5 cheats for those birthday treats

Red cake

We know that pressure to bake your colleagues a birthday treat or bring back the latest culinary delights from your holidays can lead to munching through those extra calories. 

With help from Victoria Taylor, our expert Heart Health dietitian, we’ve put together our top tips on how to make home-baked treats without the guilt factor:

1. Try baking with unsaturated fat

Cakes really should be an ‘every now and then’ food. With a few tweaks to the ingredients and toppings, baking your own can be better for you than buying them.

Using an unsaturated spread instead of butter has more benefits than simply reducing the amount of saturated fat - it actually gives a lighter texture, especially if you’re making an all-in-one sponge cake. You can substitute butter for spreads in most recipes without making any other changes. Just make sure the spread you use is suitable for baking. 

If you’re reluctant to use a spread, then oil is a good alternative. It can make cakes lovely and moist, but as it’s a liquid it will alter the balance of the mix, so find recipes that are specifically designed to use oil, such as our carrot cake recipe.

2. Add healthier ingredients to your baking

Why not try adding fruit and vegetables to your baking? There might not be enough in a portion to count as one of your 5-a-day, but it’s a nutritious way to help keep your cakes and scones moist. And by using sweet vegetables such as carrots, beetroots or courgettes, or fruit such as apples, berries or pineapples, you won’t need to add so much sugar.

Try our apple and apricot scones recipe below.

3. Healthier icings 

Use a drizzle of glacé (water) icing rather than butter icing for cake toppings. Or, a light sprinkle of icing sugar or some fresh fruit may be all you need to give your bake the final touch. Try cutting out stencils from greaseproof paper and sifting your icing sugar over it for a professional-looking finish.

4. Watch your portion sizes

Think about portion sizes, too: making ‘mini’ versions will mean you get all the taste, but without as much fat and calorie content per portion. Alternatively, tray bakes such as our carrot cake recipe are really versatile, as they can easily be cut into small squares.

5. Is there such a thing as ‘healthy’ pastry?

Pastry isn’t known for being a heart-healthy choice but there’s a wide variation in the amount and type of fat used to make different types. About a third of puff and shortcrust pastry is fat, and if it’s made with butter or palm oil, it contains more saturated fat than if it’s made with unsaturated fats such as sunflower spread. These are our most commonly used pastries, but it’s worth trying to keep them for a treat.

Not all pastry is high in fat. Filo pastry has just 3.1g of fat per 100g and is low in saturated fat. It gives a lovely, crunchy crust and looks impressive in small tarts with savoury or sweet fillings. Try our apple and raspberry strudel recipe.