Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

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Lighter Baking Techniques

Fruit purées like applesauce or mashed banana (or even vegetable purées made from pumpkin, carrots, and sweet potatoes) make muffins and other baked goods tender and moist while allowing you to reduce the overall fat and sugar in the recipe. Normally it’s fat that helps baked goods stay moist, because it surrounds the starch granules and protects them from gluten development, locking in moisture. But the pectin in fruit and vegetables does essentially the same thing, making it possible to cut back on the fat in a recipe without sacrificing moisture. Fruit purées also provide sweetness, so you can add less sugar to your batter.  A fast track for making baked goods healthier is to use oil instead of butter, lard, or shortening. That’s because oil is unsaturated fat (“good fat”), while butter, lard, and shortening are mostly saturated fats (“bad fat”). For muffins, quick breads, coffee cakes, and even pancakes, trading all the solid fat for oil works perfectly.  You want baked goods to be healthy, but you don’t want them to taste healthy. By using half whole-wheat flour and half all-purpose, you get the antioxidants, fiber, and essential minerals of the whole grain, but you also hold onto the tender lightness produced by white flour. 

Avoid Overbaking

Reduced-fat baked goods tend to bake more quickly than those made with full fat. If left in the oven too long, they can become dry. If you’ve lowered the fat significantly, try lowering the oven temperature by 25° and/or check the product for doneness a few minutes before the end of the usual baking time.
A toothpick test does not always work with reduced-fat baking. Instead, look for lightly browned edges that are beginning to pull away from the pan. Cakes should spring back when gently pressed in the center.
Success in lower-fat baking comes from trial and error, so don’t be afraid to experiment. And don’t try to lighten up a recipe too much. After all, a cake or quick bread that serves 12 people and contains only 1/4 cup of oil and 1 or 2 eggs is already pretty light!

Use these guidelines to make some of your favorite sweets more healthful.

1. Use fruit purées to cut down on fat and sugar.Purées work best in recipes that already have a fruit or vegetable element, like banana bread, carrot cake or blueberry muffins.

Try substituting 1 cup purée for 1/4 cup of the butter or oil in your recipe; taking the sugar down by 1 or 2 tablespoons., depending on the sweetness of the purée; and reducing the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup.

2.Swap solid fat with liquid fat.

In other words, instead of butter or shortening, use oil. If a recipe calls for 1/4 cup butter, use 1/4 cup oil instead.

This works best for moist sweets like muffins, quick breads, coffee cakes, and pancakes, where you can substitute all of the solid fat with oil.

3. In most bakery recipes (muffins, cakes, cookies, coffee cakes, bars, brownies, nut breads, etc.) you can substitute whole wheat for two-thirds or one-half the white flour called for.

Compared to 1/4 cup of white flour, each 1/4 cup of whole-wheat flour adds 3.5 grams of fiber and various phytochemicals, and doubles the amount of magnesium and selenium.

The extra fiber helps slow digestion and increase fullness.

4. In most bakery recipes, you can reduce the sugar called for by one-fourth– and sometimes by one-third —without a big difference in taste and texture.

For example, instead of adding 1 cup of sugar, you can add 3/4 cup or you can use an alternative sweetener approved for use in baking.

This cuts the calories from sugar by 48 calories for every tablespoon of sugar you take out or replace with a substitute.

5. In many bakery recipes, you can cut the fat ingredient (butter, margarine, shortening, or oil) in half.

In other words, if a cake recipe calls for 1 cup of butter or margarine, you can usually use 1/2 cup instead. Remember to replace the missing fat with a similar amount of a moist but healthy ingredient (fat-free sour cream, orange juice, low-fat yogurt, applesauce, etc.).

This change cuts both fat and calories, since each gram of fat translates into 9 calories as opposed to 4 per gram for protein or carbohydrate.

6. Cook with reduced-fat or fat-free products when available — and when they taste good.

Try fat-free sour cream, fat-free half-and-half, reduced-fat cheeses, light cream cheese, light mayonnaise, extra lean meat without skin or visible fat, reduced-fat or light sausage, less-fat turkey bacon, light salad dressings, and light margarine for frosting.

Many cut calories and saturated fat along with total fat. Fat-free sour cream and half-and-half, chicken broth, wine, strong coffee, fruit purees, and fruit juice add moisture, and sometimes flavor, to recipes where you aren’t using a lot of fatty ingredients.

7. Extra ingredients and embellishments can often be removed or cut in half.

If a recipe calls for chocolate chips, you can use less. If it calls for dotting your casserole or pie with butter, you can skip this step. In a cake recipe, you can use half the original amount of frosting (in a double-layer cake, just frost the top and middle and forget the sides).

In some cakes, bars, and cookies, you can skip the frosting in favor of a light sprinkling of powdered sugar. Using 2 tablespoons of frosting instead of 4 will shave 130 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and 2 grams of saturated fat. Each tablespoon of chocolate chips you skip cuts the calories by 50 per serving, the fat by 3 grams, and the saturated fat by almost 2 grams.

8. Replacing a whole egg with egg white or egg substitute can be a good nutritional savings, especially if you are watching your cholesterol.

One whole egg contains 5 grams of fat and 210 milligrams of cholesterol. The equivalent amount of egg white or fat-free egg substitute contains no fat and no cholesterol.  

Eggs help to bind batters and also have leavening properties. Egg yolks provide fat, which contributes to the fine, tender texture and color of baked goods.

Egg whites are a drying and leavening agent. If more than one egg is called for in a recipe, consider replacing some of the whole eggs with egg whites or egg substitute.

For best results, combine whole eggs with egg whites or egg substitute. In a lower-fat recipe, too many egg whites will make a baked good dry and rubbery.

Here is a good guide to keep in mind:

  • 1 large egg = 2 large egg whites
  • 1 large egg = 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1 large egg white = 2 tablespoons egg substitute

Italian Cream Cake

This layered cake is the perfect dessert for a birthday or special dinner party because it is moist and full of flavor from the chopped pecans and cream cheese frosting. Yield: 20 servings (serving size: 1 slice)

Cream Cheese Icing:

Yield: 2 2/3 cups


  • 1 tablespoon light butter
  • 1 (8-ounce) package Neufchâtel ( 1/3 less fat) cream cheese
  • 1 (1-pound) package powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract



  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup lowfat buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon butter extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 egg whites (at room temperature)


Prepare Cream Cheese Icing; cover and chill.

Coat bottoms of 3 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray (do not coat sides of pans); line bottoms of pans with wax paper. Coat wax paper with cooking spray, and dust with flour; set aside.

Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine 2 cups flour and baking soda; stir well. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in pecans and extracts.

Beat egg whites at high speed of a mixer until stiff peaks form (do not overbeat). Fold egg whites into batter; pour batter into prepared pans. Bake at 350° for 23 minutes. Let cool in pans 5 minutes on a wire rack. Loosen cake layers from sides of pans using a narrow metal spatula, and turn out onto wire racks. Peel off wax paper, and let cool completely.

Place 1 cake layer on a plate, and spread with 2/3 cup Cream Cheese Icing; top with another cake layer. Repeat with 2/3 cup icing and remaining layer, ending with cake. Spread remaining icing over cake.

Nutrition Facts: 1 slice equals 297 calories

Italian Chocolate-Chestnut Torte

10 servings

Purchase chestnuts in syrup, or marrons glacés, and the chestnut flour at a well-stocked supermarket or gourmet food store or order online. If making torte up to 1 day ahead, cool, cover airtight, and chill.

  • 2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon rum 
  • 1/4 cup chestnut flour or all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup chopped chestnuts in syrup, drained, or marrons glacés
  • Cookie crust (recipe follows)
  • Powdered sugar
  • 8 to 10 whole chestnuts in syrup, drained, or marrons glacés (optional)


1. In a large microwave-safe bowl, heat chocolate in a microwave oven on full power (100%) until soft, about 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.

2. To chocolate, add mascarpone, ricotta, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, egg yolks, rum, flour, and chopped chestnuts; stir until well blended.

3. In a bowl, with a mixer on high speed, beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and continue to beat whites until they hold stiff peaks. Gently fold whites into cheese mixture; scrape into cookie crust and spread level.

4. Bake in a 350° oven until filling is firm when pan is gently shaken and springs back when lightly touched in the center, about 30 minutes (20 minutes in a convection oven).

5. Cool on a rack about 20 minutes. Run a knife between cake and pan rim; remove rim. Let torte cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes; proceed, or chill airtight up to 1 day.

6. Sift powdered sugar over torte. If desired, decorate top with whole chestnuts spaced evenly around rim.

Cookie crust

In a food processor or blender, whirl about 45 vanilla wafer cookies (6 oz. total) until finely ground. Pour crumbs into a bowl and add 3 tablespoons low-fat margarine, 1 tablespoon each honey and rum, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon; mix well and press evenly over bottom and 1 inch up sides of a 9-inch cake pan with removable rim.


Nutrition Facts: 1 slice, Calories: 248

Ricotta Semifreddo

“Semifreddo” is an Italian term that refers to any number of frozen or chilled desserts. This recipe is for a frozen orange-scented mousse made with ricotta cheese.
Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1 slice)

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup fat-free milk
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange rind
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 ounces fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (16-ounce) container part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
  • Fresh orange sections (optional


1. Line a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, milk, honey, orange rind, vanilla extract, 1/8 teaspoon salt, cream cheese, and ricotta in a blender; process until smooth. Pour the mixture into a large bowl. Pour cream into a medium bowl, and beat with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/4 cup whipped cream into ricotta mixture, then, fold in the remaining cream.
2. Spoon mixture into prepared loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap, and freeze at least 8 hours or until set. Remove semifreddo from freezer, and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Discard top piece of plastic wrap. Invert loaf pan onto a serving platter, and tap to remove semifreddo. Discard the remaining plastic wrap, and slice semifreddo crosswise. Serve with orange sections, if desired.

Nutrition Facts:Calories: 226

Cherry Tortoni

If you don’t have 3-inch ring molds, which look like round cookie cutters, use smooth-sided mini charlotte molds with removable bottoms. Or you can freeze the mixture in a 9-inch springform pan and cut it into wedges for a more homey presentation.

Yield: 10 servings (serving size: 1 [3-inch] tortoni and 2 1/2 teaspoons sauce)

  • 2/3 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto (almond-flavored liqueur)
  • 1 (12-ounce) package frozen pitted dark sweet cherries
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 12 vanilla wafers
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Dash of salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 (8-ounce) container frozen reduced-calorie whipped topping, thawed

1. Combine 1/3 cup sugar, amaretto, and sweet cherries in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and cook 10 minutes or until sugar dissolves and cherries are soft, stirring occasionally. Combine 1 tablespoon water and cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring until smooth. Stir cornstarch mixture into cherry mixture; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Spoon cherry mixture into a bowl; cover and chill 1 hour. Strain mixture through a sieve over a bowl and reserve. Cover and chill juice.

2. Place almonds and wafers in a food processor; process until coarsely ground.

3. Combine remaining 1/3 cup sugar, cream of tartar, salt, and egg whites in the top of a double boiler. Cook over simmering water until a thermometer registers 160° (about 6 minutes), stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat. Beat with an electric mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Spoon whipped topping into a large bowl. Gently fold one-fourth of egg white mixture into whipped topping; gently fold in remaining egg white mixture. Fold 1/2 cup almond mixture into egg white mixture; gently fold in strained cherry mixture.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; place 10 (3-inch) ring molds on parchment. Spoon 1/2 cup egg white mixture into each mold; sprinkle the remaining almond mixture evenly over tops. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; freeze 4 hours or until set. Let stand 10 minutes at room temperature. Run a knife around the outside edge; remove from molds. Serve tortonis with the reserved cherry juice.

Nutrition Facts: Calories: 177


Makes 36 cookies


  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) Smart Balance butter blend for baking, melted
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for rolling the dough
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


  • 1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons multi-color sprinkles, for decoration

1. Heat oven to 375° F.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, and eggs until blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until just combined (do not overmix).
3. With floured hands, roll level tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake until puffed and the bottoms are pale golden, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
4. Make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons water, and the vanilla until the mixture forms a thick but pourable glaze (add more water if necessary).
5. Dip the top of each cookie into the glaze and set, rounded side up, on a rack placed over a piece of parchment paper.  Decorate with sprinkles. Allow the glaze to set, about 20 minutes. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Tip: Use a small spring-loaded scoop for easy portioning.

Nutritional Information
Serving Size: 1 cookie, Calories 81

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