With our help, this three-layer sweet stays in our Tennessee reader’s repertoire.
Credit: Randy Mayor

The Reader: Claudia Smelser, 63, executive secretary, Tennessee Department of Education, Nashville

The Story: Fifteen years ago, a colleague brought this dessert to a luncheon. When Smelser learned how easy it was to prepare―a simple homemade crust topped with pudding and frozen whipped topping―she wanted the recipe, and has since delighted family and friends with the delicious treat. However, her desire to moderate the fat and calories in the indulgent dessert prompted her to attempt lightening the recipe. She experimented with sugar-free puddings and reduced-fat cream cheese for the filling, which yielded fairly satisfactory results. But the butter-laden, shortbread-textured crust still bothered her. Thus, she solicited the help of Cooking Light to tame the creamy and chocolaty dessert.

The Dilemma: Smelser jokingly refers to the recipe as the “Girdlebuster,” and that name says it all. With a whopping 370 calories and 23 grams of fat per serving, the dessert deserves its nickname. Besides the high fat and calorie counts (each serving contains almost one-third of the total recommended daily fat intake), it also has nearly a day’s worth of saturated fat, according to American Heart Association recommendations for a 2,000-calorie diet.

The Solution: We start with the buttery, nutty crust. Since the butter and pecans add significant calories and fat, we halve the amounts of both, shaving seven grams of fat (including three grams saturated fat) and 60 calories from each serving. We add powdered sugar to the crust for sweetness and a little starch, which helps preserve the shortbreadlike texture of the pastry. Toasting and finely chopping the nuts boosts flavor, allowing us to use a smaller volume. To maintain a pleasingly creamy mouthfeel in the filling layers, we swap full-fat dairy products for one percent low-fat milk and a combination of fat-free and reduced-fat cream cheeses, and we also use reduced-calorie whipped topping.

This trims 45 calories and another six grams of fat (along with three grams of saturated fat).

The Feedback: The improved dessert received rave reviews at a recent family gathering. “It is our consensus the lightened version is even better than the original,” Smelser says. Even her sometimes- finicky 12-year-old granddaughter loved the tender, flavorful crust. Armed with this lighter Cool, Creamy Chocolate Dessert, Smelser can serve this confection without the nutritional guilt of the Girdlebuster. Her next challenge: coming up with a more suitable nickname for the new recipe.

370 Calories per serving
23.4g Fat
57 percent total calories

268 Calories per serving
10.2g Fat
34 percent total calories