Crave: 6 tips for a healthier holiday

photo by: Erin Dooner via Mother Earth News

The holiday dessert table is usually piled high with refined white flour, refined white sugar and plenty of highly processed vegetable oils. Our guide to healthier baking will show you how to replace these ingredients with wholesome versions in ways that boost both nutrition and flavor.

Healthy Baking Substitutions

Replace 1 cup white FLOUR in …

• Any baking recipe: 1 cup whole-wheat flour

• Brownies: 1 cup puréed black beans

• Cakes, cookies, sweet breads: 1 cup nut flour

• Cakes, cookies, pancakes: 1⁄3 cup coconut flour plus 1 extra egg

Replace 1 cup Sugar in …

• Any baking recipe: 1 cup unsweetened applesauce

• Cakes, cookies, sweet breads: 1 teaspoon liquid stevia, or 2 tablespoons stevia powder plus 1⁄3 cup mashed fruit

Replace 1 cup vegetable oil in …

• Cakes, cookies: 1 cup mashed banana

• Dark baked goods: 3⁄4 cup prunes plus 1⁄4 cup boiling water (blended)

• Brownies, chocolate cookies: 1 cup puréed avocado

• Muffins, sweet breads: 1 cup applesauce

Replace 1 cup frosting on …

• Cakes, cookies, cupcakes: 1 cup meringue

Replace 1 cup rice cereal in …

• Treats: 1 cup brown rice cereal plus 2 tablespoons ground flax

Replace chocolate chips or cocoa powder with…

• Raw cacao powder or cocoa nibs

Emmer Pear Spiced Cupcakes

The maple cinnamon almond butter glaze for these cupcakes is so great: There’s nothing to pipe and the frosting is not too sweet. The quantity and quality of this frosting is much more healthful than your typical butter and powdered sugar concoction. As for the cupcakes themselves, a hefty amount of spice makes them an irresistible fall treat. You can use apples instead of pears, if you wish.


2 cups plus 2 tablespoons whole-grain emmer flour, or 2 1⁄4 cups whole-wheat flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves

11⁄2 teaspoons baking soda

1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1⁄3 cup light olive oil

1⁄4 cup unsalted butter or coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons raw sugar or light brown sugar

1⁄2 cup raw sugar or granulated sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 medium peeled pears (about 1 1⁄2 cups), cut into 1⁄3-inch chunks.

For maple almond butter glaze:

1⁄3 cup almond butter

1⁄4 cup maple syrup

3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons coconut oil, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1⁄8 teaspoon salt

Chopped almonds or other nuts, for garnish (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 cupcake pans with paper liners.

2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together dry ingredients (flour through salt). Set aside.

3. In another large mixing bowl, mix together oil, melted butter or coconut oil, sugars, eggs, applesauce and vanilla. Gradually add dry mixture to wet mixture and stir until no streaks of flour remain. Pat chopped pears dry with paper towels, then fold in pears.

3. Fill cupcake liners 2⁄3 full and bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

4. Once cupcakes have cooled, prepare glaze by mixing all glaze ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes or until glaze is the consistency of refrigerated almond butter. Spoon 2 teaspoons of glaze on the center of each cupcake. There’s no need to spread it as the glaze will slowly spread and drip down for a few minutes after you put it on. Store unfrosted cupcakes at room temperature for up to 4 days, or refrigerate frosted cupcakes up to 4 days. Makes 18 cupcakes.

— Recipe adapted with permission from The Sweet Side of Ancient Grains: Decadent Whole Grain Brownies, Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and More by Erin Dooner


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