This weekend I conducted an empirically rigorous taste test of a highly rated Paula Deen pumpkin bar recipe (really a cake) from foodnetwork.com – one version with full fat and one with applesauce substituted for half the oil. My expert testers – four adults and six kids – ruled in favor of the applesauce version. A win all around – both healthier and yummier than the original.
I am health conscious, but I’m not one of these people that wants to make fat-free anything or sneak black beans into brownies. I like my food to maintain its integrity, and I prefer to cook food that isn’t excessively indulgent in its original form. But some recipes are prime candidates for healthy substitutions (whole wheat flour in carrot cake, for example), and I thought applesauce would complement pumpkin here and make for a nutritious substitution without sacrificing flavor.
I’ve never made a Paula Deen recipe before, and I don’t watch much TV. I chose this pumpkin bar recipe after coming across it online because I wanted something rich in pumpkin flavor, and this had a higher pumpkin-to-flour ratio than the many other pumpkin bread recipes I’d seen. I passed on Paula’s cream cheese frosting – several reviewers of the recipe said the cake was just as good unfrosted, and oddly enough my kids don’t like frosting.
I was just going to make an applesauce version, but I figured we’d all wonder how it compared to the original. So I made two half-batches, even though it meant twice as many bowls to wash. This is also a recipe, like my five minute chocolate cake, that makes an unusually large amount of batter. So it was easy to make two smaller cakes.
All-oil vs half-applesauce.
Child labor for mixing.
The applesauce cake was not quite as glossy as the oil cake, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to distinguish a difference after baking. A local bakery in Ohio, Beehive Bread, makes a killer pumpkin bread with chocolate chips that my family loves. So I put chocolate chips on half the applesauce cake so we could conduct a double taste test and also know which was which.
Baked cakes, looking pretty darned identical. I could feel the applesauce cake was slightly springier when I cut it, and the edges did not have the very slight crispness that the all-oil cake had. The interior crumb and color looked the same.
In the taste test, everyone was either neutral on which version they liked best or in favor of the applesauce version. No one preferred the all-oil cake. And even my chocolate fans liked the pumpkin cake better without. It’s that good.
I tested the next day as well, thinking that the all-oil cake might hold up better over time. But we still liked the applesauce version better. I would have continued the longevity test, but the cake didn’t last past the second day.
Pumpkin applesauce cake
Adapted from Paula Deen’s pumpkin bar recipe. A moist cake with fall flavors. Half the fat of the original and just as good.
- 4 eggs
- 1 2/3 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1/2 cup applesauce
- 15-ounce can pumpkin
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, oil, applesauce and pumpkin. Mix well.
- In separate bowl mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
- Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth.
- Spread the batter into a greased 13″x10″ baking pan, or two 8″x8″ baking pans. Bake until toothpick in center comes out clean, 30-40 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar before serving, or cool completely before icing.
- 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth.
- Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined.
- Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Spread on cooled pumpkin cake.
- Also make good cupcakes (approximately 24) or a sheet cake in a 10″x15″ jelly roll pan.
- Cake takes well to being cooled in refrigerator.
- Fans of a spicier cake may want to increase the cinnamon or add nutmeg, ginger or cloves to the mix.
Here’s the link to a printable version of the recipe: pumpkin applesauce cake for printing.