A Former White House Pastry Chef Reveals the Low-Sugar Desserts the Obamas Requested All the Time

Evan Sung

The Sweet Spot book
Photo: Penguin Random House

As the White House's head pastry chef, Bill Yosses was charged by Michelle Obama with making desserts that were if not quite healthy, at least healthier. So, he kept portions small and used wholesome, nutritious ingredients instead of the traditional all-white stuff as often as he could—never, however, at the expense of how delicious or satisfying his confections were. “When desserts are being served to the First Family, they want the real thing,” says Yosses, who recently published The Sweet Spot: Dialing back Sugar and Amping Up Flavor.

While in the White House, Yosses primarily made pies—President Obama’s favorites were banana cream and pumpkin, while the First Lady preferred apple and pecan—but his cookbook is stuffed with reduced-sugar recipes for cakes, cookies, and more. Chia seeds, quinoa flour, nut butters, and nut flours all make frequent appearances on ingredient lists. “It’s a painless way to improve nutrition,” says Yosses, who also sells made-to-order pies online.

President Obama’s favorites were banana cream and pumpkin, while the First Lady preferred apple and pecan.

Another health upgrade? Yosses also uses more natural sweeteners and relies on spices to “distract the palate.”  Translation: You don’t miss the sugar that’s not in the cake you’re eating.

Want to eat like a president? Keep reading for one of Yosses's mouth-watering recipes.

Chocolate Pear Cake
Photo: Evan Sung

Chocolate pear cake

Gut-healthy kefir replaces cream in this cake recipe and gives it a little unexpected tang. "The kefir awakens the palate and harmonizes the flavors," says Yosses of the probiotic-rich dairy. Sugar is reduced by nearly half while star anise spices things up. And, as Yosses points out, "a big part of each portion is the pear."

Serves 10

For the pears
4 Tbsp local honey
1 star anise
4 pears (Comice, Bosc, or Bartlett), halved lengthwise, seeds and stem removed

For the cake
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2⁄3 cup organic cane sugar
1⁄3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp quinoa flour, purchased or home-milled
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
1⁄2 cup kefir
1/3 cup coconut oil
2 Tbsp almond oil
2 large eggs
Plain unsweetened full-fat Greek yogurt, for serving

1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan with coconut oil and wrap the bottom with aluminum foil.

2. Prepare the pears. Combine the honey and star anise in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until the honey is reduced to a thick, bubbly glaze. It will begin to caramelize and a distinct honey caramel aroma will permeate the air. Continue to cook until the honey is a dark amber.

3. Immediately add a quarter cup water to stop the cooking and, using a slotted spoon, remove the star anise. Remove the pan from the heat and stir. Return the pan to the heat and return the mixture to a boil. Pour into the springform pan, scraping the saucepan clean with a rubber spatula. Using the back of a spoon, spread the caramelized honey evenly over the bottom of the pan. Arrange the pears, cut side down, over the honey and set aside.

3. Make the cake: Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, quinoa flour, baking powder, and salt in a large fine-mesh sieve set over parchment and tap through to sift. Repeat, sifting into a large mixing bowl. (Sifting twice helps to evenly distribute the baking powder since it’s the only leavener, you want it well dispersed.)

4. In another large mixing bowl, combine the kefir, coconut oil, almond oil, and eggs and vigorously whisk to break up the eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until well blended. Pour the batter over the pears. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside on the counter, sliding a fork underneath the pan to allow airflow. Let cool for 15 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Reprinted  from THE SWEET SPOT Dialing Back Sugar and Amping Up Flavor by arrangement with Pam Krauss Books, A member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2017, Bill Yosses. All rights reserved.

For more healthy dessert ideas check out these recipes for gluten-free banana chocolate teacake and pumpkin peanut butter molten cake cups

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