How to Eat Dessert Every Day

These 16 pantry staples make for guilt-free treats.

Does daily dessert seem too decadent? Not if you stock your home with healthy ingredients, according to the authors of three new books on the subject: Christine Chitnis (“Icy, Creamy, Healthy, Sweet”), Arman Liew (“Clean Sweets”), and Daisy Kristiansen and Leah Garwood-Gowers (“Raw Cake”). Their secret: eschew refined sugar and flour, and rely on nourishing ingredients when preparing treats.

Still, remember to watch portion sizes and monitor your overall sugar consumption. “Instead of dessert after a meal, enjoy a better-quality version of a treat paired with some veggies,” recommends registered dietitian Ashley Koff.

Read on, as Chitnis, Liew, Kristiansen, and Garwood-Gowers spill the (cacao) beans on their go-to ingredients and then share a few of their delicious recipes. Frozen yogurt bark, anyone?

The healthy dessert pantry

These 16 staple ingredients are the basis of healthy treats.

  1. Fresh fruit: Think of fruit as the star of the show—rely on its natural sweetness when preparing desserts. Opt for ripe seasonal produce, and consider cooking, which intensifies sweetness, suggests Chitnis. Try roasting, simmering, poaching and even grilling.
  2. Dates: In addition to using dates as an ideal binding agent in raw baking (for crusts and fillings), these fruits can be transformed into a caramel-like sauce for drizzling. To prepare, just soak and blend with a bit of coconut oil and salt in the food processor, advise Kristiansen and Garwood-Gowers. To increase flavor and creaminess, add nut butter. If you’re in a rush, start with medjool dates, which do not need to be soaked prior to usage because of their softness.
  3. Nuts and nut butters: For the creamiest texture, go with cashews or macadamia nuts, which are richer in fat. While almond and cashew butters are more neutral in flavor, peanut butter is more assertive. Store nut butter jars upside down to help prevent the separation of the oil. With whole (raw, unsalted) nuts, soak in water for several hours and then blend with fresh water into nut milks and creams for ice cream and cake bases, say Kristiansen and Garwood-Gowers.
  4. Cocoa powder and chocolate bars and chips: Stock raw cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder and dark chocolate chips and bars. Generally, the higher the percentage of cacao content, the lower the sugar and the higher the antioxidant count.
  5. Coconut oil: Kristiansen and Garwood-Gowers call it “the butter of raw baking.” Indeed, coconut oil adds richness to cheesecakes and chocolate desserts. If you’d like to avoid a coconut flavor, opt for a refined version. The fat is easiest to work with in liquid form, so immerse the closed jar in a bowl of hot water to melt before using.
  6. Coconut milk and cream: Try coconut cream and canned, full-fat coconut milk for ice cream bases, suggests Chitnis. Coconut cream comes in cans or small boxes and should not be confused with (sweetened) cream of coconut, which is used for cocktails. To make your own coconut cream, chill canned, full-fat coconut milk overnight and skim the solidified white fat off the surface.
  7. Unsweetened yogurt: Base frozen yogurts on this naturally creamy, high-protein ingredient. Alternatively, add to smoothies and quick bread and cake batters. Look for the word “unsweetened” on the package to control the total sugar content of finished desserts.
  8. Brown rice syrup: Light in hue and flavor, this sweetener doesn’t turn pale desserts, such as vanilla cake, a brown shade, point out Kristiansen and Garwood-Gowers. It’s also uber-sticky, even in small quantities. Try in no-bake treats, says Liew.
  9. Coconut syrup: Mineral rich, this syrup is gooey and caramel-like, according to Kristiansen and Garwood-Gowers.
  10. Honey: Try this flowery sweetener in fruit desserts, recommends Chitnis. Raw, unpasteurized honey contains B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorus; has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties; and can help soothe and reduce seasonal allergies, she says. She recommends finding a source for local, raw honey since commercially produced versions are often stripped of health benefits during pasteurization.
  11. Maple syrup: For a molasses-like flavor (with faint bitterness), opt for grade A: dark color/robust taste or very dark color/strong taste. Generally, the darker the syrup, the more intense the flavor.
  12. Mashed or pureed banana, pumpkin, and sweet potato: Bananas add sweetness and creaminess to sweets and serve as the basis of “nice creams” (or frozen bananas pureed into healthy, dairy-free versions of soft serve) and smoothies, says Liew. When your bananas turn brown, peel, slice and store them in freezer bags. In room temperature desserts, mash or puree bananas (or use cooked and pureed canned or homemade sweet potato or pumpkin) to flesh out, moisten, sweeten and cut the fat.
  13. Flax meal (ground flax): For a vegan substitute for a standard egg, combine ground flax with warm water and let sit for 15 minutes, says Liew. Still, know that flax eggs cannot always replace eggs in recipes, so experiment.
  14. Oat flour: Since this flour does not need to be cooked, it’s perfect for no-bake desserts. To DIY, place rolled oats or quick oats in a blender or food processor and blend until the oats achieve an extremely fine consistency, counsels Liew.
  15. Alcohol and arrowroot starch or flour: Thanks to stabilizers and additives, plus the additional air churned into frozen desserts by commercial ice cream machines, most packaged treats are scoopable mere minutes after leaving the freezer, says Chitnis. To soften the texture of homemade frozen treats (such as ice creams), she adds alcohol or arrowroot. To avoid imparting flavor, choose a flavorless alcohol, such as vodka. Arrowroot (which is flavor- and color-free) also thickens syrups and stabilizes at low temperatures; try it in no-bake sweets.
  16. Coconut flour: High in fiber, this paleo-friendly ingredient can result in pleasantly dense baked goods or doughy no-bake bites, says Liew. Since it’s so absorbent, it requires the addition of more liquid in recipes and cannot be swapped 1:1 for traditional wheat flour.

Bonus ingredients

For extra nutrients, consider adding the below to treats. Just know that the jury’s still out on whether most deliver concrete health benefits.

  1. Protein powder: This supplement comes in several varieties, based on whey or casein, soy, pea, rice, and more. In addition to adding protein, these powders thicken treats, especially smoothies.
  2. Maca: With a malty, butterscotch-like flavor that complements cacao, maca may help increase energy, memory and sexual function.
  3. Wheatgrass and spirulina: The grass and blue-green algae, respectively, will brighten green-hued desserts, such as pistachio cake and mint chocolate ice cream. Wheatgrass (whose taste is true to its name) might improve symptoms of ulcerative colitis and reduce chemotherapy side effects, according to WebMD. Meanwhile, spirulina (which tastes a bit like seaweed) is rich in protein and iron and is being researched on the theory that it could boost immunity, reduce inflammation and fight viral infections.
  4. Turmeric: This spice adds a vibrant orange hue (not to mention potential anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to curcumin) to lemon cakes and other treats. Since it tastes bitter, use it in small quantities.

Everyday delicious desserts

Here are seven recipes for guilt-free indulgence every day of the week.

Date Paste

Date paste is tricky to get hold of. We’ve stumbled upon it for sale once from a renowned Turkish restaurateur; it was delicious, but it’s just as easy to make your own. Date paste is one of those things you can’t believe is made from just one ingredient. It looks, tastes and behaves just like the caramel that we know and love—only it’s better for you. The best dates to use are the soft Medjool dates, as this large variety has a sumptuous, caramel-like flavor. If you can’t get your hands on those, soaking other types of date until they are softer will work just as well.

Makes about 2 cups

  1. Blend the dates in a high-powered food processor on high, stopping to scrape the sides down a few times, then blend for a couple more minutes until a paste starts to form. If you are finding that the dates are not blending to a smooth paste, add 1–2 tablespoons of water or coconut oil to help them along. Add the salt for a well-rounded, rich, sweet flavor and pulse briefly to combine.

From “Raw Cake: Beautiful, Nutritious and Indulgent Raw Desserts, Treats, Smoothies and Elixirs” by Daisy Kristiansen and Leah Garwood-Gowers of The Hardihood. Copyright © 2017 by the authors and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.

Raw Chocolate

When you don’t have the time to temper your chocolate or be a fully-fledged chocolatier, this is a simplified raw chocolate recipe that is really easy to whip up in a minute or two. It’s not stable enough to be an ingredient for chocolate bars, but it’s perfect for decorating your desserts with, pouring over ice cream or smothering your raw pancakes in. What’s not to love?

Makes about 2 cups

  1. Blend all the ingredients together in a high-powered food processor on high for a few seconds until well combined, taking care not to overmix.

From “Raw Cake: Beautiful, Nutritious and Indulgent Raw Desserts, Treats, Smoothies and Elixirs” by Daisy Kristiansen and Leah Garwood-Gowers of The Hardihood. Copyright © 2017 by the authors and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.

Four-Ingredient Cashew Butter Freezer Fudge

A twist on the classic fudge, this version includes a boost of protein. And because it’s designed to be enjoyed frozen, it requires no coconut oil! It’s a quick and easy protein-packed sweet treat to satisfy cravings. Sometimes the protein powder can be a little gritty—if this is the case, continue to add milk or liquid until it’s smooth. The fudge needs to be stored in the freezer—it only takes 5 minutes to thaw out. Feel free to add cocoa powder to make it chocolate-flavored. Use sugar-free maple syrup.

Makes 8 pieces

  1. Line a mini loaf pan with parchment paper. Spray the dish lightly with cooking spray and set it aside. In a microwave-safe bowl or on the stovetop, melt your cashew butter. Gently stir in the protein powder until it’s fully incorporated. Add the maple syrup and continue mixing until everything is combined. If the mixture is too crumbly, add your milk of choice a tablespoon at a time.
  2. Pour the fudge mixture into the lined baking dish and freeze it for 30 minutes, or until it’s firm. Remove the fudge and cut it into pieces. Store the pieces in the freezer and simply thaw them for 5 minutes before consuming.

Excerpted from “Clean Sweets: Simple, High-Protein Desserts for One” by Arman Liew. Copyright 2017. Used with permission of the publisher, Countryman Press. All rights reserved.

Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Fudge

How do you know if a healthier fudge gets the seal of approval? Get your grandma to taste test it! My grandma makes the best fudge, but like most traditional versions, hers is based on condensed milk, butter, and sugar. While this fudge contains none of those, it’s still creamy, smooth, and melts in your mouth.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

  1. Line a 12-count mini muffin tray with muffin liners and set it aside. Melt your peanut butter with your coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl or on the stovetop. Stir in the maple syrup and mix until fully incorporated. Divide the mixture evenly amongst the mini muffin slots and refrigerate or freeze them until they are firm, around 2 hours.

Excerpted from “CLEAN SWEETS: Simple, High-Protein Desserts for One” by Arman Liew. Copyright 2017. Used with permission of the publisher, Countryman Press. All rights reserved.

Three-Ingredient Flourless Pumpkin Brownies

This recipe has been made by thousands of readers and is a favorite because of how easy it is and the minimal ingredient list. While not true-blue brownies, they have a delicious fudgy texture that satisfies any chocolate craving! The recipe is also easily adaptable and can be customized to whichever nut butter or mashed starch you have on hand! These brownies are not sweet and are more on the rich and dark side. If you prefer a sweeter brownie, top them with your favorite frosting. For gooey brownies, remove the brownies from the oven when they seem a little underdone—the brownies will firm up once cooled. You can easily swap out the pumpkin for banana or sweet potato. Please note, the banana is a little overpowering and its flavor is very evident.

Makes 6 brownies

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat an 8×4-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and set it aside. Add all the ingredients to a high-speed blender or a large mixing bowl and mix very well, until the ingredients are fully combined and a thick batter remains.
  2. Transfer the brownie batter to the loaf pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out “just” clean from the center. Allow the brownies to cool in the pan completely before frosting or slicing into bars.

Excerpted from “Clean Sweets: Simple, High-Protein Desserts for One” by Arman Liew. Copyright 2017. Used with permission of the publisher, Countryman Press. All rights reserved.

Frozen Yogurt Bark

Makes 10 to 15 pieces of bark

This bark is a take on traditional chocolate bark, and it works perfectly as a fun-size frozen treat. The yogurt base is simple—plain whole milk yogurt sweetened with a bit of honey and a dash of vanilla extract—and from there this recipe is open for experimentation. You can simply throw in a couple cups of berries or chopped peaches, or you can get fancy, combining fruits, even adding nuts, chocolate chips, or seeds for crunch. Just be sure the mixture is spreadable—that’s the key!

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, honey, vanilla, and salt. If the fruit you’re using is large and has pits or stems (such as strawberries, cherries, or peaches), prepare the fruit by pitting/hulling/peeling and roughly chopping it. Raspberries and blueberries can be used whole. Gently stir the fruit into the yogurt mixture until just combined.
  2. Pour the yogurt onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, using a spatula to spread it out smoothly and evenly. Give the fruit a bit of a press with the spatula to even out the surface. Freeze the baking sheet overnight and, when ready to serve, cut or break the sheet of yogurt into pieces. Store the yogurt bark in a lidded freezer-safe glass container with the layers of bark separated by parchment paper in the freezer for up to 2 weeks

From “Icy, Creamy, Healthy, Sweet” by Christine Chitnis, copyright 2016 by Christine Chitnis. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.

Watermelon Lime Ice

Makes 6

In-season, farm-fresh watermelon is sweet enough on its own, no need to add anything but a squeeze of lime and a bit of zest for kick. Simple, summery goodness! If you’re serving this to an adult crowd, consider adding a splash of tequila for a margarita-like frozen treat.

  1. In a blender, combine the watermelon, lime juice, and lime zest and blend until well mixed. If you prefer a smoother pop, pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and compost the solids; I prefer to skip the straining. Using a funnel or turkey baster, fill individual ice pouches. Seal and freeze for at least 3 to 4 hours before enjoying.

From “Icy, Creamy, Healthy, Sweet” by Christine Chitnis, copyright 2016 by Christine Chitnis. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.

Photo credit (hero): Brent Hofacker, 123RF