Saturday, 8 January 2011

Baking without Butter

My baking is either going to become very dull, or more interesting, over the next few months, and I'm not sure which direction it's travelling in yet.

CT (Chief Tester, my son) has discovered that he has raised cholesterol levels. He's far too young to be tested as a routine event, but it's suspected that Hubs has the inherited form of high cholesterol levels, so his doctor advised that our children should be checked too. CT has no other risk factors for strokes or heart attacks - he's thin, doesn't smoke at all or drink a lot - so instead of starting on lifelong medication while still in his 20s, his doctor wants him to try a diet containing less saturated fat, for three months initially.

This doesn't mean a lot in terms of everyday meals - they can easily be adapted where necessary, and we eat fairly healthily anyway. CT's downfalls are a love of cheese, a tendency to eat a lot of meat (even at breakfast), and not being very fond of fresh fruit. I can do something about the first two, if not the last!

Baking is the major problem, of course - CT expects a piece of cake or a few homemade cookies as dessert every evening and perhaps more during the day at weekends. Obviously I can't carry on using massive amounts of butter in things I am cooking primarily for him, but it doesn't seem fair to expect him to cut out baked goodies altogether.

So the search is on for adequate replacements for butter. Olive or vegetable oil is the most obvious substitute, and the place where I chose to start. Finding recipes using oil isn't hard - knowing which sources I can trust may prove more difficult!

I started with this recipe for Fudgy Brownies from; brownies are one of CT's favourite cakes/desserts and this recipe had lots of good reviews - far outweighing the bad ones. It also used cocoa instead of chocolate, so would be even lower in saturated fat. The recipe was simple to follow and was mixed in just one bowl, so it was easy on the washing up too. I cooked the batter in a slightly smaller pan (8 x 12"), but it was still cooked in the recommended time, and made brownies which were the perfect height for me.

It's hard to define what was wrong with these, but they were a little below the 'very good' mark. The crust was fragile and very sugary; the flavour was OK, but had no depth - I think that a recipe using chocolate might give better results. The texture was the biggest problem I think -  it looked moist and fudgy but didn't feel that way in the mouth - in fact it was crumbly and on the dry side rather than fudgy. Also the texture wasn't firm and dense as you'd expect with a good brownie - they felt quite fragile when handled - as if a hard squeeze would collapse them to  nothingness. Overall, a worthy attempt, but I'm sure I can find better recipes.

If you have any tried and tested baking recipes with a low saturated fat content, which CT might like - remembering how fussy he is (not carrot cake, nor too much dried fruit) - please leave a comment and link, or contact me via my gmail address. Ideally I'm looking for recipes which will keep a few days, rather than things like fat-free sponges which need eating quickly.


Les rêves d'une boulangère (Brittany) said...

I have to be careful with the amount of butter I use in my baking goods too. My father had high cholesterol in 2009 (now its managed). Unforunately butter is generally where the flavour is. I think vegetable oil is the best alternative. Let me know if you find any amazing low cholesterol recipes! I guess I'll keep checking back on this post.
I've got one lemon cupcake recipe which is great

You have to be careful because many oil based recipe increase the eggs..and they contain cholesterol too!

As for chocolate cakes, this one was good but again...not as fantastic as full on butter based cakes

Suelle said...

Thanks Brittany - I'll be following up those links.

The latest medical thinking is that the natural cholesterol in eggs (and some other foods) doesn't affect our blood cholesterol levels, so it's no longer necessary to cut down on eggs if high cholesterol is a problem - one less thing to worry about!

Chele said...

Tough call on the baking front. For health reasons (ie sheding pounds!) Hubby and I are on restricted diets after this weekend too - not going to be easy at all! We'll trial it together ;0)

C said...

I'm afraid I have no recipe recommendations for you, but good luck in your quest, and what a shame for the CT to have more restrictions on his diet.

Celia said...

Suelle, I'll keep an eye out for you. At first instance, I'm thinking that maybe recipes like carrot cake might be good? You could substitute a decent monosaturated oil, plus there are carrots and walnuts in the recipe. Also, we often make Dorie Greenspan's yoghurt cake, which uses oil instead of butter:

Finally, I believe very dark choc has a positive effect on cholesterol levels:

Suelle said...

Thanks, Celia - the yogurt cake looks just the sort of recipe I need!

Chele - we're hoping a low saturated fat diet will help the whole family. ;)

The KitchenMaid said...

Hi Suelle, there are lots of recipes floating around the web that use pureed prunes or apple in place of butter, which might help? I have a few on my blog but they are quite fruity. There's a great vegan blog called PeaSoupEats ( that might be a source of inspiration too. Good luck, I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Suelle said...

Thanks, Kitchenmaid - I'll check out your blog and the link to the vegan site.

Paulthebread said...

Hi Sue

Have you thought of making your son some fancy breads? You can make loads of these without any fat:

Chelsea buns
Spicy fruit buns
Baked jam doughnuts
Iced buns

To name but 4!

Of course you can put a little olive oil in these breads to improve them a little, but it's not necessary.

I can give you loads more ideas if you need them - but I'm sure you don't.

Best wishes, Paul

Suelle said...

Thanks Paul - yeasted doughs had crossed my mind, but my past results with yeast have been variable, to say the least! I must put in more effort!

snowy said...

Sue, I've made this Rachel Allen cake several times and it uses sunflower oil instead of butter. She uses butter in the butter icing for filling, but it doesn't have to be filled.

Suelle said...

Thanks, snowy - I'm building up quite a collection of recipes to try now!

Choclette said...

For the we should cocoa thing, I've made a fatless cake which I think is really nice BUT it has squash in it, so if CT doesn't like carrot cake he may not be too impressed with this either. I'll be posting it in the next few days. Apple butter is also meant to be a good substitute for butter if you fancy spending a few hours over the stove stirring.

Suelle said...

I'll look out for your post, Choclette. Chocolate can disguise a lot of things which wouldn't be acceptable on their own! ;)

Anonymous said...

Get the red velvet and chocolate heartache cake by Harry Eastwood. No butter in any cakes she substitutes veg. The best cakes i have ever made!

Suelle said...

Thanks for that recommendation, Anonymous. I already have a good chocolate and beetroot cake recipe, but I'll look out for some of her other recipes.