As a chef, low-fat, low-calorie cookbooks were always the ones I walked straight past in the bookstore. It’s not because I don’t want to eat healthily—like everybody else, I have to watch what I eat. But after trying a few of them, it seemed all the fun bits had been taken out. The food tasted like cardboard and had the texture of sawdust, and that seemed especially true of so many low-calorie and low-fat baking books.
I have inherited my mother’s sweet tooth and I also just love to bake, so the option of having only one sweet treat a week—as many books suggest—is just never going to work for me, even though I am a firm believer in the 90-percent-good, 10-percent-bad rule when it comes to eating. So, when I was approached about writing a book, this seemed like the perfect one to start with. It means I can bake to my heart’s content without risking an expanding waistline.
I have to admit, however, it has been a huge challenge. I didn’t want to do what many cookbooks do and simply replace butter with margarine, make the portions the perfect size for a mouse or cut out all the sugar and fill the recipe with artificial sweeteners instead. You can do that without my help with any cake recipe in any book. But these alterations change the texture beyond all recognition, the results lack flavor and the cakes are full of chemicals.
Instead, I started to think about reducing the amount of butter without cutting it out altogether, and looked for other sources of moisture for the cakes. Fruit purees have been a revelation, because they add natural sweetness and moisture to sponge cakes. In a plain vanilla cake, for example, a lot of the flavor comes from the butter, so big, punchy flavor-boosters are also needed. Spices like star anise and cinnamon and herbs like lemon thyme fill the flavor void often created when you go low fat.
In traditional recipes, all sponges cakes have the same texture, but one of the bonuses in this book is that adding low-fat yogurt, grated apple or pureed pears means the texture of each cake is different. Some are light and fluffy, others are rich and sticky—but they are all delicious.