, sugar contributes to flavor, texture, moistness and mouth-feel. Fat also contributes to mouth-feel, as well as affecting browning and texture in other ways. Fat inhibits the formation of gluten in flour, which helps produce the correct cake-like texture. It also influences the spread of cookies and their crispness. Unless a recipe is specifically formulated to use mashed up fruit, using it to replace sugar or fat can be a disaster. Again, my suggestion would be to bake half as much and put out half as much for people to eat.
Following these was to use evaporated milk to replace cream. OK, I will agree to this one for some applications. For others, the taste of evaporated milk may change the flavor. Still, healthwise, I prefer bake half as much and put out half as much for people to eat.
Same thing for replacing eggs with ground up flax. Have you ever tried this? I have. The results can be just plain nasty. And again for replacing flour with puréed beans. The mind boggles at the 'atmosphere' as friends and family sit around after supper gorging on bean-based Christmas dainties.
For every suggestion the writer had, I heard my inner voice say "Bake half as much and put out half as much for people to eat." I would much sooner have a small taste of an excellent treat than a platter full of Dietarily Correct but ultimately unpalatable ones.
So there you have it. Instead of 30 column inches of fluff, I would have submitted one sentence. It wouldn't sell a lot of papers.
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