Remaking Recipes: Create Healthier Versions of Old Favorites

You know the recipes. You love to eat them, but you can hardly bring yourself to make them anymore. Why? Maybe they’re heavy on the sugar, or use refined vegetable oils or grains. Want to know how to remake those old recipes into something nutrient-dense and actually healthy? Chef Rachel Albert (The Healthy Cooking Coach and author of one of my Top 5 Favorite Cookbooks) has shared the following step by step instructions for remaking a recipe. She uses a Fruit Cocktail Cake as her example and turns it into a gluten-free, dairy-free wonder for those with allergies or on restrictive diets. Hopefully, Chef Rachel will inspire you to go and do likewise.


In December of 2008, one of my cooking students approached me after a cooking class offering to give me a 5-pound bag of coconut flour if I could come up with recipes using it. Coconut flour cannot be used cup for cup to replace other kinds of flour, something she’d quickly discovered.

Several months later the editor of Living Without Magazine assigned me a recipe article on baking with coconut flour. I was eager to explore its baking properties and this assignment was just the nudge I needed to pull the flour out of the fridge and get to work.

The same month, a young woman who was assisting me with some of my cooking classes gave me one of her family’s favorite recipes, asking if I could make it healthier. Modifying recipes to make them wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and with healthy, traditional fats and more natural sweeteners is one of my fortes and favorite activities. Her recipe intrigued me enough that I added it to my list of prospects for the writing assignment.

Remaking A Recipe: Step One

Normally unbleached (wheat) flour can be replaced with a gluten-free flour blend on a cup for cup basis. Not so with coconut flour! Coconut flour, which is made from the dried coconut meal left over after extracting most of the oil to make virgin coconut oil, provides as much protein as wheat with almost twice as much fiber. The extra fiber means that it absorbs considerably more liquid than other kinds of flour, requiring more liquid and more leavening (usually twice as many eggs and sometimes additional baking powder or soda) to give it loft and lightness. To complicate matters, in addition to making recipes with eggs, the editor wanted me to create eggless versions for readers with egg allergies.

Remaking A Recipe: Step Two

The next step was to convert the white sugar to honey (my preferred sweetener), a straightforward process. One cup of sugar has the sweetening equivalent of 3/4 cup of honey. When switching from a dry to a liquid sweetener, you need to cut back the liquid by about 50%. In this case, I counted on the super absorbency of coconut flour to sop up the extra liquid I’d be adding. When replacing regular flour with coconut flour, most sources recommend adding an equal amount of liquid as coconut flour. In this case, my liquid would be the honey.

Remaking A Recipe: Step Three

Replacing the milk with coconut milk, for those with milk allergies or lactose or casein intolerance, was the easiest task. Coconut milk, like coconut oil and unsweetened flaked coconut has been a staple for healthy Polynesians and Melanesians for hundreds of years, if not longer, and it’s a great source of medium chain saturated fats with antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. Plus, it tastes great!

Remaking A Recipe: Step Four

For those who can’t eat eggs, Ener G Foods Egg Replacer can work. In most cases, I find it requires using twice as much as the package back suggests in addition to adding and extra 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of extra baking powder or baking soda.

Given the challenges using coconut flour and making the recipe work with and without eggs, it took five or six tries (far more than usual when I create new recipes) to concoct a winner for those who eat eggs and those who don’t. The results made all of the efforts and the failed attempts worth it.

Here’s the original recipe:

Fruit Cocktail Cake

Hands-on: 30 minutes Cooking: 30 to 40 minutesYield: 1 (9×12) pan/12 to 16 servings

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (15 ounce) can fruit cocktail, undrained or canned crushed pineapple with juices
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Crumble Topping:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Hot Butter Topping:

  • 2 sticks of butter (1 cup)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

1. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.
2. Add eggs, fruit cocktail and vanilla and mix all ingredients well (by hand–do not use electric mixer); batter will seem very thick at first (if you use good fruit cocktail that has mostly fruit, not all juice), but this is the way it should be (the juice in the fruit cocktail is the only liquid in this recipe except, of course, the eggs).
3. Pour into a greased 9-inch x 13 inch pan. Sprinkle brown sugar and pecan mixture over the top of the batter.
4. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Poke holes allover the top of the cake with a chopstick or skewer.
5. To make the topping, combine the butter, sugar, milk and vanilla in a medium sized pot. Boil, uncovered, until thickened like a heavy syrup.
6. Pour warm sauce over the cake and then top with a dollop of whipped cream.

Here’s the remake! Notice the similarities and the differences.

Calli’s Coconut Fruit Cocktail Cake

Hands-on: 30 minutes Cooking: 30 minutes Yield: 1 (9×12) pan; 12 servings squares

To make your own gluten free flour blend, combine 1 cup white rice flour, 1/2 cup tapioca starch/flour, and 1/2 cup organic cornstarch or potato starch. Store extra flour in a sealed jar at room temperature. If you buy a gluten free flour blend, look for one that does not contain bean flour.

Note: I usually make a half batch (see variations below for details).

Ingredients

Dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose gluten free flour blend (see notes above)
  • 2/3 cup coconut flour, fluffed with a fork and sifted before measuring (see Resources)
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, pulverized in blender if mixture is not finely flaked (to replace the pecans in the original recipe)
  • 1 cup raisins (to replace the dates in the original recipe)
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon non-aluminum baking powder (extra leavening added to counter all the fiber in coconut flour)
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground unrefined sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon guar gum or xanthan gum (to give the cake more structure and stability without gluten)

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 cup honey (see Resources)
  • 15-ounce can crushed pineapple in 100% real fruit juice or fruit cocktail (do not drain!)
  • 4 medium to large eggs, at room temp (egg amount doubled to aid rising with coconut flour; see eggless variations below)

Hot Caramel Topping:

  • 1 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk or 3 cups lite coconut milk, or plain, unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 sticks butter or 1 cup virgin coconut oil or Palm shortening (see Resources)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup honey, depending upon your sweet tooth (see Resources)
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground unrefined sea salt (see Resources)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or alcohol-free vanilla flavoring (see Resources)
  • 2 medium oranges, cut into very thin slices for garnish

Directions

1. Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350˚ F if using a metal baking pan (325 if using a glass baking pan). Generously grease an 9×12-inch oblong baking pan or two 8-inch square baking pans.
2. Lightly spoon the flours into a measuring cup and level with a knife. Add remaining dry ingredients, whisk well, and set aside.
3. Combine the wet ingredients in a bowl and stir or whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients and stir to evenly distribute. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to mix in all the flour. Pour into the prepared baking pan. Smooth the top with a spatula.
4. Bake in a preheated oven until firm and slightly golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes.
5. To prepare the sauce: Combine coconut milk, butter, honey, and sea salt in a 1 1/2 to 2-quart pot. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium and boil until the sauce is thick and caramelized and reduces to 1 cup. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. If you prepare the sauce ahead, allow to cool, then cover, and refrigerate in a heatproof Pyrex bowl. Reheat gently in a toaster oven at 225˚F until warm and runny.
6. To serve, run a knife around the edges of the pan and turn the cake onto a large plate or platter. Poke holes all over with a skewer or chopstick. Pour sauce over cake, garnish with orange slices, and serve. Cover leftovers and refrigerate after 3 days.

Variations:

For an Egg-free Fruit Cocktail Cake: Replace 4 eggs with 1/2 cup applesauce (added to wet ingredients) + 2 teaspoon baking powder (added to dry ingredients), and 1 tablespoon Energ Foods Egg Replacer mixed with 1/4 cup water (add when you combine wet and dry ingredients). This one will be more dense than the version with eggs.

For a half recipe: Use an 8-inch square baking pan. Cut all ingredients in half. Use a an 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple or canned fruit cocktail with natural juices (do not drain).

If you like this recipe and want to see more like it, visit Chef Rachel’s blog and web site and check out both of her books, The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook and The Ice Dream Cookbook: Dairy-Free Ice Cream Alternatives with Gluten-Free Cookies, Compotes & Sauces. She’s an avid fan of natural coconut products, traditional fats and oils, and pasture-raised animal products.

(sliced oranges photo by lfl, cake photo by Rachel Albert)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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12 Responses to Remaking Recipes: Create Healthier Versions of Old Favorites
  1. Crystal - Prenatal Coach
    February 10, 2011 | 10:41 am

    Great post! Creating healthier versions of recipes is one of my favourite things to do!! :) I love taking a not-so-good-for-you recipe such as brownies, pizza etc. and making a healthy real food version of it!

  2. Barbara Hassan via Facebook
    February 10, 2011 | 11:51 am

    ‘Made chicken pot pie the other evening – - organic free range (fr) chicken, organic veggies, organic fr chicken broth thickened with organic corn starch instead of flour and butter, herbs from my garden, sea salt, all in a home-made organic GF crust :)

  3. Mike Lieberman via Facebook
    February 10, 2011 | 12:19 pm

    I’ve remade pancakes and pumpkin muffins.

    Pancakes are still a work in progress, but the pumpkin muffins are on point.

  4. Jennifer Williams-Young via Facebook
    February 10, 2011 | 2:58 pm

    French toast! Just doesn’t taste the same with sourdough… :)

  5. MariaElena
    February 10, 2011 | 3:55 pm

    Oh shucks, I was so excited, and then disappointed. This recipe is not grain free (the rice in the rice flour is a grain). It would be great if she could provide a grain free variation…

    • KristenM
      February 10, 2011 | 4:02 pm

      Hi Maria. Yes, I should have specified gluten-free. I went and changed that. Most people don’t have any sort of reaction to rice. It really is the most benign of all the grains!

      • MariaElena
        February 10, 2011 | 4:19 pm

        Hopefully that will be the case when we start to ease off of GAPS. =)

  6. Derek Henry via Facebook
    February 10, 2011 | 6:08 pm

    Those pumpkin cake bars look unbelievable. I’m gonna get them one way or another.

  7. Cynthia
    February 16, 2011 | 7:12 pm

    Love what you are doing!

    Tell me, please. What can be substituted for condensed milk (yuck!)?

    • KristenM
      February 16, 2011 | 7:14 pm

      I’m sorry, but I’m not following you. There is no condensed milk in this recipe…

      • Cynthia
        February 17, 2011 | 10:06 am

        Oh, Sorry.
        It was just a general question, not asking about this recipe.

  8. Regina Dawson
    March 13, 2012 | 8:59 pm

    3/4 cup honey for 1 cup white sugar substitute. How much honey for brown sugar substitute? Thanks!

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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