I remember the first time I used mashed banana in a recipe. I was in college and on a nutrition kick, but I still loved to bake. I read about how replacing some of the sugar with mashed banana was a good way to make cookies healthier, so I gave it a go. Although the cookies did have a slight banana flavor, it wasn’t overwhelming. I also noticed the cookie itself was more voluminous, and the texture was more soft and moist than the thin, crispy, and crunchy cookies I had made in the past.
Since then, I now frequently bake with fruit and vegetable purees, and I have gotten more adventurous with the kinds that I use. Pure pumpkin, avocado, applesauce and sweet potato are all examples of ingredients you can incorporate into your Healthified recipes to increase the moisture, volume, and natural sweetness of your baked goods. If you are baking gluten-free and/or primarily plant-based, here are all the ways that fruit and vegetable purees could take your recipes up a notch.
Adds moisture and volume. Fruit and vegetable purees are wonderful ways to add moisture and volume to your baked goods. This purpose becomes most apparent in confections such as cakes and cupcakes. In traditional baking, these baked goods rely heavily on gluten for their moisture, consistency, and structure, so replacing them with purees is a great option. Depending on the recipe, you will want to choose an ingredient that best aligns with the flavor profile you are going for. For example, applesauce might not be the best choice for a chocolate cake, but avocado is amazing in chocolate recipes. Not only is it more neutral, but it also adds a silky, smooth texture, which is something you think about when baking a chocolate cake. Applesauce would be a great ingredient in a morning glory muffin or even a vanilla cupcake. See how that works?
Acts as a binding agent. Purees are elements that act as a binding agent in your Healthified baked goods. Especially if the recipe is vegan, or you are baking without eggs, they help hold ingredients together while also locking in moisture.
Lends natural sweetness. Decreasing the sugar content is a tenet in Healthified baking, so it is a good thing that nature provides a replacement in the form of sweet fruits and vegetables. This substitution also has the added benefit of blood sugar balance, since these foods also bring fiber to the table. Mashed banana might be what people think about most, but there are so many more: think pear, pineapple, and berries. And let’s not forget about sweet vegetables; their sugars caramelize when cooked. Mashed or pureed sweet potato or butternut squash are amazing options. For example, I love baking brownies with sweet potatoes and blondies with butternut squash. Know that there will be a difference in consistency and flavor if you were to cook and mash a sweet potato at home, versus buy pureed sweet potato in a can. The recipe should denote which one to use. While it might be more of a process to do it yourself, consider it a labor of love! The real deal yields better results.
Enhances flavor. To piggyback off of the blurb above, in addition to natural sweetness, fruit and vegetable purees offer their own unique flavors to a baking recipe. Some examples that come to mind are applesauce in carrot cake, pear in chai muffins, banana in chocolate peanut butter brownies. While these baked goods would still be delicious without the aforementioned ingredient, they add an extra layer of flavor for a more complex profile.
Increases nutrition. This goes without saying, but fruit and vegetable purees are an excellent way to add nutrition to your baked goods. In today’s wellness world, traditional baked goods are synonymous with a lack of nutrition, and one could even go so far and say they are “nutrition negative.” In other words, wheat-based sources of flour and white sugar create inflammation in the body, while the metabolism of sugar depletes the body of nutrients. Healthified baking works to bridge the gap between nutrition and baked goods. While I do believe traditional treats have their place, there can be the best of both worlds! Upgrading ingredients – like the incorporation of fruit and vegetable purees – allows you to enjoy baking in a healthier way.
Offers allergen substitutions. The purposes that fruit and vegetable purees play in baking means they “crowd out” other ingredients one may be intolerant to. For example, if someone is allergic to eggs, wants to cut back on added oil, or must go gluten-free for health reasons, purees mimic certain properties of these traditional ingredients so you can still enjoy your treats.