The Secret Ingredient That Keeps Decadent Desserts From Being Calorie Bombs

Yahoo Food’s Cookbook of the Week is Cooking Light’s Incredibly Decadent Desserts: Over 100 Divine Treats with 300 Calories or Less by Deb Wise (Oxmoor House), a recipe developer and tester for Cooking Light magazine.


The cover of Cooking Light’s ‘Incredibly Decadent Desserts: Over 100 Divine Treats with 300 Calories or Less’ by Deb Wise (Oxmoor House).

Deb Wise is a self-described “sugar-lover.” She’s also a recipe developer and tester for Cooking Light magazine, which means she not only knows the ins and outs of cooking and baking, but she’s also a pro when it comes to trimming some of the fat and calories from our favorite dishes and desserts.

In the test kitchen, Wise focuses on sweets, so it’s her job to dream up dessert ideas, perfect the recipes, and make sure they meet the magazine’s nutritional standards. Desserts typically go through several iterations before they make it on to the pages of Cooking Light or into Wise’s recently published cookbook, Incredibly Decadent Desserts, which features recipes from the magazine as well as a bunch of brand new ones.

Wise’s fondness for sweets dates back to childhood, when dinner was always followed by dessert. Even simple treats like a scoop of ice cream made her feel loved, cared for, and indulged, which, says Wise, is “what’s magical about dessert.” Of course, if you’re watching your weight or simply trying to live a healthier lifestyle, desserts become a little less magical.


Baked Chocolate Mousse (Photograph: Stephen Devries)

To maintain some of that magic, but in a lighter, more health-friendly form, Wise has a few tricks up her sleeve. Fresh, peak-season fruit is a must and a pinch of salt is key for balancing and drawing out flavor. She also relies on assertive ingredients like vanilla extract and lemon rind to maximize taste, and seeks out the richest, most intense chocolate and then uses it in smaller quantities.

Before Wise dives into the recipe portion of her book, she shares pointers for making light desserts, as well as more general baking tips and notes on equipment and ingredients. There’s a quick overview of whole-grain and nut flours, which pop up in recipes like Almond and Orange Semolina Cakes made with almond flour and Chopped Chocolate Cookies made with teff flour.

One of Wise’s favorite ingredients — and the secret to desserts like Meyer Lemon Soufflés and Baked Chocolate Mousse — is frozen reduced-calorie whipped topping, most commonly known as Cool Whip. Wise calls Cool Whip the “exception to her rule about only using real ingredients,” but it’s also how she manages to avoid using heavy cream. Still, if you’re anti-Cool Whip, Wise offers substitutions and spells out the differences in fat and calories.


Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta (Photograph: Stephen Devries)

The rest of Incredibly Decadent Desserts is devoted to recipes, but throughout you’ll also find Wise’s top five tips for tasks like making meringues and piecrust. The desserts themselves range from classic to modern. Wise favors old-fashioned treats like apple pie, molasses cookies, and rice pudding, but she has a knack for breathing new life into familiar favorites. Chocolate Zucchini Bread and Star Anise Snickerdoodles are good examples. There are a handful of slightly more complicated desserts — Lemon and Almond Soufflés and Triple Chocolate Layer Cake, for instance — but most are very approachable and a majority fit on a single page. Plus, Wise sprinkles the book with so many tips and pointers that even beginning bakers should have no trouble following along.

Visit Yahoo Food throughout the week for recipes from Cooking Light’s Incredily Decadent Desserts: Over 100 Divine Treats with 300 Calories or Less by Deb Wise (Oxmoor House).

Check out other cookbooks from Yahoo Food’s Cookbook of the Week:

Cook. Nourish. Glow. by Ameila Freer

Duff Bakes by Duff Goldman

Vegetarian India by Madhur Jaffrey