A new cookbook called The Worry-Free Bakery arrived in Eating...Our Words' inbox the other day. It both promoted the worth of sweet desserts, and promised recipes that were fat free.
Author Kumiko Ibaraki, a former public health nurse who left nursing to go to culinary school, later founding a culinary school of her own, has re-made a bunch of popular recipes to lower their fat.
Sugar, that's a-ok in Ibaraki's book. In fact, as she puts it: "Most people think of sugar as fattening, but it's okay. Your body burns it off fast so it's a safe ingredient to use. Your body can easily break down the sugar and convert it into energy."
She goes on to say that sugar "helps raise serotonin levels in your brain, which helps stabilize your mood.
"So, with that knowledge, be at ease and make as many treats as you want for you and your family."
Okay, seems like maybe we left the planet here (a planet where a whole bunch of hyper, obese kids live), but the photos are great, the instructions clear and the food looks delicious. So we turned the cookbook over to the Houston Press resident master baker, Babbette Sandoval, who a day later showed up with a tray of treats.
"I think they're okay," she said, "but I have to warn you, they do taste healthy."
Which is pretty much what all our amateur tasters from the newsroom said, although there was a huge range of reaction from one extreme - the taster who spit her pastry back into a napkin on second bite and threw it into the trash saying she wouldn't eat that -- to the self-avowed health food eater who pretty much liked it all.
This was the crowd favorite that didn't seem to depart too much from a real (with fat) Florentine. The white cake flour was covered with a mixture of honey, condensed milk and almonds. One asterisk: Sandoval used non-fat sweet condensed milk (which she had on hand) instead of regular sweet condensed milk.
"The Florentines tasted surprisingly somewhat like real Florentines and were the only food in the batch that I could eat without feeling I needed milk, water or extra saliva to wash it down. Two thumbs up."
Your basic apple muffin with chunks of apple but without any oil. Asterisk: Sandoval hand-whipped the batter and thinks they would have been lighter if she'd used an electric mixer as instructed to put more air into them. The paper stuck to the muffins, making it very tough to remove.
"I had one bite of the apple muffins without the apple filling and was not pleased. With the filling, though, these were actually pretty good, probably because you don't need to extract fat and oil from apples."
"The texture of the apple muffins was so unexpected for a muffin. Too unfamiliar. I would not eat those again."
Basic cocoa and flour twists with chocolate icing on top. This is the one recipe Sandoval followed exactly and the least favorite with the tasters.
"It's true that the chocolate twists looked unfortunate, and the cake-part tasted a lot like slightly flavored paper. But the chocolate syrup/frosting was adequate and added enough taste to make this a decent substitute for mindless mid-day munching. You can't expect amazing things from food cooked without oil."
"The chocolate twists taste too healthy and not chocolate enough. I would eat those again if I was on a diet."
And some overall comments:
"I have to say I question the concept of all this. It's true that partially hydrogenated oils and the like make lots of pastries pretty deadly, but we shouldn't be afraid of a little fat, especially if it comes from something like olive oil. As for the idea of eating these all day to speed metabolism -- that's nuts. You're still getting lots of bad carbs from the white flour, unless we used whole wheat flour, in which case, I'm impressed."
"Isn't the use of uncooked egg whites in the frosting for the chocolate twists setting you up for salmonella poisoning?"
"Sorry, but I think desserts need fat, unless it's a sherbet or something. These desserts were hard as rocks and tasteless - I would much prefer fruit to these. And I am a *lover* of sweets."
"Tied the apple muffins and the chocolate twists. They both had good flavor but you could tell that they were a healthier version. The choco twists reminded me of Coco Puffs in terms of flavor. The muffins were certainly sweeter -- but they also were super dense, a little too dense for my personal taste. I would probably not make these recipes, but if I was offered one in the future I would most likely eat it. Not going to search it out though."
By the way, Ibaraki says another benefit of cooking with little to no oil or butter is that it's easier to wash up dishes and utensils afterwards -- no pesky grease clinging to a plate.