Faking it – Seltzer cake

A long time ago (in a blogosphere far far away) I wrote up a post about making cupcakes using diet soda, a pastime that was oh-so-chic on the internet of 2010. I honestly have no clue what made me remember that baking escapade, but I think it was probably something to do with the way this week’s gloomy weather made me want to eat cake.

Since my home is filled to the brim with La Croix (yes, I am one of those people) I thought it would be fun to attempt the same cake magic using seltzer instead of soda. If it’s the bubbles that makes the process work, why not seltzer? You get the fat/calorie benefit of not adding eggs or oil and also the no artificial sweetener benefit of not using soda. And while I’m aware that boxed cake mix is not exactly clean eating, turning it into a less-guilty pleasure while also trimming back the preservatives sounds like a win to me.

The first step of this process is to gather your ingredients.

cake-01

Yep. That’s it. Two ingredients – 1 box of cake mix and 12oz of seltzer. I’d stick to cakes that have pudding in the mix, which seems to be most of them. I chose vanilla as a standard base flavor to build on. From the many flavors of La Croix I settled on Apple Berry because it sounded seasonally appropriate.

cake-02

Find yourself a ridiculously large bowl, because this is going to foam up like one of those school science project volcanos. Mix it together until you have a smooth batter and pour it into your pan of choice. I was going to make cupcakes as a comparison but I got super lazy (seriously, this perpetual drizzle is exhausting) and decided to just tip it into a 13×9 pan and see what happened.

The end result? A cake that was light and fluffy, sort of an angel food cake hybrid. I thought I could detect a faint hint of berry flavor, but mostly it just tasted like cake. Which is a success!

cake-03

The nutritional info will change depending on the type of cake mix you use. If I only cut this into 10 pieces (which I think seems like huge pieces) the nutritional stats per piece will look exactly like what’s written on the box.  This is because there are no additional calories/fat/etc. added to the mix. Realistically, I think the stats could be even lower, especially if you portion it into cupcakes.

Stats via bettycrocker.com

Stats via bettycrocker.com

I forgot that my original recipe suggested adding 5-10 minutes to the baking time, so I just baked this according to the package directions. It’s cooked through, but I think an extra 10 minutes would probably help firm up the texture a bit and help it retain structure when you cut into it. Especially if you’re planning on baking two round cakes and layering them.

cake-04

When it comes to icing, I highly recommend the Cool Whip version I outline in the original post, but not having those ingredients on hand I thought I’d extend the experiment to making myself a single serving of topping. I mixed together about 2Tb of lowfat cream cheese, 1/2tsp (ish, I wasn’t strictly measuring) of vanilla protein powder, and a little splash of milk just to thin it out a bit. Not as good as the original, but in a pinch it was still pretty tasty.

If you decide to bake up a batch of seltzer cake, I’d love to know what flavor combinations you use and how it turns out!

The Diet Diaries: #4 (Strawberry Pretzel Pie)

If you haven’t noticed already, my main diet obsession has become finding ways to eat dessert without feeling guilty.  I don’t eat it all that often, but when I meet up with Ryan and Laura for Survivor night we have a cooking system.  Laura makes a fabulous dinner and I make a fabulous dessert.  It’s a good system, made even better by the fact that we are both happy to taste each other’s experimental creations.  Lately, my experiments have all been in the realm of healthy sweets.  For the most part these creations have turned out well, with the exception of a soy-cappuccino “custard” that came out more like coffee jello.  They were thankfully forgiving and we all had a good laugh.

To make up for the custard disaster, this past Thursday I spent all day whipping up a culinary masterpiece.  In all fairness, the recipe doesn’t actually take all day, but my close friends know all too well that I am the slowest chef on the planet.  This is mostly due to my inability to multi-task in the kitchen, not because I lack the ability to multi-task, but more because I am a hopeless clutz who is terrified of injuring herself (again).  But that’s a story for another day.

I found a recipe on Recipezaar (my favorite cooking community) for something called “Makeover Strawberry Pretzel Dessert.”  After reading over the ingredients I knew not only that it would be delicious, but also that I could probably trim it down even more.  I swapped out all the sugar for Splenda, including the frozen sweetened strawberries.  I just bought unsweetened ones and tossed them with a little extra Splenda after they thawed.  The end result, I’m pleased to say, looked exactly like the photo in the recipe and was phenomenal.

Full credit to Audrey M for the recipe, but here is my slightly altered version:

Ingredients

For crust:

2 cups crushed pretzels (I used Utz‘s extra thin)
3/4 cup light margarine, melted
3 Tb Splenda

For filling:

8 oz fat-free cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup Splenda
8 oz Cool Whip Free, thawed

For topping:

20 oz unsweeted canned crushed pineapple
2 small boxes sugar-free strawberry Jello
20 oz unsweetened frozen sliced strawberries, thawed
pinch of Splenda

You can follow Audrey’s recipe instructions exactly, just swapping in my ingredient list, and it comes out slimmer and just as tasty!

The Diet Diaries: #3 (A baking miracle!)

Over the years, the Internet has brought me countless hours of wonder and delight.  Starting with the family’s first dial-up connection to Prodigy (technically more of an intranet, but I’m not here to split hairs) I have been glued to that magic portal.  After all this time together, today I experienced my first Internet-related religious experience.  It was a baking miracle.

Behold, the 100-calorie cupcake:

Oh.  My.  God.  The only problem you will have is figuring out how to stop yourself from cramming the whole batch in your mouth at once (which, at 2,400 calories, still wouldn’t be the most decadent dessert in the world).  These cupcakes, inspired by a post over at Omnomicon, are dangerously simple to assemble.  You will need four ingredients:

 One box of cake mix.  I chose Devil’s Food, because it’s decadent.
One 12oz. bottle of diet soda.  My pick was Jones Diet Black Cherry.  Yum!
One container of Fat Free Cool Whip (thawed) and one box of Sugar Free/ Fat Free pudding mix.  My choice was Cheesecake flavor, for the obvious reason of deliciousness.
Stir together the cake mix and the soda in a large bowl.  You will need to whisk the batter fairly vigorously to ensure all of the dry mix gets incorporated.  Follow the baking instructions on the box, adding about 5 more minutes to the baking time, until a toothpick comes out clean.  You can make cupcakes, Bundt cake, whatever your little heart desires.  I went with cupcakes because it forces a bit of portion control on my dessert-greedy self.
While these little beauties are baking, whisk together the Cool Whip and the pudding mix.  It will be a little thick, so you will probably need an icing spatula to spread it on the cupcakes.  Also, since it’s made primarily from Cool Whip, I would recommend storing excess icing in the fridge.  When you’re finished, they will look a little something like this:
And there you have it.  100 calorie cherry-chocolate cupcakes with cheesecake icing.  It’s not the richest dessert in the world, but if you’re on a diet it’s a culinary orgasm.

The Diet Diaries: #2 (Having My Cake)

Since we’re all friends here, I have a bit of a confession to make: I am a banana bread-aholic.  It has come to the point where I often buy bananas with the hope that no one in the house will eat them.  I place them carefully behind the knife block or next to more appealing brightly colored citrus fruits as a sort of consumption deterrent.  Then, I watch them patiently as they slowly turn from green to yellow to brown to a delicious shade of black.

It’s easy to convince myself that banana bread is a healthy treat, because it’s full of bananas.  Much like the vegetable argument behind carrot cake, filling any baked good with a large quantity of fruit is psychologically the baking equivalent of eating a side salad with your bacon cheeseburger.  The problem with this type of thinking is that it completely ignores all of the other ingredients, particularly the butter and white sugar.  With the “D” word hanging over my head, I feared that I would be in for a long banana breadless journey.

My friend and fellow bakeaholic Cristina suggested to me that I check out a website called The Skinny Chef, where it was rumored there existed a less guilty recipe for peanut butter banana bread.  I went on the site, and suddenly it was as if the clouds parted and my computer glowed with a magical light.  That is how much I love love love banana bread.  All that was left to do was wait for some bananas to ripen up, and I would be on my way to dessert heaven.

This banana bread is a dieter’s dream come true.  It uses whole wheat flour, egg whites, brown sugar, and the peanut butter takes the place of butter or margarine.  Plus, the added bonus is that the protein in the peanut butter makes each slice wonderfully filling.  I followed the recipe fairly closely, except for two very delicious substitutions.  Since I didn’t have quite enough peanut butter for the recipe’s requirements, I added about 3 Tb of Nutella (always a favorite in my baking endeavors) and since the recipe didn’t specify I used fat free banana yogurt.  The result was the most delicious banana bread I have ever made in my entire life.  Considering how much banana bread I’ve baked over the years, that’s saying quite a lot.

For the recipe, check out the Skinny Chef website here.

I would also suggest you stop by Cristina’s blog, 100 Days of Happy, for a regular dose of amusement.

The Diet Diaries: #1

While I’ve never been a fan of the word “diet,” I think I’ve spent a good deal of my life attempting one or another.  Part of it is genetics, part food love, part sheer laziness.  In the past I’ve done a reasonable job of getting the process of getting fit going well, but somehow I always end up off track and right back where I started.  I’ve said it before, but it can’t hurt to say again that I’m determined to see it through to the finish this time.  I’m not going to turn this blog into a whiny fitness journal where I lament my cravings for fried chicken, but along the way I want to share a few insights and experiences.  Today, it’s Lean Cuisine.

In the past, I’ve found their food to be a bit bland, found their portions small, and found myself hungry again an hour later.  However, after being bombarded with all of their ads about new recipes and “spa menus” and satisfaction, I thought I would give it another try.  Today’s attempt was the tortilla crusted fish, served with rice, poblano peppers, and corn in a sour cream sauce.  After plating my entree (I make it a point to never eat directly from the microwave tray, and apparently the people at Stouffer’s agree), I was pleasantly surprised to find that my meal fairly closely resembled the photo on the box.

The fish was not as crunchy as I would have hoped, and had a slightly mealy texture from the composition of the breading.  However, it was crispy along the edges, so I suspect that my confusion over the heating instruction may be to blame for that.  There was only one film sheet on the top of the tray, so I’m not exactly sure how you’re supposed to completely remove the film from the fish only.  In any case, aside from the texture it was actually quite a tasty lunch.  The fish was flavorful, the rice still had some bite to it (meaning it wasn’t mushy), and the peppers and corn were crisp and surprisingly fresh.

I ate it with a spinach salad topped with cucumber, feta, chickpeas and a homemade dressing.  If you still buy your dressing from the store, you’re really missing out.  It’s so simple and delicious and fresh (yes, I use that word a lot) to make dressing at home and you should definitely give it a try.  Today, I had a lovely mustard dressing, made by whisking together the following:

1 Tb grainy mustard
2 Tb white wine vinegar
1 Tb honey
5 Tb extra virgin olive oil
salt/pepper to taste
(makes about 6 servings, depending on how much you like to dress your salad)

It’s been about two hours since I ate lunch, and so far there are no hunger pangs.  All in all, I would call this a comeback for Lean Cuisine.