“Kate, how would you change this recipe?” asked a friend of mine recently. I am a notorious recipe modifier. I’m usually trying to make my food a bit healthier by increasing veggies or decreasing sugar, or I am improvising because I don’t have the actual ingredients. Even when I try to follow a recipe, I often end up changing it just a little.
So, my friend sends me a Pumpkin Bars recipe to see how I would modify it. The name of the recipe sounded like something I would like. But when I looked more closely at the recipe, I was very disheartened by the amount of oil, sugar and butter! I think it had more added sugar than a usual chocolate cake.
It’s so easy to be fooled by marketing hype. Muffins are a good example of this, often very high in calories but people think they are the healthier option.
Now I have no problems with delicious chocolate cake (with sugar and butter) but when I am cooking for lunchboxes or everyday snacks, I usually want something a little healthier. On special occasions, I often leave recipes alone. If the Pumpkin Bars were a birthday cake, I’d say reduce the sugar just a tad and enjoy but if they were chosen as a healthier afternoon tea or lunch box treat then I would suggest a few changes…
Kate’s tips for recipe changes
Reduce the sugar
You can usually halve the amount of sugar in a recipe without anyone noticing. I try to use 1/3 to 1/2 cup of sugar (or whatever sugar equivalent you are using, such as honey) per batch or loaf (batch to serve 12 or more).
You can try using dried or pureed fruit in place of some of the sugar. Try unsweetened apple sauce or apple puree, an over-ripe banana or using dates in recipes.
Remember honey, agave, rice malt syrup, maple syrup, date syrup are all sugars. Use which ever you enjoy most.
Use a healthier fat
My go to cooking oil (fat), is virgin olive oil, for it’s great health benefits and moistness. For flavour reasons, I do sometimes use butter and coconut oil (but these are less healthier options) .
Go half yoghurt
Yoghurt is great in baking and for salad dressings. If you’re making a creamy sauce or salad dressing, try replacing half of the mayo, butter or oil with yoghurt.
Fibre is great for our gut health, as well as helps keep us fuller for longer. And the good news is it’s not hard to add more fibre into meals.
Add veggies, especially canned legumes and beans, wherever you can. Use wholemeal flour or try half wholemeal flour and half white flour.
Add more colour
Increase the amount of fruit in baking (i.e more bananas in banana bread).
Try adding an extra carrot to the amount the recipe states for carrot muffins or carrot cake.
Take your bolognase sauce, slow cooker chicken casserole or stirfry and reduce the meat a little and add more veg (or canned beans!). Think about colours, is there some green veg? red? yellow or orange? brown or purple? (can be fresh, frozen or canned).
Add nuts and seeds to baking, roast veg, stir fries.
Putting Kate’s tips in to practice
So here is how I changed the Pumpkin Bars recipe and turned it into something that would go into my kids’ lunch boxes. I think it is lucky that I never tried the original version as I did make quite a lot of changes. The original amounts are on the left.
250ml sunflower oil ——— 1/3 cup sunflower oil and 1/3 cup yoghurt
360g brown sugar ————-1/3 cup brown sugar (about 60 grams)
450g can of pumpkin puree ——-1/2 cup pumpkin pureed (this was about the same)
340g plain flour ————— 1.5 cups plain flour, 1 cup wholemeal plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon salt ————— omitted salt
Instead of making the icing , I sprinkled some pumpkin seeds on the loaf before baking. The icing had 120g full-fat cream cheese, 50g butter, 200g icing sugar and 30g desiccated coconut. I could have tried to adjust this but I am usually to lazy to make icing unless it is a birthday.
The recipe was not very sweet but my kids still liked it. Use 1/2 cup sugar if you prefer.
To make, I cooked and mashed pumpkin (you could use leftovers). It is quite a lot of pumpkin. I used half a small Jap pumpkin. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Combine eggs, oil, milk, sugar and pumpkin and beat with electric beaters until combined. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
Grease and line a slice tray or loaf tin with baking paper. Cooking time depends on tray used. The original recipe says 30 minutes (for a slice tray) but I used a loaf tin so it took about 50-60 minutes. Even once cooked it is a very moist cake.
My pumpkin loaf has now been cut into slices and frozen.
Are you a recipe follower or recipe changer? Do you have any recipe tips to share?