My husband has a sweet tooth and when we married, I learned a meal wasn’t complete for him without some type of dessert.  Thankfully, he was content with a couple of cookies or an occasional fruit pie to satisfy that sweet tooth. When my children came along, they too enjoyed those cookies – made having to eat peas or spinach something they could get through. They seemed to have survived those cookie years and became healthy adults – who still look for mom’s cookies around the holidays or on visits with us. As my husband and I aged, though, we realized healthy choices were better for us.

No need to skip dessert when you are planning healthy meals.  Fresh fruit can round out a meal and make you feel satisfied.  Sweetened strawberries drizzled with balsamic vinegar or pears baked in a red wine sauce or grilled peaches served with a scoop of frozen yogurt can make you feel you are not missing out on anything.

There are occasions when you want to make a special dessert. My mother made an Italian dessert for birthdays and other celebrations that consisted of a sponge cake with a ricotta filling. This dessert was asked for and enjoyed often in our household.  Of course, an occasional over indulgence cannot be harmful.

When I entertain friends at a dinner party, I like to prepare a special dessert to end the meal, but I don’t want to go overboard on calories either.  I have developed several light recipes for these occasions and, so far, everyone seems to enjoy them and does not realize that they are lower calorie versions of some of the traditional Italian desserts popular in many Italian restaurants. Italians often eat fruit and cheese for dessert,  but some of those classic desserts are cannoli, a pastry filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and tiramisu, a coffee flavored mousse type dessert.

Lightened Panna Cotta

Light Marscapone Panna Cotta


6 servings
  • 3 teaspoons gelatin
  • ⅔ cup plus 3 tablespoons nonfat milk
  • 2 ½ cups fat free half and half
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 whole vanilla beans, split open
  • ½ cup marscapone cheese
  • ½ cup lowfat sour cream
  1. Sprinkle the gelatin over the 3 tablespoons milk and let sit for 15 minutes to soften.
  2. In a saucepan, stir the ⅔ cup nonfat milk, half and half, sugar, and vanilla beans over medium heat until the mixture just starts to boil. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the marscapone and the sour cream until smooth.
  4. Stir the gelatin into the heated milk mixture and stir well for at least 2 minutes or until bits of gelatin are no longer visible.
  5. Pour the mixture through a strainer (to remove any bits of hard gelatin)  into the marscapone mixture .  Whisk thoroughly.
  6. Pour the panna cotta into 6 half-cup molds. Stemmed wine glasses could be used instead. Chill, covered, overnight. Serve with raspberries and garnish with mint leaves or chocolate curls.

Cannoli

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

    Cannoli

  • 2/3 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, drained overnight
  • 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons blanched slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoon mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 teaspoons Amaretto liqueur
  • 4 cannoli shells, purchased
  • 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

In a large bowl, stir ricotta cheese with 1/3 cup confectioners sugar until combined. Add almonds, chocolate chips and almond liqueur.

Carefully spoon into cannoli shells (or pipe from a pastry bag), filling from the center out.

Sprinkle individual cannoli with powdered sugar and cocoa.

Lazy Tiramisu

I call this recipe lazy because it is a quick preparation in comparison to traditional Tiramisu. Many authentic recipes use uncooked eggs in preparing the filling and some recipes call for making a pastry cream.  I really do not want to eat raw eggs and I cannot taste a difference between a cooked pastry cream and the quick fix filling listed in my recipe.  Why do all that work if there isn’t a big difference in taste?  The coffee flavoring in this dessert is the taste that dominates and not the cream filling.  Anytime I can lower the calorie content of a recipe and still have it taste delicious, is worthwhile to me.

Coffee Syrup

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso granules
  • 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

Mascarpone Filling

  • 1 (8-ounce) block fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (3.5-ounce) carton mascarpone cheese
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

Additional Ingredients

  • 24 ladyfingers (2- 3-ounce packages)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 ounce bittersweet chocolate, grated

Directions

To prepare espresso drizzle, combine first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in 2 tablespoons liqueur. Cool completely.

To prepare filling, combine cheeses in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons liqueur; beat at medium speed until well blended.

Split ladyfingers in half lengthwise. Arrange 24 ladyfinger halves, cut sides up, in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Drizzle half of espresso liquid over ladyfinger halves. Spread half the filling over ladyfinger halves, and repeat procedure with remaining ladyfinger halves, espresso liquid, and filling. Combine 1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa and chocolate; sprinkle evenly over top of filling. Cover and chill for 2 hours.

Note: Place toothpicks in the center and in each corner of the dish to prevent the plastic wrap from sticking to the tiramisu as it chills.

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina (Florentine Sponge Cake)

Fat Tuesday is the end of Carnevale and a huge celebration in many parts of the world, particularly in Italy. Two very big festivals take place in Italy, one in Venice and the other in Viareggio on the Tuscan coast. In Florence, children dress up in costumes and throw confetti into the air. At home, they are usually treated to a delicious piece of Tuscan sponge cake, otherwise known as Schiacciata alla Fiorentina. This light and airy dessert is eaten throughout the year but is a favorite around Carnevale. Lighter than American sponge cake, it can be eaten in a variety of ways.

12 Servings

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

  • Zest and juice of 1 orange

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • Powdered sugar, for topping

    Directions

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray..

    Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and orange zest in a mixing bowl.

    In another bowl mix orange juice, eggs, milk, and oil and pour into bowl with flour.

    Beat with a hand mixer until thoroughly mixed together, about 3 to 4 minutes.

    Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes. Test the cake with a toothpick inserted into the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

    Let cool for about 30 minutes on the counter, then turn the cake out of the baking pan. Slice and serve sprinkled with powdered sugar.

    You can make this more elaborate with fresh strawberries and a few tablespoons of sweetened ricotta cheese with each serving.

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