Dreading diets? Lighten up on desserts

Arthi Subramaniam
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

If you binged on rich and creamy desserts through the holidays and cannot suppress your sweet-tooth cravings, at least cut the fat some.

Low-fat desserts don’t have to be all meh, and can be creamy, too.

In fact, why go for a fatty version when a little sugar, spices, good quality bittersweet chocolate and half-and-half can create a delicious and silky Snickerdoodle Custard Pie?

Or when the less caloric neufchatel cream cheese and luscious fat-free Greek yogurt can be blended to make a creamy Icebox Key Lime Pie?

Counting calories doesn’t mean deprivation when it comes to sweets.

For a buttery taste and tender texture, butter is required for pie crusts. Butter also contributes to the moisture in a crust and holds it together.

So keep the butter in but reduce the amount used.

You could add some neufchatel cream cheese (one-third-less-fat style of cream cheese) or vegetable oil with the butter to shore up the crust.

Also, do add sugar to a cake, pie, mousse or custard so that the sweetness is not missed but trim the amount.

Acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or zest can elevate the dessert’s flavor and at the same time cut the level of sugar used.

The key is to find recipes with ingredients that please the palate without sabotaging the waistline.

Brown sugar, maple sugar and molasses can replace sugar in some recipes.

Low-fat graham crackers are a good substitute for the regular ones in a pie crust without causing any ill effects and so are egg whites in the place of fatty cream for a fluffy chocolate mousse.

Mayonnaise is a good stand-in for butter and eggs for a moist and velvety chocolate cake.

So resolve not to skip desserts that cut the fat but not the flavor.

Use quality chocolate to enhance the deliciousness of Snickerdoodle Custard Pie.

Snickerdoodle Custard Pie

It has all the charm of a snickerdoodle cookie except that it is in the form of a creamy pie. Good-quality chocolate will elevate the pie to a whole new level.

1/2 of a 15-ounce package rolled refrigerated unbaked piecrust (1 crust)

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, melted

4 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups fat-free half-and-half

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Let crust stand according to package directions. Unroll crust; place in a 9-inch pie plate. Fold under extra crust even with edge of plate; flute edge. Prick bottom and sides of crust with a fork. Line crust with a double thickness of foil.

Bake 8 minutes; remove foil. Bake 4 to 6 minutes more or until crust is lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Spread or brush 1 ounce melted chocolate over the bottom and sides of cooled crust. Let stand until chocolate is set.

For filling, in a bowl lightly beat eggs with a fork. Stir in sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.

Gradually whisk in half-and-half until well combined. Carefully pour filling into crust (crust will be full). To prevent overbrowning, cover edge of pie with foil.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until a 1-inch area around outside edge is puffed and set (center may be jiggly and appear undone). Remove foil. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill within 2 hours.

Before serving, stir together sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle spice mixture over pie.

Cut pie into wedges. Drizzle with remaining melted chocolate.

Makes 12 servings (1 wedge each).

Per serving: 149 calories, 6 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 4 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrates, 191 mg sodium.

— Adapted from “Calorie-Smart Meals” by Better Homes and Gardens (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Dec. 29 2015; $19.99)

Citrus flavor and creamy tone make Icebox Key Lime Pie a winning dessert.

Icebox Key Lime Pie

The eggless pie bursts with a citrus flavor and takes on a creamy tone from two fat-free products — Greek yogurt and neufchatel.

8 whole low-fat graham crackers, broken into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon sugar

4 ounces neufchatel (1/3 less fat) cream cheese, softened, divided

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

11/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1 tablespoon grated lime zest, plus 3/4 cup juice (6 limes), divided

1 (14-ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Blend graham cracker pieces and sugar to fine crumbs.

Add 2 tablespoons cream cheese and butter to crumbs, and pulse to incorporate.

Sprinkle mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and press crumbs into even, compact layer on bottom and sides of the pie plate.

Bake crust until it begins to brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer pie plate to wire rack and let cool completely, about 45 minutes.

Combine gelatin and 3 tablespoons lime juice in a bowl and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Microwave for about 30 seconds, until gelatin dissolves.

Process remaining cream cheese, condensed milk and yogurt until smooth, about

1 minute.

Add gelatin mixture, remaining 9 tablespoons lime juice, lime zest and vanilla extract and process until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.

Scrape mixture into cooled pie shell and smooth over. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours.

Serves 8.

Per serving: 310 calories, 9 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 30 mg cholesterol, 49 g carbohydrates, 115 mg sodium.

— “Light & Healthy 2012” by America’s Test Kitchen

Light and Fluffy Chocolate Mousse

Satisfy your inner chocoholic with three types of chocolate in this light dessert, which is made without a drop of cream.

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces

1/3 cup white chocolate chips

2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa

6 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup sugar

3 large egg whites, room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Combine semisweet chocolate, white chocolate, cocoa, 6 tablespoons water and vanilla in a medium bowl set over a large saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure water does not touch bottom of bowl.

Heat mixture, whisking often, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Bring remaining 1/3 cup water and sugar to boil in small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until mixture is slightly thickened and syrupy, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove syrup from heat and cover to keep warm.

Whip egg whites and cream of tartar together on medium-low speed until foamy. Increase speed to medium-high and continue whipping until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.

Reduce speed to medium and slowly add sugar syrup. Whip until meringue is very thick and shiny, 2 to 5 minutes.

Gently whisk 1/3 of meringue into chocolate mixture until combined, then gently whisk in remaining meringue. Divide mousse evenly among 6 pudding cups. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set.

Serves 6.

Per serving: 200 calories, 9 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 5 mg cholesterol, 30 g carbohydrates, 40 mg sodium.

— “Light & Healthy 2012” by America’s Test Kitchen

Cherry and Almond Clafoutis

The baked French custard studded with cherries and almonds can be quickly thrown together. If you don’t have cherries, dried cranberries, raisins or apricots would work as well.

2 large eggs

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons melted butter, plus extra for greasing

1/2 cup whole milk

1 (14-ounce) can pitted black cherries in syrup, drained

1 ounce sliced almonds

1/4 cup powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-9-inch ovenproof dish.

Whisk eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and cinnamon, and fold in flour. Add butter and whisk until well combined. Add milk and stir well.

Arrange cherries in dish and pour batter over it. Sprinkle almonds on top and place dish on a baking sheet.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and dust top with powdered sugar.

Serves 4.

Per serving: 267 calories, 14 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 250 mg sodium, 29 g carbohydrates, 26 g sugar.

— Adapted from “Family Cookbook” by Caroline Bretherton