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Fresh fruit purees can replace oils in cakes
The baker adds green coloring to the chocolate leaves. The fresh, local and organic foods and purees make the baked good a little healthier. - photo by Photos by Savannah King

Despite the fact that no celebration is complete without a cake, the stuff generally isn’t healthy. But if you’re going to indulge in a celebratory slice this holiday season, reduce your guilt by making it a little bit healthier.

Nikola Spivey has learned a few tricks to do just that during the past nine years of baking unique cakes in her home-based Clermont bakery, NikolattaCakes.

Spivey, who is studying nutrition at the University of North Georgia, said some people think her cake-baking and academic studies are "counterintuitive." But she makes it a point to make her cakes healthier by substituting organically grown and local products for oils.

Whenever fresh fruits are available, Spivey said she purees organic fruits from local farms to use in her recipes in place of fatty oils. She keeps a large jar of unsweetened organic applesauce on hand for times when local fruits are unavailable.

The purees, Spivey said, make only a subtle difference in taste and tend to make the texture much moister. The measurements will be same for oil and purees but bakers can replace just half if they prefer.

"Even if you’re working out of a box cake, a lot of things can be replaced," Spivey said. "Especially the oils. That has all the transfats when you’re making a cake. People will put whole milk or cream in their icings and it makes it so much creamier, but you can always get away with skim milk or lower-fat milk or if anything, just go with fresh local milk."

Spivey explained purees can even be added to icing, as in the case with a three-tiered pumpkin-spice-latte inspired wedding cake she recently made. The icing includes organic pumpkin puree to bolster the flavor.

Leslie Davis, bariatric weight management dietitian for Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said a number of ingredients can be substituted in recipes to make otherwise unhealthy dishes more nutritious.

"It can become a lot healthier," she said. "Some people will modify a box mix. It’s not as healthy as using everything from scratch, but they can replace the oil with a fruit puree or replace the egg with an egg white or flax seed. (Box mix) is kind of a timesaver but obviously from scratch you’re going to get more fiber and probably a lot more nutrients."

Davis suggested replacing chocolate chip cookies with items such as nuts or raisins and topping desserts with fruits and light Cool Whip or yogurt instead of icing.

A word of caution when altering recipes for the better: Practice making the recipe before the day of the event.

"Do not try something for the first time on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day," Davis said. "Because when you modify a food and start playing around with it, it’s going to change the consistency."

Spivey said it’s important to manage baking time well because recipes don’t always turn out as expected. When in doubt, Spivey suggests turning to the Internet for assistance. Countless recipes with ingredient substitutions are available online.

While the cake has been baked with good health in mind, Spivey and Davis agree moderation is, as always, key.

"It’s still cake," Spivey said, smiling. "It’s still not going to be totally healthy for you, but if you’re going to eat it and you’re going to celebrate with it, that’s the next best thing."