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Three Guilt-Free Fall Dessert Recipes

Indulge in these delicious, lower-fat treats this season

En español | Nearly every afternoon I enjoy a little something sweet, but I'm pretty picky about my indulgence. If it's too lean or healthy, I'm not interested. If it's too decadent, I feel guilty. My perfect sweet falls somewhere in between the two.

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Doughnuts have always been one of my guilty pleasures, but we all know that a wad of dough in a deep fryer absorbs oil like a sponge in a bucket of water. The good news is that you can actually bake doughnuts. You cook them in a mini-muffin pan, or if you want the cute doughnut shape, you can buy a special (inexpensive) pan.

The recipe for Baked Apple-Cider Doughnuts makes only a dozen mini-doughnuts, but unless you're serving a large group, you don't want a lot. They're best eaten fresh, when they're still warm. You make the doughnut batter using the classic quick bread method: Mix a few wet ingredients, mix a few dry ingredients, then mix the two together. Since the doughnuts are small, they bake quickly. As they emerge from the oven, brush them with a little butter — only one tablespoon for all 12 — and then dredge them in cinnamon sugar. These two steps make them feel indulgent without adding lots of calories.

Unlike doughnuts, which have a short shelf life, Chocolate Wafers last at least a month in a sealed tin. They're lovely just plain, but for a teatime treat I frequently spread them with nut butters, chocolate-hazelnut spread, jams or marmalade. The dough is simple, but note that I replace butter (animal fat) with the more nutrient-dense antioxidant coconut oil.

Since my older daughter, Maggy, is doing her best to eat a vegan diet and pumpkin bread is one of her favorite fall treats, she and I worked together to develop a loaf that contains no dairy or eggs. Once again, coconut is the hero in this recipe, with coconut milk replacing the eggs and coconut oil standing in for traditional butter. Both of us are amazed at its flavor and texture.

My younger daughter, Sharon, described these sweet snacks well: "They're healthy enough so that you don't feel guilty for eating one … but not so healthy that you have to force yourself to eat one!" All three of these baked goodies are scrumptious, satisfying and not too dangerous for your diet. What more can you ask of a treat?

Better-for-you Fall treats, baked apple cider donuts

A healthier doughnut is a baked one, like these apple cider mini treats. —

Baked Apple-Cider Doughnuts

Makes 1 dozen mini-doughnuts

  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: salt and baking soda
  • 6 tablespoons apple butter
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, salt and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Whisk apple butter, brown sugar and oil to combine. Whisk apple mixture into flour mixture to form a smooth batter. Spoon batter into doughnut pan (or in the cups of a mini-muffin tin). Bake until doughnuts are firm to the touch, about 10 minutes. Turn doughnuts onto a wire rack.

Mix sugar with remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Working one at a time when they're cool enough to handle, lightly brush doughnuts with butter and dredge in cinnamon sugar. Serve.

Better-for-you Fall treats, chocolate linzer cookies

Chocolate wafers store well in a tin, but topped with nut butters and spreads, jams or marmalade, they disappear quickly. —

Chocolate Wafers

Makes about 4 dozen 2-inch cookies

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Whisk flour and cocoa together in a medium bowl. Whisk egg, vanilla and salt together in a small bowl. Cream coconut oil and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg mixture; continue beating until well incorporated. Add flour mixture; beat over low speed to form a dark, smooth dough. Divide dough in half and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes. (Can be refrigerated up to two days or double wrapped and frozen for one month.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Working one disc at a time, roll dough on a lightly floured work surface to a scant 1/4th-inch thick, sprinkling surface with flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut dough into desired shape. Place dough shapes 1/2-inch apart on a Silpat- or parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Use a thin-bladed spatula to immediately transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Cool to room temperature. Repeat rolling, cutting and baking remaining dough, rolling scraps to create as many cookies as possible. Can be stored in an airtight container up to 3 weeks or frozen for several months.

Pumpkin bread. Three better-for-you fall treats.

Coconut milk and coconut oil replace the eggs and butter in this vegan-friendly oatmeal pumpkin bread. —

Oatmeal Pumpkin Bread

Makes 2 large loaves

White whole-wheat flour looks and tastes almost like white flour but offers the health benefits of whole wheat. If you can't find it, substitute an equal amount of all-purpose flour.

  • 3-1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon each: baking soda, salt and ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 can (13.5 ounces) regular coconut milk
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups brown sugar

Grease two 9x5-inch loaf pans. Adjust over rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, oats, baking powder, ginger, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves in a large bowl. Meanwhile, whisk coconut milk, pure pumpkin, coconut oil and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Beat wet ingredients into dry ingredients until smooth; divide evenly between prepared pans. Bake until golden brown and a cake taster comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Run a knife around the pan to loosen the bread and then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely. Slice and serve. (Loaves can be wrapped and refrigerated for several days or frozen for a couple of months.)

AARP food expert Pam Anderson is a best-selling cookbook author and blogger at

Originally published Oct. 8, 2013

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