Eat Dessert, Save!
You know the drill. The waiter comes around when most of your table has finished eating and asks about dessert. Most of us demure, saying that we're so full we couldn't eat another bite. Sometimes, that's true. I know I've said "No" for other reasons, though, and I think that's true of most of us. The thought of spending $5-$15 on a slab of cake that we could just as easily make ourselves if we put our minds to it can be enough to turn anyone off. On the other hand, most of us never get around to putting our minds to it at home--there's so much to do and, besides, baking can take so long. Add in thoughts about the number of calories you'll take in and eating dessert, be it homemade or purchased in a restaurant, seems like the biggest mistake in the world.
And yet we crave the taste. There's something about sweetness that most human beings enjoy. So how can we get what we want without spending to much, either in time, money, or the expanding waistline?
It Doesn't Take That Long
The only way we can control what goes into our desserts (and therefore the calories we consume when we eat them) and how much we spend on them is to make them ourselves. That's a daunting prospect for some, who have either not had much success in the past or who do not feel like they have the time. But here's a secret: it doesn't take that long. Sure, it takes a while to make a gourmet cake with all the trimmings, but we don't need to make something fit for Princess Di's wedding to enjoy a little sweetness now and then. In fact, baking takes a surprisingly short amount of time. If you're especially pressed for time, make something (like a cake or a pan of brownies) where everything goes in one pan. Mixing takes 5-10 minutes, and then you simply do what you need to do until your timer goes off and your yummy dessert is done.
It's Not That Hard
Baking can be intimidating, particularly when you've had some spectacular failures. Instead of dwelling on those, try again! Jump in with something easy, like a basic pan of brownies or blondies. Nothing has to rise, your timing can be a little off, your oven temp can fluctuate, and you'll still get a spectaculer, yummy dessert that everyone around you will love.
If you want to try something harder and you're still nervous, calm yourself by reading all the directions several times before you start mixing anything. Make sure you have the ingredients, pans, and other equipment that you'll need. Figure out ahead of time how you'll time it--maybe you can whip the cream just after the timer goes off so it's still fluffy when you put it on the cake, or mix the dry ingredients ahead of time so it won't take as long in one sitting. Get comfortable with everything and give it a go.
Control Your Ingredients
If it's health or money you're worried about, this is where you can get creative. Some of my favorite health-related baking substitutions are below:
- Substitute oil with unsweetened applesauce (some people recommend ony substituting half the oil with applesauce, but I've found that you can almost always substitute it all without any problems)
- Replace up to half the regular flour with wheat flour (this one is a bit controversial, but I haven't had any tasters complain about either taste or texture when I've done this)
- Use twice as many eggwhites as the recipe calls for eggs (if the recipe is particularly eggy, be careful with this one. If the eggs are just part of the game, substitute away)
- Use margarine instead of butter (this can change the consistency of your final product but I've never had it ruin a recipe)
- Use soy or rice milk instead of regular milk
- Add quick-cooking (not instant or regular) oats (this works particularly well with cookies, brownies, and scones. Be careful adding oats to anything smooth, like a cake)
These aren't the only health-related substitutions out there, but they're some of the better-known ones and they'll make your desserts as healthy as desserts can possibly be.
When it comes to money, you can save in several ways:
- Buy in bulk. Is there a favorite dessert that you make once or more each month? Buy as many of the ingredients as possible in bulk. Make sure you store them in a cool, dry place in airtight containers and you're set.
- Shop the sales. It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how many baking purchases are of the last-minute, I'm-craving-chocolate-so-I'm-making-cookies-NOW! sort. If you get into a regular baking habit, you'll be able to buy your ingredients when they're on sale, just like you buy so many other food items.
- Stop buying store-bought items or restaurant-cooked desserts. When you know you have sweet food at home, it's that much easier to skip when you're out. And many desserts (or batters) freeze well, so you can pop in a tray of cookies when your kid tells you he needs them for the party tomorrow or you'd like to take something to the staff at work.
Don't give up dessert! Instead, give up worrying about it and get your fix easy-peasy!