Thursday, January 13, 2011

Vegetables for Dessert

Beet Red Velvet Cake

No, we're not getting an early jump on April Fools' Day. And we aren't advocating raw celery sticks as a finale to a special meal! We're talking instead about discovering delicious ways to incorporate vegetables into every course of every meal: for health, for flavor, and for variety.

Of course, if you've ever baked carrot cake or zucchini bread, you already know that vegetables aren't just for salad. But have you ever considered making sweet treats from sweet potatoes, beets, or avocados? Follow us as we gather a basket of garden produce and head straight to the oven!

The Beets Go On

Our first stop is a visit to New York blogger Jessica Su of Su Good Sweets, who writes that she learned to bake before she learned to cook. Her blog's motto is "Dessert Should Be Good for You," and the "vegetables in dessert" section proves she means it! "I like to eat healthy, natural foods, and I wanted to push the boundary between sweet and savory," Jessica says. "I was thinking about how specific vegetables could enhance dessert. For example, beets are naturally red and sweet, which is exactly what red velvet cake needs." Those musings led Jessica to create her Cocoa-Beet Fruitcake, a twist on the classic red velvet cake that relies on cooked, pureed beets instead of red food coloring to deliver a subtle ruby-red color. Applesauce substitutes for fat, and prunes and dates add sweetness and texture.

You can also use beets to make our own Beet-Red Velvet Cake, which contains the traditional buttermilk and a bit of vinegar. Our moist, flavorful recipe yields two 9-inch cake layers or 24 cupcakes.

A Zest for Zucchini

Zucchini Blondies

Jessica Su also pointed us to one of the more unusual zucchini recipes we'd tried: Zucchini Blondies. "Because the zucchini adds moistness, these blondies are extra gooey and virtually impossible to overbake," Jessica. "Just be sure to chop the zucchini very small—otherwise, the blondies will seem overly vegetal."

Jessica's recipe calls for just one medium zucchini, so if your harvest is more bounteous than that, you'll want additional ideas. One of our all-time favorites is Spiced Zucchini Bread—quick, easy, and delicious. (Bake it in mini-loaf pans to give as hostess gifts.) For a slightly different flavor and texture, we love Zucchini Sesame Bread. The recipe, which yields two regular-size loaves, is made with C&H Pure Cane Golden Brown Sugar and a sprinkling of sesame seeds on the top of each loaf. Use small, tender squash in our Zucchini Nut Muffins, made with C&H Pure Cane Washed Raw Sugar for a slight, pleasing crunchiness.

Make Room for Rhubarb

Zucchini Nut Muffins

Rhubarb, a native of China, Tibet, and Mongolia, was originally cultivated as medicine, but since the 18th century it's been grown for culinary purposes in England and America. The leaves are toxic, but the bright-red or pink stalks are a very good source of fiber, vitamins C and K, potassium, and calcium. Because rhubarb is so tart, it's always combined with other fruits and sweeteners in recipes. Strawberries are a favorite complement to rhubarb, as in this sweet-tart Strawberry Rhubarb Compote. It's yummy spooned over Vanilla Bread Pudding, but we also love it over french toast or ice cream. Strawberries and rhubarb are often combined in pies, too—that's why rhubarb is called the "pie plant"—but an easier option is our Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler. Invite the kids to help by cutting out cobbler circles with a cookie cutter!

One caution: Because rhubarb is highly acidic, don't store rhubarb desserts in metal pans. Glass is best for baking and storing.

Sweet Potatoes: Beyond Thanksgiving

Sweet Potato Pecan Cake

Call them "yams" if you like, but what we eat in North America are sweet potatoes—and unlike white potatoes, they're not tubers but the roots of trailing vines. (They're related to morning glories.) Like other orange vegetables, they're rich in Vitamin A; the pale yellow ones have drier flesh, the darker orange ones are moister. As we know, they make a wonderful side dish, or even a quick, microwaved meal. But they also work beautifully in baking. (We prefer the dark variety, but feel free to experiment!) If you like pumpkin pie, you'll love Sweet Potato Pie, made with two kinds of sugar—granulated and golden brown—and a hint of spice. Or use them in our Sweet Potato Pecan Cake: baked in a tube pan, it makes an impressive centerpiece. Extra rich and extra yummy: our Sweet Potato Cheesecake Bars, baked in a graham-cracker crust.

Sweet potatoes also lend their flavor and fiber to breakfast baked goods such as our lightly spiced Sweet Potato Breakfast Loaf. Looking for a delicious on-the-go treat? Tuck a Sweet Potato Streusel Muffin or two into a lunch box.

Carrots, of Course

Sweet Potato Streusel Muffins

Carrots are perhaps the most popular vegetable used in baked desserts: their natural sweetness and vivid color enhances many classic recipes. Our Carrot Pineapple Cake, made with grated carrots and canned pineapple, is baked in a mold for a beautiful shape and impressive presentation. Carrot Layer Cake has orange-tinted, orange-flavored frosting—a perfect complement to the orange-hued cake. If you have a one-pound bag of carrots on hand, shred them to make a half-dozen Carrot Cake Mini Loaves. The little loaves make lovely and welcome hospitality gifts. For school lunches and snacks, our Carrot Cookies are sweet and satisfying, with a big helping of nutrition hidden inside: a cup and a quarter of cooked, mashed carrots, plus crunchy coconut and protein-packed pecans.

Avocados? Yes, Avocados!

Carrot Cake Mini Loaves

If you associate avocados only with guacamole, you're in for a nice surprise. Buttery and nutritious (they're packed with potassium), ripe avocados can substitute for all or part of the butter or other fat in many baked goods while increasing their nutritional value. The California Avocado Commission has lots of suggestions for sweet avocado treats, such as this hearty and healthful Avocanana Bread, which combines avocados and bananas. For a festive event, bake our Avocado Spice Cake, then frost the layers with a sweet frosting made with a pureed avocado. The pale green color makes it a natural for St. Patrick's Day! Looking for a fast, unusual dessert or garnish? Try Caramelized Avocados: Peel, pit, and slice a just-ripe avocado, then press both sides of each slice into C&H Pure Cane Granulated Sugar. Sauté the slices in a little oil until the sugar is caramelized, then flip and repeat.

Do you have a favorite baked dessert that incorporates vegetables? Please share it with us—we'll credit you if we use it!

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