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Dec 15, 2008 02:22 PM

Bread Mixes: Swap Yogurt for Oil?

I'm not into baking, so when the yearning strikes, I rely heavily on Trader Joe's instant bread mixes, like their swell new gingerbread mix (I also like banana and pumpkin).

My question is whether I can replace some of the oil with nonfat yogurt just to healthify a little. And whether to then adjust the water, as well.

Also, any suggestions for only slightly less quick/lazy ways of doing this sort of thing from scratch, allowing me to use whole grains and less sugar for even healthier results, without having to resort to sifting and other craziness? Never will I sift.


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  1. I don't know about using yogurt, but in most moist sweet bread recipes you can swap most or even all of the oil with applesauce. If you're using applesauce, you can cut down slightly on the sugar as well, and you could probably use whole wheat flour instead of white flour.

    1. For replacing oil, I'd use applesauce, as Ruth Lafler suggested, or pumpkin puree, depending on what you're making. You can replace it all, which will give you a cakier bread, or go half and half and not notice the difference w/ oil. I've cut quite a lot of sugar out of breads, too, and cookies. I then top w/ a sugar glaze. It takes less sugar to get that same taste--think Frosted Flakes. They don't have more sugar but taste like it because they're coated.

      You can use ww pastry flour in recipes, in place of AP flour, with no changes to the recipe. Quick breads are really forgiving. Find recipes that uses oil and you can put it together in no time. You don't have to sift, for anything really. Just take a whisk to it with the other dry ingredients. The basics--stir together sugar, oil/puree/applesauce, eggs. Whisk dry ingredients together. Add to egg mix, stir. Bake in oiled pan. Not much harder than the mix.

      21 Replies
      1. re: chowser

        Thanks, Ruth.

        Chowser, sounds like you think the same way I do. I like the glaze idea a lot (I'd probably find a way to subtly flavor the glaze, just to get maximum mileage). One thing I'm curious about: the whisk. I've always thought you wanted to just minimally, gently, fold ingredients for sweet bread recipes, or else it gets tough...?

        Also, why the heck do people use so much oil if applesauce works as well?? I understand the attraction of, like, skate with brown butter. But I just can't understand gratuitous fat and other unhealthy stuff when it's not necessary....

        1. re: Jim Leff

          Also, can anyone point me to a book, site, or other resource for good basic sweet bread recipes (don't need anything fancy) that I can then modify with applesauce, whole wheat flower, and glaze?

          1. re: Jim Leff

            I have this book -- Quick Breads published by Nitty Gritty books -- and it's very simple. It's out of print, but there are used copies online:

            Among other things, it has a couple of basic mixes (one sweet, one savory) that you can put together and then use as the basis for other recipes (theirs or your own).

            1. re: Jim Leff

              As flour goes, I use whole wheat pastry flour which isn't the same as whole wheat flour. Whole wheat flour does alter the taste/texture if you just substitute it in a recipe that calls for AP flour (The King Arthur WW baking book has excellent recipes that use whole grains and they're made for ww which makes the difference. It's not low fat, though, and while there are basic recipes, it is more of a cookbook for people who love to bake). I use half white whole wheat and half white and it's closer in texture, tastes good but still detectable. WW pastry flour does affect the color some, if it's a light product and sometimes has a sandy texture in the final product but it's light, like AP flour, not denser like regular ww flour. But the difference could be my being particular because when people have things I've baked, even ones who hate whole grains, they like it and don't notice.

            2. re: Jim Leff

              You whisk the dry ingredients to make sure they're well mixed. You want the baking soda/powder to be mixed through. Then fold dry mix into the egg mixture. It's usually so moist that it only takes a few turns. You can flavor the glaze by using different liquids (buttermilk, rum, orange juice) or adding spices, citrus rinds, etc.

              Cutting out all the fat works and can make a decent product but I can tell it from full fat easily. Cutting half the fat makes a much closer product. There are times when I go all out w/ full butter, cream, etc. but for day to day baking try to make it healthier, if possible, w/out compromising the taste, or at least end up with something that tastes good.

              As a site for basic recipes, is pretty good. It's like the youtube of recipes where you can find anything, from terrible to excellent with many different versions. Make sure to read/skim the reviews, even if there are a lot of stars. There can be good advice about changes to the recipe or things that didn't work and people tend to rate recipes highly yet give it bad reviews. Look for ones that use oil, rather than butter, if you want something easy. With butter, there's creaming--not hard but you need a mixer and it adds another step. If there's a particular bread you want, I'm sure you'd get quite a few from CHers.

              1. re: chowser

                I also find that the texture of quick breads is better if you don't replace all of the oil, but I typically will use a quarter to half what's called for, depending on the amount called for. Replacing all the oil with applesauce, etc. can cause things to be rubbery or tough sometimes. But I'm always shocked when I see recipes for a single loaf calling for 3/4 cup to 1 cup of oil. Not just unhealthful, but greasy, results.

                Jim, buttermilk is low fat and also a good oil substitute if you have a recipe that already is moistened by a main ingredient like pumpkin or bananas, because it helps keep things tender.

                Here is a recipe for a good banana bread that's inherently low fat (1 tbsp. oil), which I always make with whole wheat pastry flour and less sugar than called for (I prefer brown sugar, as its flavor complements bananas). I usually add some cinnamon, too.


                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                  Chowser and Caitlin, thanks. Questions for Caitlin:

                  1. have you experimented with buttermilk AND applesauce?
                  2. have you ever adapted the banana bread recipe to other flavorings (pumpkin, banana, ginger, chocolate, etc)?
                  3. any idea how much sugar you cut out, and how much cinnamon you add in?
                  4. what's the healthiest "go to" oil for general "veg oil" needs like this? I made the mistake of adding grapeskin oil to my TJ's gingerbread, with slightly icky results.
                  5. whole wheat pastry flour needs refrigeration and goes bad soon, right?

                  I wish commercial bakeries would get smart and start offering healthier alternatives (I don't mean disgusting fat-free muffins or sugar-substitutes, of course). I think that's my single biggest disappointment with the modern day food world: it's still so hard to find whole grains or any sort of greens in restaurants, or to find places that pledge against insidious and gratuitous salt and fat. Restaurants used to be special occasion places. In many urban areas, they serve a wider role than that, yet they have missed stepping up to the plate with healthful options. Chefs just aren't trained that way, nor are many of them personally interested in the notion of a viable diet. Of course, it's also customer's fault. They say they want healthy, but they swoon when you melt a stick of butter into their food. And most divide sharply between ascetic health food cultists and hedonists. Not so many healthy hedonists out there, I guess....but more than before. It's an opportunity.

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    1) No, I haven't tried buttermilk and applesauce. I haven't seen it as a substitution but I am willing to give it a shot. I just baked some sweet potato and will make the sweet potato bread on this site (I have made that w/ ww pastry flour and cut the oil and flour, added applesauce). But, buttermilk is more liquid so I might have to increase flour somewhat. I'll play with it.

                    2) The recipes/textures of pumpkin bread and banana bread are different so I use different recipes with it. I have changed out some flour and added cocoa powder to banana bread and added some chocolate chips. It's also good when I add different spices besides the basic cinnamon, etc. Ginger, orange peel, cardamon are good.

                    3) If I use applesauce, I've cut as much as half the sugar. It does affect the texture but I like the lightness. I've been thinking of making that salted caramel frosting on Chow, thinning it out and putting it on sweet potato or pumpkin bread, with half the sugar. Maybe that's what I'll try for the above w/ buttermilk. As adding more cinnamon goes, more than a tsp and I'd consider adding other spices that would compliment it, eg nutmeg, allspice, ginger, etc. If you want to keep it simple, I wonder if pumpkin pie spice would help. I've never used it but it seems to have those basic spices.

                    4) Healthiest oil has been debated here, whether canola is healthy or not because it's genetically modified and not a naturally occuring plant. Nut oils would probably be good but cost prohibitive for me. I use light olive oil. It's not "light" as calories go but is a final pressing so doesn't have much taste to it. I find it works well w/ baked goods and buy the big Bertolli container at Costco. Was it grapeseed oil you used? I used to use that for cooking because it's supposedly good for eczema but that goes bad very quickly and it's so expensive. I can't imagine how much it would cost to bake with it--I think it was over $10 for a small bottle.

                    5) WW pastry flour is normally sold in small bags, not like regular flour, so I go through it pretty quickly. You can freeze it and use it out of the freezer.

                    I'll bet goodheathgourmet here cooks along your lines. I consider myself a healthy hedonist--for special occasions, I go all out, or but for day to day I eat well but the food still has to taste good. But I don't expect a pumpkin quick bread that's a regular in my diet to be as good as a wedding cake which is a rare thing. And, something along those lines has to be incredible for me to eat it. It has to be calorie-worthy. I think one problem is so many people try to bake healthfully just by changing completely whole grains, no fat, no egg yolks, etc. and it just doesn't taste good so it turns people off healthy foods altogether.

                    1. re: chowser

                      Grapeseed oil isn't necessarily that expensive -- you must have bought it at a fancy specialty store instead of a Middle Eastern market. Even Trader Joe's has a grapeseed oil that's IIRC $3.49 for 12 ounces, or basically in the same range as olive oil. I'm not sure why Jim thought the result was icky -- grapeseed oil doesn't have much flavor at all, although it does go rancid quickly so maybe it had gone off.

                      I agree that a mild flavored olive oil is a good choice. If you don't mind spending a bit more money and aren't going to be using a whole lot, nut oils (walnut, almond, etc.) are great for quick breads. Again, don't buy them at a fancy store, buy them at a health food store or ethnic market. And keep them in the fridge, as they do go bad quickly.

                      Canola oil is the invention of the devil!

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Yes, I bought it at Whole Foods but this was back before TJs was as ubiquitous as it is now and it goes bad so quickly that I did end up throwing out a good amount but I never thought to bake with it.

                        I never thought to keep the olive oil in the refrigerator. Does it harden? I buy the large container at Costco and go through it pretty quickly.

                        1. re: chowser

                          I didn't mean to suggest keeping olive oil in the fridge (yes, it will thicken, but not harden), just nut oils, which are very sensitive, very expensive, and which you generally don't use very quickly.

                    2. re: Jim Leff

                      I'm into making healthy bran muffins and have experimented with using buttermilk and applesauce. They play well together in a bran recipe, though I usually keep about 1 tablespoon of oil as I think it really helps with the muffin texture. Canola oil is usually my go to oil, it's a very neutral flavor and in small quantities isn't bad. If health is the goal, you can also mix in small quantities of ground flax seed and/or soy protien powder to increase the nutritient value of the quick bread without destroying the flavors.

                      1. re: Jim Leff

                        I gave this a try this afternoon with the food network sweet potato bread recipe.


                        The substitutions I made were:

                        apple cider instead of water

                        replaced 2/3 c oil w/ yogurt, applesauce and oil (less oil but I wasn't that precise. I made sure the three added up to 2/3 c.


                        I don't have ww pastry flour (staple I normally have but just ran out) so used 2 c AP flour, 1 1/3 c whole wheat, not white whole wheat which I prefer in baked goods

                        Cut sugar to 1 1/2 c., instead of 2 2/3c. but added a good dollop (probably a tbsp or two) of molasses to give it the caramelly like texture of brown sugar

                        It has a nice soft texture, almost cake like and not oily which quick breads can be sometimes. It has enough sugar from the apple sauce, cider and sugar so it's still sweet but not overly so. It would be perfect for a morning bread. I can't tell there is any ww flour in it, it's nice and light. The one complaint I'd have is that the crust, while crisp, isn't as crisp as the one w/ full sugar. If you compared the two side by side, you could tell they weren't exactly the same but I can't say I'd prefer the full fat, white processed one over this one. I like that this isn't as sweet and oily as some breads can be. If you wanted it sweeter, a glaze would be perfect or even a sprinkling of powdered sugar. I always keep some in a container w/ holes.

                        1. re: chowser

                          day 2 on the bread--not as good. I think you need half oil and the other half either but I think the applesauce helps with the sweetness. Also, I'd butter the pan and not spray it. The center of the bread is fine but the crust doesn't have the same crunchy texture.

                          1. re: chowser

                            Yep, the oil is essential to the bread's shelf life.

                            1. re: Hungry Celeste

                              So the question is how long can you go and still get decent shelf life, or at least 2-3 days? I've done as low as half, which is about 1/2 cup and that works for a couple of days. This time I was below 1/4 cup. It was fine the day of but the next day isn't as good.

                        2. re: Jim Leff

                          Oops, somehow missed this - sorry, Jim!

                          1. I don't think I've used buttermilk and applesauce together, as I'm usually looking to use only one substitute in a recipe.

                          2. The structure of this recipe relies on the mashed bananas, so it's not a good candidate for removing them and using other ingredients to vary the flavor. I have a pumpkin bread/muffin recipe that I've modified to be low in fat, etc. (and that I make w/WW pastry flour) - let me know if you're interested and I can paraphrase. Gingerbread recipes are mostly pretty simple; some use buttermilk, and I've subbed applesauce in others. A lean and adaptable quick bread is beer bread. It's generally savory, but you can increase the sugar and add spices, nuts, dried fruits, etc. for a sweet version. Sub 1/3-1/2 cup cocoa for an equal amount of flour (and increase sugar) for chocolate. This thread has the base recipe (note the correction: should read 3 teaspoons baking powder, not 3 tablespoons) and tons of ideas:

                          3. I probably use 1/2 cup or so sugar (brown) and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Nuts, dried cranberries or cherries also are good stirred in after the dry ingredients.

                          4. You've got some answers here, but light olive oil is probably the most healthful. I generally use cold-pressed grapeseed oil when I need a neutral oil for cooking or baking, and have never had anything but great results. You can store it in the fridge and it stays liquid.

                          5. Whole-grain flours do go rancid, but if you don't buy too much at once, it shouldn't be a problem. Storing it in the fridge can't hurt, so long as you seal it in an airtight container so it doesn't pick up odors.

                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                            Thanks, Caitlin! Yeah, I'd love to hear a paraphrase of your pumpkin bread/muffin recipe modified to be low in fat using WW pastry flour, if you don't mind!

                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              Okay, here goes. Keep in mind when looking at ingredient amounts, this recipe makes two 8x4-inch loaves or around 18 muffins (once baked, it freezes well). I have made this with less oil and proportionally more buttermilk or applesauce, but it's not as good. You might cut back the sugar a bit if you use applesauce. This bread has a nice, spicy flavor because that's how I like it, but the spices can be altered to taste. This is good with a lemon glaze, if you want to gild the lily - it hardly needs adornment.

                              Pumpkin Bread or Muffins

                              Whisk together and set aside:

                              3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
                              2 teaspoons each ground cinnamon and nutmeg
                              1 teaspoon each ground ginger, cloves, and allspice
                              1 teaspoon baking soda
                              1/2 teaspoon baking powder
                              1/2 teaspoon salt

                              Whisk together in a large bowl:

                              3 large eggs
                              1 1/2 cups (brown) sugar
                              2 cups pureed pumpkin (1 15-oz can)
                              1/2 cup vegetable oil of your choice
                              1/2 cup buttermilk or unsweetened applesauce

                              Stir in dry ingredients just until blended. Pour into greased muffin tins or 2 greased loaf pans, and bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes for muffins, 60-70 minutes for loaves, until a tester comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool.

                                1. re: Jim Leff

                                  Enjoy! this is one of my all-time favorite quick breads.

                2. I see you've gotten a lot of responses regarding the applesauce substitution - a favorite of mine - but I thought I'd jump in and say I've successfully used yogurt to replace oil as well. It adds a slight tang, much like buttermilk can do, but I think it actually improves the flavor of banana, cranberry and zucchini breads (but is not as noticable in pumpkin). The texture does change a bit, but again, sometimes for the better. For example, I make a zucchini bread that originally came from my MIL, who used 1 CUP of oil. I used 1 cup of low-fat plain yogurt, and we all agreed the texture and flavor were superior in the yogurt version.

                  As far as whole wheat flour, my rule is to never sub more than 1/3 of the regular flour with whole wheat, and this generally doesn't change the texture too dramatically, though it isn't THAT healthy either...

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: RosemaryHoney

                    "As far as whole wheat flour, my rule is to never sub more than 1/3 of the regular flour with whole wheat, and this generally doesn't change the texture too dramatically, though it isn't THAT healthy either..."

                    How about adding in some wheat germ to zoom up the nutrition?

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      RE: wheat germ, SOME is a good thing. Too much and the texture is just yucky. The leavening (baking powder, soda, etc) can be overwhelmed by the weight of the germ, if you go hog-wild with it.

                      As for your earlier question about substituting oil: with most breads, oil or fat (perhaps counterintiutively) extends the shelf other words, the bread won't stale as quickly (oil prevents the drying out/hardening so obvious in lean breads like baguettes). While it might be healthier to cut out all of the fat, keeping some in gives the quickbread a longer shelf life, so you can spread those fat calories out over a more appropriate length of time. Also, totally oil-free quickbreads can have the texture of rubberbands! Personally, I bake & prefer the full-fat versions; I'd skip the steak at dinner before I skimp on the baked goods. We all make calculated nutritional choices, and for me, the taste & texture variations in low-fat baked goods just aren't worth it.

                      A basic quickbread recipe can be infinitely modified, as long as you're substituting like ingredients. For example, one pureed fruit (like bananas) for another, or substituting nuts for some other hard, relatively inert, chopped, add-in (candied ginger, chocolate chips, cinnamon chips, and so on).

                      If you're switching to 100% whole wheat, know that WW flours take a little longer to hydrate than white flours. So don't freak out if the mixture seems on the dry side at first.

                      King Arthur Flour's website is a great baking resource, with tons of recipes, photos, etc.

                      1. re: Hungry Celeste

                        Good point about the whole wheat and hydration. I do increase the liquids slightly if I'm using whole wheat.

                      2. re: Jim Leff

                        I personally disagree with RosemaryHoney on the whole wheat flour sub. If you're happy with the heartier flavor of whole wheat, using 100% whole wheat pastry flour is not a problem, as it behaves like white AP flour. Using regular whole wheat flour, with its rougher texture and slightly higher protein content, will have a much more drastic effect on the resulting baked good. People just starting to transition to whole wheat baking may have a lower tolerance.

                    2. you read my mind, Jim--these are great questions and responses.
                      I've switched over to ww exclusively--I have a tiny kitchen and can't imagine having more than one kind of flour, so I just use ww. I've been able to substitute it pretty successfully in almost everything, though I usually use about 1/4 cup less flour than the recipes call for.
                      the thing I wonder about, since I'm not such a seasoned baker, are the recipes that call for creaming sugar and butter--is there any detriment to texture when you cut back (drastically) on the sugar?
                      love your "healthy hedonism".

                      1. My usual quick bread, intended to replace the moist bran muffins I used to get from a grocery, is based on a pumpkin bread recipe (Joy of Cooking).

                        The basic proportions are 3cup of flour, 4 eggs, 2c of puree (i.e. 15oz can), etc for 2 loaves.
                        I use a mix of flours, about half white whole wheat, the rest mixed (ground almonds (TJs), oat bran (also TJ), rolled oats, corn meal, etc). Yes the texture is different from straight AP, but I like it.
                        I use half of the sugar (1cup)
                        I use about 1/4c of oil (this isn't critical)
                        I've substituted other purees such as sweet potato. I haven't tried banana puree.
                        I vary the flavorings. The usual with pumpkin is molasses, cinnamon, ginger etc. bit for variety I've left off the molasses, or upped the ginger, etc..

                        There have been threads about a gingerbread using a dark beer and lots of molasses (about a cup of each).

                        I also like making a Yorkshire style gingerbread that uses equal parts of flour and rolled oats (parkin).

                        If using yogurt or buttermilk, consider adding some baking soda, and possibly cutting back on the baking powder. It shouldn't be hard to quick bread recipes that already use these. Buttermillk, for example, is commonly used in cornbread.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: paulj

                          Good point about using oats -- even healthier than whole wheat flour.