We found sweet success creating a healthier version of a reader's favorite desserts.
Credit: Randy Mayor

THE READER: Carol Bischoff, retired college administrator, Deer Isle, Maine

THE RECIPE: Butterscotch Bars

THE STORY: Bischoff has always had a sweet tooth. (Her mother jokes she developed one as a result of the end of sugar rationing after World War II.) She says these rich butterscotch bars, with a buttery crust and gooey-nutty center, are irresistible. When family visits, they look forward to the box of the bars Bischoff leaves in the guest rooms. But she and her husband now have goals to stay fit and eat more healthfully, and after trying the recipe using heart-healthy canola oil in place of some of the butter, she wasn’t happy with the results. So Bischoff sent the recipe to Cooking Light for a nutritional makeover.

THE DILEMMA: Plenty of butter, butterscotch chips, sweetened condensed milk, and walnuts contributed to the hefty 223 calories per serving for this bar cookie. One sweet bar had 5 grams of saturated fat per serving, about one-third the daily allotment per American Heart Association diet recommendations.

THE SOLUTION: We started with the middle layer, which needed the most work. First, we swapped fat-free sweetened condensed milk for the regular version to maintain sweetness and richness with fewer calories. Then we reduced the amount of butterscotch chips by a third and omitted 2 tablespoons butter in this part of the recipe without compromising flavor or texture. These three changes trimmed 42 calories and 21/2 grams of fat (nearly 2 grams saturated) per serving. We also slightly tweaked the base layer, which serves double-duty as the crumb topping. Eliminating 3 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar shaved 20 calories and 1 gram of fat per bar. Lastly, to keep calories in check, we used fewer walnuts (which are heart-healthy) and finely chopped and toasted them to extend their flavor and crunch. This cut another 10 calories and about 1 gram of fat.

THE FEEDBACK: Bischoff and her husband, Dick Davis, liked the lighter bars. Davis thought the oatmeal was more prominent, which added a pleasingly hearty texture to the dessert. “There were many excellent changes, and I like this healthier version of my long-time dessert favorite,” Bischoff says. Even though this rendition is not as rich as the original, she says her sweet tooth still approves. She also “doubts the family will know I’m making the lighter version from now on,” and will have the bars ready when they visit again.