What does the word dessert mean to you? What images do you see when you hear the word dessert? Do you visualize healthy dessert ideas or desserts loaded with sugar? Are you reminded of happy childhood memories and a loving family? More importantly, when you eat dessert how does dessert make you feel? Satisfied? Guilty? Out of control?
By definition, dessert is just a course that concludes the main meal. But we all know that dessert is much more than that. Some people crave it and can’t go to bed without it. Others try to avoid it like the plague, knowing that indulging in one scoop of ice cream means that the whole carton will be gone before dawn.
Many doctors, dietitians, and weight loss plans simply tell you to avoid all sugar, sweets, and desserts. Others tell you to go ride a bike, take a hot bath, or go read a good book instead of thinking about or eating dessert. Maybe this is why so many diets fail.
Our yummy dessert recipes focus on healthy dessert ideas that we have made over to lower the calories and to use healthier ingredients. You can find all our tasty dessert recipes in our Desserts & Sweets Category on Your Daily Food Choices blog.
Plan for Dessert Instead of Banning It
Rather than spending so much energy trying to strengthen your willpower or learning to master your cravings, why don’t you just plan on eating a healthier dessert? Yes, yummy and sweet desserts like puddings, cheesecakes, tortes, crisps, cobblers, cookies, brownies, popsicles, and more.
What did you say? Eat dessert? Yes, but a qualified yes. Trust me; you don’t need to keep desserts totally off limit. Now I wish I could tell you that you can eat as many beloved brownies, cookies, cakes, and pies topped with decadent ice cream as you want.
I also wish we all were blessed with the world’s greatest genetics and everything we ate was converted into mind-boggling energy instead of fat. But we all know this is not possible.
Dessert is not a dirty word
What I am saying is that dessert is not a dirty word. Also, desserts don’t have to contain large amounts of refined sugar and unhealthy fats to taste great and more importantly, satisfy your sweet cravings.
I am also saying that you don’t need to eat traditional desserts every day. You can plan for when to eat desserts and you can make them a special part of your life. You can control the portion you eat. Complete food withdrawal and total restriction is never a sound plan unless you suffer from a life-threatening allergy.
Here is the honest truth. Nowadays, we are not eating as many desserts and sweets as we have in the past. We both grew up enjoying dessert after dinner every day. My mother was a superb baker. She never took a homemade cake or pie to a church social that wasn’t completely devoured. And luckily for me, she taught me those precious baking skills.
When we do eat dessert, I have modified the recipe to make it healthier and lower in calories. And we might eat smaller portions.
Highly refined sugars and unhealthy fats are bad
However, we do view highly refined sugars and unhealthy fats as the enemy. And unfortunately, traditional desserts are loaded with these ingredients. That’s why our tasty dessert recipes have been lighted-up and given a healthy makeover.
We use natural sweeteners like honey and organic maple syrup as much as possible. Plus we also use some coconut sugar, molasses, Stevia, and Swerve.
We use coconut oil or grass-fed butter as primary fat choices when baking.
What happens when you eat too much sugar? Unfortunately, unless you are active enough to burn it off, your body stores it as fat. Yes fat. And yes, you will continue storing all excess sugar as unhealthy fat until you adjust your body’s energy requirements.
What are Traditional Desserts and Sweets?
Ranging from basic to bold, desserts come in various sizes and shapes. They consist of a wide range of eye appealing textures and mouth-watering flavors.
Desserts are usually sweet containing one or more sugar products, honey, molasses, maple syrup, or corn syrup. Other common ingredients are flours or starches, fats, dairy products, eggs, spices, and flavorings.
Fruit is also commonly found in desserts because it adds natural sweetness. Other common additives are nuts, dried fruits, and of course chocolate. Looking for a dessert for a special occasion or as a finishing to your weekday meal? Check out the following options, one or more are sure to please. And of course, look for healthy dessert ideas for each option!
Ambrosia is a unique kind of fruit salad. Most ambrosia recipes call for pineapple, mandarin oranges, coconut, bananas, maraschino cherries, miniature marshmallows, and nuts. The fruit is mixed with whipped cream, sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese, or pudding. The salad is refrigerated for several hours or overnight before serving.
Betty or Brown Betty
Apple Brown Betty is the most popular kind of betty recipe. Other fruits like peaches, berries, pears, or a combination of are often used. A betty is commonly made from cubed wheat bread, sliced apples, butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Once baked it is often served with ice cream, whipped cream, or a lemon sauce.
Brownies are flat chocolate delights that are usually made without baking powder or baking soda. Brownies may contain little or no flour and they are loaded with yummy cocoa. They are often sprinkled with powdered sugar or topped with a chocolate frosting.
Blondies are a variation of brownies that are made with brown sugar and vanilla. Blondies usually contain chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, but no melted chocolate or cocoa so they can keep their blonde color.
Cakes are defined as sweet tender breads made with sugar and flour. The flour may contain gluten or be gluten-free. Cakes range from airy sponge cakes to dense fruit cakes. Common flavorings include nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruits, extracts, cocoa, and chocolate.
Cakes are sometimes filled with fruit preserves, sauces, or creams. They are usually topped with a frosting, icing, glaze, drizzle, or granache. Cake is often served as a celebratory dish like birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. Small-sized cakes like cupcakes and petits fours are very popular as they are so easy to serve.
Classic popular flavors and types of cakes:
- Angel food
- Black forest
- Burnt sugar
- Cherry chocolate
- Devil’s food
- German chocolate
- Italian cream
- Lemon blueberry
- Peanut butter
- Pineapple upside-down
- Red velvet
Three of the most popular types of homemade cakes are Bundt cakes, layer cakes, and rectangular cakes.
Easy to make, a Bundt cake is a cake that is baked in a round Bundt cake pan. Bundt cakes are relatively new as the Bundt cake pan did not exist until 1950. Because of the unique fluted design of the Bundt pan, these cakes are absolutely beautiful when glazed and presented on a beautiful serving platter!
More time-consuming to make, a layer cake is a cake consisting of multiple layers (two, three or more layers) which are held together by frosting or filling. Layer cakes are the loveliest of all the cakes. They are usually covered with a sumptuous frosting. Sometimes the sides are left unfrosted so the baker can show off the fillings and the number of layers.
Popular at picnics and church social functions, a rectangular cake is a cake that is baked in a rectangular cake pan. While rectangular pans may vary in size, the most popular size is a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan. Rectangular cakes are the easiest cakes to make and for the most part, they are not removed from the baking pan. They are very easy to refrigerate and to transport to that special social occasion. Frosting is a cinch as you just spread the frosting evenly on top of the cake!
Candies are sweet foods made with sugar or syrup as their primary ingredient. The most popular homemade candies are fudge, divinity, caramel, cherry cordials, marshmallows, truffles, bark, and toffee. Homemade candies are popular as gifts and are perfect for entertaining large crowds.
Cheesecakes are sweet desserts that consist of one or more layers. The main and thickest layer is usually made with softened cream cheese, eggs, and sugar. The bottom layer or crust often consists of crushed graham crackers or cookies and butter. Cheesecake is often topped with fruit, whipped cream, sauces, nuts, chocolate granache, or chocolate syrup.
Cheesecakes come in many fabulous flavors and styles:
- Carrot cake
- Dulce de leche
- Key lime
- New York
- Peanut butter
Cookies are baked goods that are small, flat, and sweet. They are usually made from flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, baking soda, and butter or another type of fat. The flour may contain gluten or be gluten-free. Other ingredients are added for flavorings like nuts, chocolate, dried fruits, extracts, chopped fruits, spices, oats, fruit juices, shredded vegetables, or fruit zest.
Cookies come in many shapes and sizes. The most common are round, square, or cut into bars. Cookies are often frosted or glazed to add more sweetness.
Common homemade cookie flavors:
- Butter pecan
- Chocolate chip
- Chocolate marshmallow
- Fig Newtons
- Iced oatmeal
- Iced sugar
- Peanut blossoms
- Peanut butter
- White chocolate chip
Crisps, Crumbles, and Cobblers
Crisps and crumbles are sweet fruit desserts that are baked with a crunchy streusel-like topping of brown sugar, flour, and butter. Crisps have oats in the topping and crumbles do not.
Cobblers have a biscuit topping on the fruit. All three are easy to make and usually contain less sugar than other desserts like cakes and cookies. They are often topped with whipped cream, milk, or ice cream.
Popular crisps, crumbles, and cobblers:
- Strawberry Rhubarb
Custards are cooked mixtures of milk or cream and egg yolks that are chilled or frozen before enjoying. There are three types of custards. Basic custards are thickened by only egg yolks. Starch-thickened custards have flour or cornstarch added to aid in thickening. Gelatin-set custards use gelatin to give more structure and need chilling to set.
Deep-fried desserts have been popular at state fairs for many years. Who hasn’t enjoyed a crispy funnel cake? You can deep fry almost anything ranging from Cadbury crème eggs to bananas, cookies, watermelon, ice cream, candy bars, and even Coca-Cola. Don’t make these sugary creations a habit as they are very high in calories.
Traditional popular fried sweet options:
- Doughnut Holes
- Fruit Fritters
- Fruit pies
Frozen desserts are most popular during the hot summer months, but are often enjoyed anytime of the year. They are made by freezing liquids or semi-solids like flavored water, fruit purée, milk, cream, or custard. Solid ingredients such as nuts, chopped fruit, chocolate chips, or candies are added for crunch and flavor.
Ice cream is the most popular of all the frozen desserts. Many freezers are stockpiled with cartons of decadent ice cream. If a tasty scope or two is too boring, you can make visual appealing banana splits and sundaes. Or hop into the car and go buy a soft serve option including shakes, malts, or blizzards. Yes, we Americans love our ice cream.
Popular frozen options:
- Frozen custard
- Frozen pies
- Frozen yogurt
- Ice cream
- Ice cream cakes
- Ice cream sandwiches
- Ice pops
- Shaved ice
- Snow cones
One of the simplest and most refreshing desserts is seasonal fresh fruit. It’s hard to beat the taste of fresh sliced strawberries or peaches, especially if you combine them with raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries. Add a little sweetener, let the fruit set for a few minutes until the fruit turns syrupy, and devour.
Of course, you can make more elegant fruit desserts and you certainly can include fruit in other desserts like cakes, cookies, pies, and ice creams to name just a few.
Stunning fruit desserts:
- Baked apples
- Bananas foster
- Caramel apples
- Chocolate dipped strawberries
- Frozen bananas
- Frozen sugar-coated grapes
- Fruit compote
- Fruit sundae cones
- Grilled peaches
- Minted melon balls
- Pineapple boats
- Poached pears
- Stewed prunes
Gelatin desserts are made with plain gelatin or a premixed gelatin blend with additives like sweeteners. Other ingredients like water, fruit juices, nuts, fruit, cream cheese, other cheeses, or whipped cream are added for appearance and flavor. The most popular premixed gelatin products sold are Jell-O and Royal. They can very easy or quite elaborate to prepare.
Chilled gelatin desserts are sold in delis, grocery store salad bars, store refrigerator aisles, and cafeterias. They are often served as unmolded multi-layer creations made spectacular from decorative molds. Gelatin shots or shooters, which have rum, vodka, or tequila used in place of some of the water, are often served at adult celebratory occasions.
Mousse is a lighter and fluffier version of pudding. Mousse gets its lighter and airy texture by folding whipped egg whites and or whipped cream into the base mixture. Mousses are sweet when served as a dessert or savory (meat, fish or vegetable) when served as an accompaniment to a main dish. Mousses are not cooked like puddings.
Traditional dessert mousses:
- Coconut cream
- Peanut butter
- White chocolate
Rich, cold parfaits are layered desserts served in attractive tall glasses. They are elegant in presentation but are usually easy to make. The layers are ice cream, yogurt, pudding, fresh fruits, canned fruit, whipped cream, crushed cookies, broken pieces of cake, granola, or gelatin. Oatmeal parfaits are tasty and filling for breakfast.
Pies are defined by their flaky crusts. While they can be savory (meat or pot pies), sweet pies are the ones served as desserts. A two-crust pie has a fruit filling in between the bottom and top pastry crust. Filled pies only have a bottom crust and are filled with fruit or pudding. Cream pies are great examples of pudding filled pies. A top-crust pie has the filling in the bottom of the dish and is covered with a crust.
Pie crust is traditionally made with flour, salt, shortening (or lard or butter), and cold water. However, filled pies may have a crust made from graham cracker or cookies crumbs and butter. Pies are served straight from the pie pan or dish. They can be made into individual or multiple serving sizes.
Pies are often served with toppings like ice cream or whipped cream. Pies are easy to store and easy to carry to social events. Nothing is more American than a delicious piece of apple pie.
Popular sweet pies:
- Banana cream
- Black bottom
- Brown sugar
- Butterscotch cream
- Chocolate cream
- Coconut cream
- French silk
- German chocolate
- Key lime
- Lemon meringue
- Peanut butter
- Strawberry rhubarb
- Sweet potato
- Triple berry
Sweet pudding, the most common type of pudding, is made from a mixture of milk and sugar that is thickened with cornstarch or arrowroot during cooking. Some recipes use other thickeners like rice, tapioca, chia seeds, or gelatin.
Another popular and entirely different pudding is bread pudding. This delicious creation is made from slices of bread baked together with fruit and or dried fruit, sugar, eggs, milk, spices, and extracts.
- Key lime
- Peanut butter
Shortcake is a dessert made from a biscuit or scone, topped with syrupy sweetened fruit, and whipped cream. The cake base may also be sponge cake or angel food cake. The berries are typically strawberries although any sweetened berry is delicious.
A tart is a filled baked dish that only has a bottom crust, baked in a pan with shallow sides. The tart pan usually has a removable bottom so the tart can be unmolded before serving. A tart can also be baked in a pastry ring that sets on top of a baking sheet. Any type of pie can be prepared as a tart.
A torte is rich multi-layered cake-like dish that may be filled with whipped cream, fruits, jams, puddings, or mousses. Tortes are usually baked in a springform pan so the sides or ring can be removed before the torte is served. They are commonly topped with a glaze or ganache and are often decorated with candies or nuts.
Tortes are heavier in texture than cakes as they are made with little or no flour, using finely ground nuts or breadcrumbs in its place. Tortes are round in shape and are shorter in height than cakes. Elegant tortes are often made with a liqueur for decadent flavoring. Tortes make any special occasion more memorable. Chocolate is the most popular torte.
A trifle is an elegant multi-layered dessert made with fruit, sponge cake (or angel food or other cakes) that may be soaked in sherry or sweet wine, custard or pudding, and topped with whipped cream. They are then decorated with fruit, nuts, or chocolate curls.
Trifles are served directly from tall and wide glass dishes that are often fluted. A trifle makes a gorgeous dessert for any special occasion. They are often served for Christmas, Easter, or 4th of July gatherings.
- Banana split
- Black forest
- Boston cream
- Candy cane
- Caramel apple
- Carrot cake
- Chocolate banana
- Chocolate mint
- Coconut cream
- German chocolate
- Italian cream
- Lemon mousse
- Oreo brownie
- Peanut butter cup
- Pecan pie
- Pina colada
- Raspberry peach
- Red velvet
- Tiramisu berry
- Turtle cheesecake
- White chocolate
Basic Baking Terms and Skills
To become a great baker, you need to understand and master a few basic baking terms and skills that many dessert recipes include in their instructions. Most of these are easy to learn and with a little practice you will soon be performing these actions with ease.
Here are the most common terms you will find in baking recipes:
Alternate refers to adding wet and dry ingredients in rotation, ending with dry.
Many cake recipes call for adding dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with liquid ingredients. This means that you start with 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then add 1/2 of the wet ingredients, then another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then the remaining 1/2 of the wet ingredients, ending with the remaining 1/3 of the dry ingredients.
In baking, you want to avoid as much as possible the formation of gluten, which inhibits the rise of the cake when baking. If you follow the alternating dry and wet instructions, the first batch of dry ingredients you add gets coated with the fat, both from the butter or shortening and the fat in the egg yolks. The fat interferes with the formation of gluten. You end with dry ingredients to take up any available moisture in the batter.
Chop means to cut into fine pieces with a sharp knife or other tool. The size is specified if it is critical to the outcome of the recipe.
When chopping nuts, chop until pieces are uniform in size about 1/8 inch or 1/4 inch in diameter. You can do this with a chef’s knife, a small hand turned nut chopper, or a mini-food processor.
Chunk means to cut or break into large pieces with a sharp knife or other tool. The size is specified if it is critical to the outcome of the recipe. As in break chocolate into small chunks or cut butter into large chunks.
Cream means to work one or more foods until smooth and creamy with a spoon, spatula, or mixer by rubbing the food against the sides of the mixing bowl until of the consistency of cream. Most often the term cream is expressed as cream butter or cream butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Creaming is essential to creating a fluffy and tender baked good with delicate crumbs.
Creaming incorporates air into the butter or vegetable shortening to give the baked good a light texture. When creaming butter, use room temperature butter or butter that has been softened. Same applies if creaming cream cheese. If using an electric mixer to cream, use medium speed. Excessive speed can damage the air bubbles and melt the butter, resulting in a loss of volume and a recipe that’s too dense.
To force out by pressing or squeezing as in crushing berries to squeeze out the juice.
Drain refers to withdrawing or drawing off liquid gradually as to drain the liquid from a can of pineapple or from thawed berries.
Drizzle means to pour in a fine stream as in drizzle melted chocolate over the top of a cake, brownie, cheesecake, or torte.
Grate means to rub hard-textured food against a grater to reduce to fine particles. Grating works best with firm foods like carrots, ginger root, or hard cheeses.
Grate carrots across the medium surface of the grater. Grate ginger root across the finest surface. To grate food, grip the grater with one hand and the food with the other hand over a chopping board. Pull the food in a rapid upward and downward motion across the surface of the grater. Continue until you have enough grated quantity per measurement called for in the recipe.
Invert refers to turning upside down as in invert the cake so it can be removed from the pan.
For example, when inverting layer cakes, let the cakes cool for ten minutes before removing from their pans. Carefully run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Invert cake and pan onto a wire rack. Slowly remove the pan (cake is top down on the rack).
If cake pan does not want to lift off the cake, tap the pan with your fingers and shake the pan gently. Once pan is removed, place another wire rack on top of the cake. Invert again so cake can finish cooling with the top up.
To invert a Bundt cake, let the cake cool for ten minutes before removing from the pan. Using an up-and-down motion, carefully run a knife around the edge of the cake (both outside edge and tube edge) to loosen cake from the pan. To remove the cake, place a large serving platter over the Bundt pan. Hold the platter in place and invert both the pan and the platter. The cake should drop unto the platter. If not, hit the pan sharply on countertop and invert again.
Mash means to reduce to a soft, pulpy mass by crushing or applying pressure with an object like a fork or masher as in mashing bananas.
Melt means to transform a solid into a liquid by applying warmth or heat as in melting butter, coconut oil, or chocolate.
The best fail proof way to melt chocolate is in a double boiler. If do not have this piece of equipment, you can “make” one. Find two pots (or one pot and one stainless steel or glass bowl) that are different sizes. One pot or bowl needs to be able to sit inside the other without touching the bottom.
Fill the larger metal pot about 1/3 full with water (you do not want the water to touch the bottom of the smaller pot or bowl). Place the larger metal pot on the stove and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the temperature so that the water simmers. Place the smaller pot or bowl inside the larger one. Place the chocolate into the smaller pot or bowl. Continue to simmer the water until chocolate is melted.
You can also melt chocolate in the microwave or on in a saucepan on the stove. But be careful. It is easy to scorch or curdle chocolate when melting it in a microwave or saucepan.
Paring refers to cutting off the outer coating or layers as in pare an apple. When paring fruit, in addition to the peel, you also need to remove the stem and seeds.
To plump means to make dried fruit round and full of flesh by soaking, as in plump raisins or prunes.
Raisins or other dried fruit can become hard in a short time once the package or container is opened. Hard raisins can be easily salvaged by plumping which enhances their flavor and increases their juiciness.
The quickest way to plump raisins is in the microwave. Measure the amount of raisins the recipe calls for and put them in a microwave safe bowl. Pour just enough water or fruit juice over the raisins to just cover them. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and slit a few times to allow for ventilation. Microwave the raisins on high for 30 to 45 seconds, depending upon the amount of raisins. Remove and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes.
You may also plump raisins on the stove. Place the raisins in a small saucepan, just covering with water or fruit juice. Heat over medium heat until liquid just begins to boil. Remove from heat, stir and let set for 5 to 10 minutes. Be sure to drain the plumped raisins before adding to the recipe.
To reserve means to hold back or save for future use as to reserve drained juice from thawed frozen berries or canned pineapple to be used in the frosting.
Separate refers to removing from each other things previously associated together as in to separate the yolk of an egg from the white.
To separate an egg, place two bowls in front of you on the countertop, one for the egg whites and one for the yolks. If your bowls are different sizes, use the smaller one for the yolks. Crack the egg gently on the countertop or a cutting board, as close to the middle of the egg as possible (or you can crack the egg on the rim of a bowl).
Hold the cracked egg over the bowl you want to collect the egg whites in. Using your thumbs, gently pry or split the eggshell into two pieces or halves. Let the yolk settle in one half of the shell while the egg whites run off or drain into the bowl below.
Gently transfer the egg yolk back and forth between the two eggshell halves, letting as much egg white drip into the bowl as possible. Be careful not to break the yolk. Place the egg yolk in the second bowl. You now have a separated egg!
Simply repeat the process for however many separated eggs the recipe calls for. If you are whipping the egg whites, as you separate the eggs one by one, transfer each separated egg white into a larger bowl. This way if you break a yolk, it will not break into all the egg whites you’ve separated.
It’s also a good idea to do this for the yolks, break into one bowl and transfer to another bowl. Occasionally you will come across an egg that is bad and needs to be thrown away. By always transferring to another bowl, you will only lose the one bad egg. If you get a piece of eggshell in the separated eggs, remove it with a spoon.
Shred means to use a knife, shredder, or food processor with shredding disk to cut food into long, thin strips as in shred carrots.
Shift means to separate the fine from the coarse particles by passing dry ingredients (such as flour, cocoa, or powdered sugar) through a fine-mesh sifter. Sifting incorporates air to help make dry ingredients lighter.
Snip refers to cutting, clipping, or separating with short, quick strokes as in snip dried apricots or dates with kitchen shears.
Soften means to make a cold solid soft or softer (but not melted) as in soften butter or cream cheese.
You can soften butter or cream cheese by letting the item sit out at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. You can also soften butter in a microwave, but be careful, as it’s easy to overheat the butter. Use 50% or less power and short intervals of time. If butter is too soft and runny, it won’t cream properly.
Stick a knife into the butter to see if it’s soft. Don’t assume that if the butter is still holding its original shape that it’s not soft. If the butter begins to melt, the structure that creates the little air holes in baked goods will be lost and your recipe won’t rise as high. The texture will also not be as tender. The same applies to cream cheese.
To sour means to render a liquid to have an acid taste as to sour milk.
Soured milk or buttermilk is a food product produced when milk is acidified, giving the milk a tart taste. To achieve acidification or souring, add an acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice to milk.
Many cake recipes call for buttermilk. However, if you are like me, you never have buttermilk on hand when you go to make a cake. To make 1 cup of sour milk, pour 1 tablespoon cider vinegar or lemon juice into a glass measuring cup. Add enough milk to equal 1 cup. Stir and let the mixture stand for 10 to 15 minutes while mixing the rest of the cake. The milk should begin to curdle slightly, yielding sour milk to use in place of buttermilk.
Toast means to brown by exposure to oven or stove top heat as to toast coconut.
Toasting coconut brings out a rich, nutty flavor and adds a rich caramel color when decorating cakes, cupcakes, cream pies, or trifles. The coconut can be shredded or flaked and unsweetened or sweetened, which ever the recipe call for. If the coconut is sweetened it browns faster because the sugar content speeds the toasting process. Keep in mind that coconut burns easily.
You can toast coconut in the oven or on the stove top. To toast coconut in the oven, preheat oven to 300F. Evenly spread shredded coconut in a thin layer on a baking sheet. Bake for about 10 to 20 minutes until desired browning. Stir every 5 minutes to make sure that the coconut browns evenly.
To toast coconut on the stove top, spread shredded coconut into a large skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until coconut is mostly golden brown.
Zest refers to the process of obtaining the colored outer peel of citrus fruit to add piquancy or flavoring.
Grated zest is simply the grated rind (outer colored part) from citrus fruits. Zest is used in cooking because the rind holds the precious oils where the flavor resides. Citrus zest from a lime, lemon, or orange adds intense flavor to recipes.
The best and easiest tool to use for zesting is a fine microplane zester grater. To zest, just rub the fruit in one direction against the blade, turning the fruit so that you only remove the peel part (the zest). Do not remove any of the white pith just beneath the peel as the pith is very bitter.
Another tool to use for zesting is a box grater. To zest with a box grater, rub the fruit against the smallest hole side of the grater. Be careful not to rub the fruit down to the white pith.
Accurate Measuring is Crucial
Precise measurements are crucial in baking. A host of problems like dryness, toughness, rubbery texture, and gooeyness can occur is you don’t measure properly. You need to use actual measuring utensils, not spoons or coffee cups that you use for eating and serving.
Measure dry ingredients with metal or plastic measuring cups and spoons.
Measure liquid ingredients with a glass or plastic measuring cup that has a pouring spout and marks along the side of the cup.
How to measure liquid
1 cup milk, melted coconut oil, vegetable oil, or other liquid:
Measure wet ingredients by using a glass measuring cup that has a pouring spout. Pour the milk or oil into the cup. Then bend down so the 1 cup mark on the glass measuring cup is at your eye level. The milk or oil should just touch the 1 cup mark, not be below or above.
How to measure white sugar, flour, and ground items
1 cup coconut sugar, Swerve, or white sugar:
Measure granulated sugar like white sugar by using a metal or plastic measuring cup. Spoon sugar into the cup until the sugar is overflowing. Use the flat edge of a leveling knife or flat spatula and level the sugar with the top edge of the measuring cup.
1 cup whole wheat, oat, rice, all-purpose, cake, or other flour:
Measure flour like granulated sugar. Spoon the flour lightly into the measuring cup. Don’t scoop the flour directly out of its package or canister using the measuring cup. Also, don’t pack the flour. When the flour is overflowing the cup, use the flat edge of a leveling knife or flat spatula and level the flour with the top edge of the measuring cup.
1 teaspoon baking powder, baking soda, or ground spices:
Measure small amounts of powders and spices with a metal or plastic measuring spoon. Do not pack the ingredient in the spoon, simply spoon the ingredient into the measuring spoon. Then level off as for sugar or flour.
How to measure solids and brown sugar
1 cup vegetable shortening:
Spoon shortening into the measuring cup and pack firmly. Level off the top of the shortening. When scooped out, the shortening should hold the shape of the cup and should not have any air pockets.
1 cup packed brown sugar:
Measure brown sugar like shortening. Firmly pack the brown sugar into the measuring cup, level, and unmold. When released, the sugar should hold the shape of the cup.
Seven Golden Success Strategies for Baking
You gain basic baking knowledge by practicing baking. While simple enough to say, this may intimidate you if you are a novice baker. Just like learning to ride a bike, you won’t know how easy baking is until you try. So you burn or under bake your first item or two. Don’t let that scare you off. Google what went wrong and try again.
Here are seven basic baking strategies that are imperative to know in the wonderful world of successful baking.
No 1: The “be prepared” success strategy
The first, and perhaps the number one rule in baking, is to fully understand the recipe and simply follow each and every step. How do you do this?
Before you do anything else, read the recipe all the way through. Make sure you understand all instruction steps. And make sure you have all ingredients and baking equipment on hand before you begin making the recipe.
Once you have read through the recipe, go back to the ingredients list. Pull each ingredient out of the pantry, refrigerator, or wherever you have it stored. Also gather all equipment you need to make the recipe including the exact size baking pan the recipe calls for. Do any prep work, like bringing eggs to room temperature, chopping, softening, or zesting before starting to make the recipe.
If you always follow this procedure, your recipes will turn out better and you won’t panic because you suddenly come across a step you weren’t prepared for. Trust me! Sometimes rules are good!
No 2: The “comma” success strategy
Is there a difference between “1 cup nuts, chopped” and “1 cup chopped nuts”? Emphatically Yes! Understanding comma placement in ingredients can have a huge impact upon the outcome of the baked good.
The first method, “1 cup nuts, chopped”, means that you measure 1 cup of nuts and then you chop them.
The second method, “1 cup chopped nuts”, means that you chop the nuts first and then measure 1 cup of chopped nuts. Now when it comes to nuts, the impact on the success of the recipe is not that great.
However, when it comes to “1 cup flour, sifted” or “1 cup sifted flour”, the impact is huge as there is a big difference in the amount of flour you will be using. The first method, “1 cup flour, sifted” means you measure 1 cup of flour and then sift it.
The second method, “1 cup sifted flour”, means your sift the flour first and then measure 1 cup of sifted flour. With the second method you will have the least amount of flour because the flour was aerated.
The “comma” tip especially applies to the measuring of all dry ingredients and to all chopped ingredients. So, always watch for commas when reading the list of ingredients.
No 3: The “test for doneness” success strategy
You need to test cakes, tortes, bar cookies, brownies, and other baked goods doneness before removing from the oven. A range of cooking times, as 25-35 minutes, is usually provided in the recipe.
Begin checking your baked good at the shortest cooking time, or even a couple of minutes before. The best way to test if you are a wimp like me (I do not touching hot baked goods with my finger) is to use a cake tester or a toothpick.
Either works just fine. Simply insert the cake tester or toothpick into the center of the baked good. If the tester comes out clean or with only a few crumbs clinging to it, the baked good is done. If there is batter or a bunch of damp crumbs clinging to the tester, the baked good needs to bake for 2-4 more minutes.
No 4: The “egg” success strategy
Unless the recipe says differently, always use large eggs when baking. Also, make sure you warm eggs to room temperature before using to obtain the best baking results. This is especially important if whipping egg whites.
Room temperature eggs add more volume and lightness to your baked good batter and thus your finished product. Remove eggs from the refrigerator and let warm on the kitchen counter for at least 30 minutes. If you forgot to do this, simply place the eggs in lukewarm water for 10 minutes before using.
No 5. The “oven temperature” success strategy
I will never forget the first time I made my delicious lemon squash muffins when we moved back to Texas a couple of years ago. I had successfully made them several times before so I pulled them out of the oven when the baking time was up without testing them. And to my surprise, they sank! When I saw that, I then tested them and found out they were gooey. Dah! And it was too late for more baking to fix them.
We went and purchased an oven thermometer and discovered that the oven temperature is off by 15 degrees. So when we need 350 degrees F, we need to set the temperature to 365 degrees F. Now 15 degrees does not sound like much, but trust me, it is.
Always keep a working over thermometer in your over and check it periodically to make sure your oven is heating to the proper temperature. Thermometers are inexpensive but priceless to the outcome of you baking masterpiece.
No 6. The “consistency” success strategy
When making a glaze or a frosting for cakes, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, tortes, and other baked goods it is crucial that these toppings have the proper consistency. Make your glazes thin enough to spoon or pour over the baked good but not so thin that the glaze is soupy. You want the glaze to drizzle down the sides of the baked good but not run off.
Mix frosting until smooth and creamy. Frosting needs a medium consistency for easy spreading. If the frosting is too stiff, it will pull up the sides or the top of the baked good, creating a large amount of crumbs. If the frosting is too thin, it will run down the sides of the baked good.
When making a glaze or a frosting, you may need to take control of the consistency. If the consistency is too thick, add a little more liquid, a small amount at a time like 1/2 teaspoon. If the consistency is too thin, add a little more powdered sugar, a small amount at a time like 1 tablespoon.
No 7. The “clean-up” success strategy
After you pop that cake, brownie, torte, pie or other item into the oven to bake, do yourself a huge favor and clean up the kitchen. I know, I sound like a mother hen. But this will help you out a bunch when you start to prepare the filling, frosting, or glaze for your baked good.
What? Keeping a clean kitchen work space is helpful? Yes, indeed!
That’s because inevitably some of the equipment (bowls, measuring cups, spoons) that you used when mixing the baked good will will to use again when making the filling, frosting, or glaze.
Nothing is more frustrating than to go to measure powdered sugar for a frosting only to find all your measuring cups are dirty. And if you are baking cookies, you need all the clean space you can find for the cookies to cool.
13 Tips for Making Decadent Desserts
- For a quick and easy dessert, melt a little dark chocolate. Then enjoy it by dipping lots of fresh fruit like strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, or sliced bananas. This also works well with warmed up natural peanut butter.
- When it comes to baking desserts, develop a “do it right” attitude. Baking demands accuracy and precision, especially when it comes to measuring and assembling the proper ingredients. Unlike other kinds of cooking, such as soups or casseroles, with baking you are not as free to improvise or substitute ingredients.
- Before measuring sticky ingredients like honey or molasses, first coat the measuring spoon or cup with cooking spray. Then just watch that sticky ingredient slide out with ease. Also makes cleanup a snap.
- When buying baking pans, buy light-colored pans with a dull finish. Darker pans absorb and hold more heat which causes the exterior of the baked goods to get too brown or even burn before the inside is done. If all you have is either dark metal pans or glass dishes don’t fret. Simply lower the oven temperature by 25° and start checking for doneness a few minutes early.
- When purchasing a rectangular cake pan, be sure to buy one with a cover for easy transportation and storage of any leftover cake. Many come with a convenient carrying handle.
- Making a recipe that calls for nuts and you are not a nut fan? You can just skip the nuts or try substituting oatmeal or dried fruit for the nuts to help keep the crunchy texture.
- Store flours, especially whole grain varieties, in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer. Be sure to measure out the amount the recipe calls for and bring the flour to room temperature before using.
- Make sure your properly position the oven racks before heating the oven. Baked items like cakes, cookies, pies, tortes, and brownies bake best in the center of the oven and in the center of the rack. If making two batches of cupcakes or cookies, use the middle and lower racks. Never bake on the top rack.
- Always take the time to preheat your oven to the temperature called for in the recipe. Allow up to 15 minutes to make sure the oven reaches the proper temperature. Placing baked goods into an oven that is still heating can cause problems with color, texture, and rise. Get into the habit of setting the oven temperature, first thing, before starting to make the baked good.
- Once your baked good is in the oven, don’t open the oven door until it’s time to check for doneness. Every time you open the oven door cold air rushes into the oven. This causes the oven temperature to drop and interferes with the rise and browning of your baked goods.
- When adjusting oven racks, develop the habit of always using an oven mitt when touching an oven rack. Remember that old saying about an ounce of prevention, that oven mitt will go a long way to protecting you just in case the oven was already turned on!
- Before removing baked goods like layer cakes, Bundt cake, or cupcakes from the baking pan , let them cool for 7 to 10 minutes in the pan. Then remove the item from the pan and transfer it to a wire rack to finish cooling. This allows air to circulate around the baked item and let’s steam escape.
- Always be sure to store pies with cream fillings in the refrigerator. Also, store any desserts with whipped cream frosting, cream cheese frosting, or cream filling in the refrigerator.
Wrapping up on Healthy Dessert Ideas
We talked about planning for healthy desserts instead of banning desserts, which is not a dirty word. We reviewed that highly refined sugars and unhealthy fats are bad for you health. We provided you with an extensive list of traditional desserts. Then we talked about basic baking terms and skills every great baker needs to master.
We discussed why accurate measuring is crucial in baking. Next we listed seven success strategies for successful baking. We ended by giving you several quick and easy tips for making decadent desserts.
There is so much more we could discuss, but now the choice is yours. First you need to decide if you are going to eat dessert or ban it from your household. If the choice is to eat dessert, do you choose to make healthier desserts or enjoy those that made with ingredients that are less healthy? Let us know if you have any questions.
Need more information for healthy dessert ideas? Below are a few articles for you to check out.
Sources and Enlightening Reading
Eat The Damn Dessert by Adam Bornstein from Born Fitness
Sugars, Added Sugars and Sweeteners by American Heart Association
Whats the Difference Between Brownies and Chocolate Cake? By ProFlowers
Blondie or Brownie: What’s the Difference? By The Dellomano Blog
The Rich History of a Favorite Dessert by Cheesecake
History of Cookies – Cookie History by What’s Cooking America
How To Make Perfect Cookies by Allrecipes
Custards by Fine Cooking
What’s the Difference Between Pudding and Mousse? By the kitchn
The Pie Family and All the Cousins: Pies, Tarts, and Everything in Between (or on top of) Pie Crust by Renee Shelton from Pastry Sampler
History of Strawberry Shortcake Dessert by Valorie Delp
Baking Terms – An Online Glossary by PartSelect
Baking Glossary by Home Baking Association
Solutions for Everyday Kitchen Mistakes by Cooking Light
Baking Basics: Top 10 Baking Tips by Sally McKenney at Sally’s Baking Addiction
We Appreciate You!
Thanks for stopping by and letting us share a little about our healthy dessert philosophy.
We are here for you as a guide and as a friend. Let us know how we can help you embrace a healthy lifestyle.
Here’s to lower calorie, great tasting recipes, and living well! And remember, what you eat really matters!
Linda and Steve
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