Sweet (and healthy) treats for fall

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

The glorious fall colors aren’t unique to just the foliage. Farmers markets abound this time of year with all matter of hues and shapes of produce that delight the senses. Stacks of pumpkin and corn stalks always look festive, but the real delights for me lie in the squash and root vegetables.

Autumn produce is at the peak of flavor right now, but don’t be too quick to pigeonhole them into strict categories. Squash and sweet potatoes, for instance, are equally delicious whether as a savory side or transformed into a delightful dessert.

Adding vegetables to sweets can deliver vitamins, antioxidants and fiber in a tasty package that can provide more vegetables for your diet and fewer empty calories.

The trick with these treats is not to hide the veggies under layers of butter and sugar, but to embrace their natural sweetness ... and sometimes add a sizable handful of chocolate for good measure.

Zucchini is perhaps the most ubiquitous of vegetables gussied up with sugar to make it universal for the table. And pumpkin follows at a close second, especially this time of year when the bright orange gourd shows up in everything from brownies and bread to pies and cakes. And no, the pumpkin spice latte, doesn’t qualify. But there are so many other possibilities for all the autumn bounty.

For instance, the perennial favorite, red velvet cake, gets a healthy kick and bright color with fresh roasted beets. Butternut squash is equally turned into a treat with the assistance of chocolate chips that make a school lunch a true treat. And carrot cake? Yes, absolutely, but carrot cake cookies are even better when they can be used for breakfast or an afternoon treat.

Sweet potatoes may have an ugly exterior, but when turned into a meringue trifle with candied pecans, they become an elegant dessert for a dinner party.

And don’t turn up your nose at the much-maligned rutabaga. Pair with pears and bake into a pie for an apt holiday dessert.

Use your imagination and turn some of your favorite dessert recipes into healthier offerings by substituting or adding some chopped or pureed vegetables. And if you don’t want to tell your family what’s under that frosting or pie crust, that can be your little secret.

Kate Lawson is the retired The Detroit News food writer.


Sweet Potato Meringue Trifle with Candied Pecans

Recipe adapted from delish.com

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 tablespoons maple syrup

kosher salt

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 1/2 cup pecan pieces

6 large egg whites

Pinch cream of tartar

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss sweet potatoes with vegetable oil, maple syrup, and 1/2 teaspoon salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender and caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes; let cool.

Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, combine brown sugar, pecans, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until pecans are toasted and sugar melts and coats the nuts. Transfer to a plate to let cool.

Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Gradually add 1 cup sugar in a steady stream and continue beating until still peaks form, about 6 minutes, then beat in vanilla.

In individual serving glasses, layer roasted potatoes, candied pecans, and meringue, ending with meringue and reserving some pecans for sprinkling. Broil or use a kitchen torch to brulée the meringue tops, then serve. Serves 8.

Per serving: 406 calories; 17 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 38 percent calories from fat); 61 g carbohydrates; 43 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 221 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Red Velvet Beet Cupcakes

Adapted from The Chew cookbook’s Red Velvet Cake

2 large beets

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon. baking soda

1 teaspoon. salt

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted

3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

2 eggs

1 tablespoon red food coloring

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Your favorite cream cheese or vanilla frosting recipe

Chocolate shavings for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice off beet leaves close to the stem and scrub the beets clean. Place each beet on a large square of foil and sprinkle with the salt, olive oil and a splash of water. Wrap each beet loosely with the foil.

Place foil-wrapped beets on a baking sheet and roast until a knife or fork comes out with ease when inserted into the beet, about 30-40 minutes or so (smaller beets will cook quicker than large beets). Remove the beets and set aside to cool just enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.

Peel the cooled beets and place in a blender or food processor. Blend until pureed.

Add coconut oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla to the beet puree and blend. In two parts, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, until just combined. Do not overmix. Scoop batter into lined cupcake tins, filling about 2/3 full.

Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Let cool and then frost with your favorite frosting (I used a store-bought, sugar-free kind). Top with chocolate shavings. Keep leftovers in an airtight container. Makes about 20 cupcakes.

Per serving (with 2 tablespoons frosting): 328 calories; 12 g fat (6 g saturated fat; 33 percent calories from fat); 52 g carbohydrates; 36 g sugar; 19 mg cholesterol; 305 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Chocolate Chip Butternut Squash Bars

Recipe from relish.com

2/3 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 large egg

1 cup butternut squash, cooked ’til tender and mashed

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour bottom of 9-by-9-inch pan

Melt butter on stove-top in medium saucepan on medium heat. Add brown sugar and stir until hot and bubbly. Pour into a large bowl and set aside to cool until chocolate chips won’t melt when added. When cooled, mix in vanilla, baking powder, salt and spices.

Stir in egg until thoroughly incorporated.

Stir in butternut squash, scraping bowl frequently.

Stir in flour and chips.

Scrape into prepared pan.

Bake about 35-40 minutes.

Let cool on a rack in pan, then slice. Makes 12 bars.

Per serving: 218 calories; 6 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 25 percent calories from fat); 41 g carbohydrates; 26 g sugar; 19 mg cholesterol; 151 mg sodium; 3 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Carrot Cake Oatmeal Cookies

Recipe from southernfoodabout.com

1 cup instant oats (See notes)

3/4 cup whole wheat or gluten-free flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons coconut oil or unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 large egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

3/4 cup grated carrots (about 1 medium)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, egg, and vanilla. Stir in the maple syrup until thoroughly incorporated. Add in the flour mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Fold in the carrots. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes. (If chilling longer, cover with plastic wrap, ensuring it touches the entire surface of the cookie dough.)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with a parchment paper.

Drop the cookie dough into 15 rounded scoops on the baking sheet. (If chilled longer than 1 1/2 hours, flatten slightly.) Bake at 325 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

Notes: To make your own instant oats, pulse 1 cup of old-fashioned oats in a food processor 5-8 times.

Be sure that the egg is at room temperature before whisking it in. A cold egg added straight from the fridge would rapidly cool the fat source, resulting in small blobs of semi-solid coconut oil, butter, or margarine.

Honey or agave may be substituted in place of the pure maple syrup.

If the cookies are still really flimsy after cooling on the baking sheet for 15 minutes and threaten to break apart, let them cool completely on the baking sheet. Makes 14 cookies.

Per serving: 98 calories; 3 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 28 percent calories from fat); 17 g carbohydrates; 7 g sugar; 13 mg cholesterol; 70 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Rutabaga Pear Pie

Recipe from willystreetcoop.com

/ pound rutabaga (peeled and cut into one-inch chunks)

2 pears (or apples, large, peeled, cored and quartered) plus 2 more pears, peeled and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon maple syrup

/ teaspoon ground coriander

/ teaspoon ground ginger

/ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pinch salt

2 eggs

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 cup half-and-half

1 pie crust (9-inch, unbaked)

Cinnamon sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Steam or boil rutabaga chunks 20 minutes; add pears or apples and cook 10 minutes longer. Puree together, then add maple syrup, spices and salt. In separate large bowl, beat eggs with sugar until thick. Stir in rutabaga mixture and half and half. Layer pear slices on bottom of crust. Pour fruit mixture into pie crust. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 25-30 minutes longer or until custard is set. Serves 8.

Per serving: 261 calories; 13 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 45 percent calories from fat); 34 g carbohydrates; 16 g sugar; 58 mg cholesterol; 179 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 4 g fiber.