4 healthy-ish bakes to satisfy your sugar cravings

    Published: 10 November 2021. Written in by Lauren Clark.

    Looking for a sweet treat that’s not a complete nutritional disaster? We’ve got you covered with these brilliant bakes.

    It’s the season for crunching through fallen leaves, cosying up in front of the fire and enjoying something sweet and freshly baked (blame it on the approaching finale of The Great British Bake Off). As the nights draw in, there are few things more cheering than rounding off a warming dinner with something spongy and sugar-coated, before potentially curling up with a second helping in front of Prue, Paul et al later on.

     The good news is that science supports the idea that this is something worth savouring. A UK study published in 2014 found that eating dessert together as a family can help to boost happiness, as well as positive family interactions and memories.

    However, there’s no getting away from the fact that many sweet treats won’t always make you feel your best. They can cause your blood sugar levels to quickly rise and fall again (known as a sugar crash), provide ‘empty’ calories with few nutritional benefits, and ultimately leave you feeling unsatisfied. But it is possible to enjoy a sugar fix that will fuel you with slow-release energy to see you through the festive season, and provide a nutritional top-up to boot.

    Image credit Rhiannon Lambert.

     And who better to serve up this welcome baking wisdom than Rhiannon Lambert, registered nutritionist and author of upcoming book The Science of Nutrition: Debunk the Diet Myths and Learn How to Eat Responsibly for Health and Happiness (available from 30 November). Lambert explains there’s no reason not to indulge as part of a healthy, balanced diet – you just need to keep an eye on portions and make some easy ingredient swaps. 

    ‘Forgoing white flour in favour of other types, such as wholegrain, spelt, barley or oat, is a simple way to boost fibre content,’ she suggests. ‘Another way to increase fibre – and reduce the sugar and fat – is to use prune or apple purée, or mashed banana, instead of sugar or oil. And when a recipe calls for chocolate, use dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. Not only is it lower in sugar, but it’s also high in blood sugar-lowering polyphenols and provides iron and magnesium.’

     Here, Rhiannon shows how you can have your cake and eat it with four sweet recipes that are healthy-ish upgrades on classic bakes. Enjoy!

     

    Pumpkin banana bread

    Image credit Rhiannon Lambert.

    Tired of the banana bread that powered you through successive lockdowns? This variation provides a seasonal twist for your taste buds, plus an added glowy benefit. ‘Pumpkin is high in vitamin C, which is a key nutrient for healthy skin,’ says Lambert. ‘The bananas are packed with potassium and magnesium, while the buckwheat flour ups your fibre intake.’ Sounds sweet.

     Ingredients

    For the bread:

    • 3 overripe bananas
    • 3 eggs
    • 220g pumpkin purée
    • 65g coconut sugar
    • 2 tbsp maple syrup
    • 120ml vegetable oil
    • 345g buckwheat flour
    • ½ tsp baking powder
    • 2 tsp baking soda
    • ½ tsp ginger
    • ¼ tsp allspice
    • ¼ tsp nutmeg
    • ¼ tsp vanilla powder

     For the icing:

    • 115g light cream cheese
    • 3 tbsp icing sugar
    • pecans, for topping

    Method

    1. Mash the bananas and put in a bowl with the eggs, pumpkin purée, coconut sugar, maple syrup and vegetable oil.
    2. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and use a spoon or mixer on low to combine.
    3. Line a large loaf pan with a piece of parchment paper and fill about ¾ of the way with the mixture. (If your pan isn’t large enough, you can make two small loaves, or use the extra mixture to make some muffins.)
    4. Bake in at 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 for 40-50 minutes (20 minutes for muffins), or until a toothpick stuck into the middle of the loaf comes out mostly clean.
    5. Take the loaf out of the pan and place on a cooling rack. When completely cooled, add the frosting and top with pecans. Slice and serve.

     

    Raspberry almond brownies

    Image credit Rhiannon Lambert.

    Brownies are another baking staple that’s ripe for a nutritious upgrade. ‘Almond flour is particularly high in vitamin E and magnesium,’ says Lambert. ‘Additionally, milled flaxseeds (also rich in fibre) contain the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, which helps promote normal blood cholesterol levels. Finally, almond butter is not only delicious, but it also provides a lot of fibre and protein.’ Tasty and satisfying.

     Ingredients

    • 30g milled flaxseed
    • 180ml water
    • 120g ground almonds
    • 75g unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 325g caster sugar
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 120g almond butter
    • 40g almonds
    • 120g raspberries

     Method

    1. Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 and line and prepare a 9in x 9in square baking tin.
    2. Mix the milled flaxseed with the water to create ‘flax eggs’, and leave to stand for 15 minutes until thick.
    3. In a bowl, combine the ground almonds, cocoa powder, baking powder and caster sugar.
    4. In a separate bowl, add the vanilla extract, almond butter and flax eggs. Whisk until combined.
    5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Carefully fold in 20g of the almonds and 60g of the raspberries.
    6. Spoon the batter into the baking tin and use the back of a spatula to create an even surface that goes right into the corners. Top with the remaining almonds and raspberries.
    7. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven when the middle is still slightly wobbly, as this will harden as it cools.
    8. Leave to cool completely before cutting into 16 pieces.

     

    Blackberry crumble muffins

    There are few cold-weather activities more comforting than tucking into a pillowy muffin. This recipe has a surprising, but nutritionally advantageous, ingredient: Greek yoghurt. ‘It’s a great way to up the protein content, and it’s also high in calcium, potassium and B vitamins,’ notes Lambert. ‘There have been studies that suggest a link between consuming yoghurt and good heart health, as well as healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. What’s more, it gives a creamy, moist texture that’s perfect for cakes, brownies and cookies.’ Just make sure you choose natural Greek yoghurt at the supermarket.

    Ingredients

    • 100g unsalted butter, softened
    • 140g soft light brown sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 150g natural Greek yogurt
    • 250g plain flour
    • 1 tsp cinnamon
    • 2 tsp baking powder
    • 2 eating apples, cubed
    • 100g blackberries
    • handful of granola

     Method

    1. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6 and line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.
    2. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs and yoghurt and mix until combined.
    3. Gently fold in the plain flour, cinnamon and baking powder, being careful not to over-mix. Finally, stir through the apple and blackberries. Divide the mixture between the muffin cases and top each one with a sprinkling of granola.
    4. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until golden and a cocktail stick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Enjoy warm or cold.

     

    Caramel biscuit bars

    Image credit Rhiannon Lambert.

    Finally, something entirely different: making your own ‘caramel biscuit bars’, a much-loved British delicacy (and as seen in Bake Off episode 7). ‘It’s not only fun, particularly if you have children, but you also know exactly what’s going into the recipe,’ says Lambert. ‘When you buy a chocolate bar, they can be packed with emulsifiers and agents to keep them fresh. Research has shown that certain areas in the brain light up when you eat ultra-processed foods, and your body can become addicted to them – meaning you go back to eat more. By baking from scratch, you avoid additives, which hopefully means you won’t eat so many, which will be better for your health in the long run.’ Smart.

    Ingredients

    • 250g plain flour
    • 75g caster sugar
    • 175g butter, at room temperature
    • 300g soft caramels
    • 2 tbsp double cream
    • 600g milk chocolate, for coating

     Method

    1. Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 and line a square baking tin with parchment paper.
    2. Start by making the shortbread base. Combine the flour and sugar in a bowl, then use your fingers to rub in the butter, until the mixture resembles rough breadcrumbs. Gently knead into a dough, being careful not to overwork it, then press it into the base of the baking tin, using the bottom of a glass to flatten it into one even layer. Bake for 18-21 minutes, or until firm. Leave to cool completely.
    3. To make the caramel, remove the soft caramels from their wrappers and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Add the cream, then microwave in 20-second bursts, stirring between each one, until the mixture is melted, glossy and combined.
    4. Pour the caramel over the cooled shortbread and smooth out into an even layer, then freeze for an hour, until firm.
    5. Melt the chocolate in the microwave, or over a bain-marie. Remove the caramel-covered biscuit from the freezer and chop into bars (it helps to dip your knife into just-boiled water before making each cut). Dip each one in the chocolate, using two forks, then lay on a tray lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with a little extra chocolate, then chill in the fridge until set.

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