I eat cake for breakfast. A lot.
Let's just say it's an indulgent habit of mine, one that I feel needs to be updated but not curbed entirely. Last weekend I decided to take a recipe for a really delicious spiced applesauce cake from Smitten Kitchen and make a new, healthy version by using only my brain and what I had on hand in my kitchen.
Now, when I say "my brain" I really mean my iPhone and amy kitchen scale. Because Deb Perlman wrote this recipe by weight, I was able to use my kitchen scale to make substitutions with precision, meaning the flavor and texture of the cake came out just right, no weird surprises. If you're skeptical about owning or using a kitchen scale, I recommend you read Ratio by Michael Ruhlman.
Here is the original recipe for spiced applesauce cake:
2 cups (8 3/4 ounces or 250 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon (10 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
3/4 teaspoon (2 grams) cinnamon*
1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) ground ginger*
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves*
1 stick (4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (6 7/8 ounces of 195 gram) packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon (5ml) pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (about 13 ounces or 265 grams) unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup (about 1 3/4 ounces or 50 grams) walnuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 with rack in middle. Butter an 8 or 9 inch square cake pan. I had no trouble getting my cake out of a nonstick pan by just buttering it, but if you don't have a nonstick cake pan or are a little nervous, line the bottom with parchment paper and butter that too.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts (if using). The batter will look a little curdly and uneven but don't worry, it will all bake up perfectly in the end.
Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Reinvert cake onto a rack to cool completely.
*I just used 2t five spice because I'm too lazy to buy/measure out three separate ingredients.
Substituting and measuring sugars is pretty straightforward. Altering the amount or type of sugar affects the flavor more than the texture of your finished product. Sugar, turbinado sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses and agave nectar can all be used in lieu of one another. The Whole Foods website provides a great explanation of the different types of sweeteners and how they vary in sweetness. I thought maple syrup would be a nice flavor compliment to the apples and spice, so instead of using one cup of sugar, as the recipe calls for, I used 3/4 cup maple syrup and reduced the amount of applesauce by 3T. Since the cake itself is not very sweet, I topped it with a 1:1 mix of sugar and unsweetened applesauce when it had cooled completely.
There is one thing that I WILL NOT STAND FOR and that thing is artificial sweeteners. I do not agree with many of the opinions voiced in the book Skinny Bitch, from the title to the horrible, blasphemous things the authors say about eggs and butter. However, the chapter covering sugar substitutes such as Splenda is well worth a read. If I find out that you have used Splenda in one of my recipes.... well, as The Pioneer Woman would say, I will come to your house and paddle your bottom.
Fat is only slightly more complicated. There are two basic types of fat: those that are solid at room temperature and those that are liquid. Liquid fats- canola oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil, safflower seed oil- can be used interchangeably in baking (frying is a whole different can of worms). Note that more pungent liquid oils, such as extra virgin olive oil, will affect the flavor of your dish. Solid fats- lard, shortening, suet- contain the same amount of fat per Tablespoon. Theoretically they could also be use interchangeably, but because each one has a different smoke point, the type of solid fat you use will ultimately affect the texture. Butter is the exception to the rule; it contains between 80% and 88% fat, while the other percentage is made up of milk solids. The milk solids are what give butter its distinctive (read: "glorious") taste, so if a recipe calls for butter, you should probably just use butter! I was trying to make the applesauce cake more healthy, I used half butter and half grapeseed oil. To read more about each individual type of fat, take a look at this article from King Arthur Flour.
If you're curious about which type of eggs to buy or use, check out this infographic from the American Egg Board. Generally speaking, you should pretty much always use large, grade A eggs at room temperature.
Flour is where business gets tricky. The weight of a cup of all-purpose flour can range significantly, even among brands. King Arthur Flour weighs in at 4 1/2 oz, Gold Medal at 4 5/8 ounces and White Lily at 4 1/4 ounces. The old-fashioned cooking Bible, The Joy of Cooking, claims that there are four cups to every one pound of all-purpose flour, meaning that each up weighs 4 ounces. Of course, none of these measurements account for other defining factors, such as humidity. In the very first chapter of his book, Ruhlman writes, "A cup of flour can weigh anywhere between 4 and 6 ounces. This means that if you are making a recipe calling for 4 cups of flour, you might wind up with a pound of flour in your bowl or you might end up with 1 1/2 pounds. That's a 50% difference in the main ingredient, which will have a substantial impact on the finished product." Whether you are using the type of flour that is called for or not, it is so important that you measure the flour by weight. For this recipe, I used 250g of Trader Joe's whole wheat flour.
When in doubt or away from my kitchen scale, I assume that one cup of flour weighs 4.5 oz and I measure it like this. Why? Because Amanda and Merrill said so. Keep in mind that this only applies to white all-purpose flour. When you're working with other types of flour, try to go by the manufacturer's measurements- look for a chart of products like this one from King Arthur Flour.
Whew! That was a lot. Please feel free to email me (HMMessinger [at] gmail [dot] com) or comment below if you have any questions.