Enlightened Desserts Image Gallery
Enlightened Desserts Image Gallery

Not all cakes are bad for you; some can be quite nutritious. See more pictures of enlightened desserts.

©iStockphoto.com/fotofrog

The words "health" and "cake" aren't often uttered in the same sentence. Take pound cake, for instance -- one pound each of butter, sugar and flour, topped off by half a dozen eggs. Ingredients like butter, shortening, chocolate and heavy cream all make the cake taste great, but can end up forever on the hips. But there's a growing movement in bakeries all over the United States to try to bridge the gap between health food and yummy baked goods. Walk into any modern urban bakery and you'll find sugar-, gluten- and dairy-free cakes, pies and cupcakes right alongside their full-fat counterparts. Many of these recipes simply cut down on the fattening stuff, but some actually include ingredients that can make your dessert a healthy part of your meal.

Ingredients

At the heart of most healthy baked goods recipes is the replacement of fattening, high-calorie ingredients with low-cal and fat-free substitutes. Even if the goal is to bake a healthy cake, you'll want it to look and taste as much like the classic recipes we all know and love. Simply switching out certain ingredients like artificial sweetener or a natural fruit for sugar can be applied to any cake recipe to help take off a few fat grams and calories. Applesauce is commonly used as a replacement for oil in baking recipes. Some recipes can use egg whites or egg substitute instead of the yolk. If you go the egg white route, just make sure to add enough to compensate for the volume of the missing yolk.

Toppers

The cake part packs enough caloric punch with all of the sugar and butter, so adding frosting full of sugar or cream cheese can push it into calorie outer space. One way to avoid this is to find some good recipes for low-fat and low-cal icings. An even better option is to ditch the frosting altogether and opt for a healthier topping. Fresh fruit is naturally sweet and when paired with a light whipped topping, it can make a delicious alternative to traditional icing. Strawberries are great options for chocolate or vanilla cakes. Crushed pineapple is good with a light angel food cake. Apples baked with cinnamon are another delicious option. Healthy nuts like walnuts are a good topper with low-fat whipped cream.

Variations

Most people agree that the mildly sweet angel food cake is about the lightest option for a standard cake recipe. Carrot cake typically gets a nod as well, with walnuts, carrots and a lack of chocolate. But in certain recipes, carrot cake can have as much sugar, butter and cream as your average chocolate cake. With a little ingredient substitution, virtually any cake can be reborn as a healthy alternative. In 2009, the American Cancer Society commissioned a healthy cake baking contest. The winning cakes used ingredients like dried cherries, roasted beets, blueberries, applesauce and whole-grain flour to create classics like red velvet and chocolate [source: Parker-Pope].