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Chat Leftovers: Oil and applesauce

Admit it: You've always wanted to can preserves or pickles but thought it would be tricky -- or risky. In today's Food section, Jane Black tells you how she and five friends set out to learn how and turned it into a party.

Also in today's section, meet Michael Twitty, a Washington cook whose Rosh Hashanah menu is a blend of Jewish and African American traditions.

Another way to meet Michael Twitty is to tune in to today's
Free Range chat at our new weekly start time of noon. He'll be a guest, ready to help us answer readers' questions. Like this one, a leftover we couldn't get to last week's chat:

Recipe Included

A recent chat reported that it’s possible to use unsweetened applesauce instead of oil in baking. That sounds amazingly wonderful to me, as it would save thousands of calories and drastically lower fat content. Please, please explain how to calculate the substitution, and if there are times when it will not work.

I can explain it, although I've tried it just once, years ago. The strategy has been around for a while and has many advocates. Heloise, for one, is a big fan and has suggested it a few times in her column.

The idea is that unsweetened applesauce can stand in for oil in baked goods because its high liquid content will create a moistness that approximates the effect of fat. It does work to some extent (I made decent zucchini bread with it, and I've consumed plenty of applesauce-laced treats baked by others), but there are caveats. The substitution is more effective for cakier foods such as brownies. muffins and quick breads, but not for cookies (though bready, caky cookies fare better than flat, crispy ones). Also, I'm told that you're better off trying this as a substitute for oil, not butter. And finally, I don't care what anyone says: Most of the time, taste and texture WILL be affected. It's up to you to decide whether the effects are acceptable.

Many cooks suggest a straight swap of 1 part oil to 1 part applesauce. Others recommend that you start by subbing applesauce for half of the oil, then seeing if you like it and increasing the applesauce quotient until you reach the point of diminishing returns. The latter idea makes more sense to me; it's less risky, and you'll salvage some of the taste and mouth feel that oil provides. Even if you get rid of just half of the oil, you'll be ahead of the game.

In case you're not big on experimenting, here's a recipe that won't require any. This moist, delicious-looking devil's food cake is made with a cup of applesauce and no oil. Without frosting, it weighs in at just 219 calories per slice; with frosting, a slice has just 316 calories and -- I am not making this up -- 1 gram of fat.

-- Jane Touzalin

Devil's Food Cake With Fluffy White Frosting

12 servings (Makes one 10-inch cake)


For the cake
Fine dried bread crumbs
1 2/3 cups flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting
2 large egg whites
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-cup (10-inch) tube pan or Bundt pan with nonstick spray oil and coat with fine dried bread crumbs.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium mixing bowl, stirring until well combined.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the egg whites and buttermilk, just to combine. Add the brown sugar, mixing well, then the wet ingredients one at a time -- applesauce, corn syrup and vanilla extract -- whisking to incorporate after each addition. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the egg white-buttermilk mixture and gently stir to combine. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted midway between the side of the pan and the central tube emerges dry. Cool the cake on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then invert and unmold it to cool on the rack completely. (At this point, the cake may be wrapped well and frozen for up to 1 month.)

For the Fluffy White Frosting: Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk by hand just to incorporate. Set the bowl over a saucepan with an inch or so of barely boiling water and whisk gently until the egg whites are hot (140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer) and the sugar has dissolved. Transfer the bowl to the mixer and, using the whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until the icing has cooled (it doesn't have to come all the way down to room temperature) and has increased in volume.

To finish the cake, slide it onto a cardboard round or a platter and use an offset metal icing spatula to spread and swirl the icing all over the outside of the cake.

By Jane Touzalin  |  September 8, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags: Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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