From the black bean brownies to olive oil lemon cookies and hummingbird cupcakes with yogurt frosting, Shyla Larson, technical chef at the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona, is making a name for herself as an inventor of healthy baked goods.
“These Artisan Bake Shop products are classic baked goods made using alternative ingredients such as black beans, Greek yogurt, white whole-wheat flour and unsweetened applesauce to create lighter, healthier versions of sweets that meet federal Smart Snack regulations for schools,” says Larson, who earned her degree in baking and pastry and has been with the district for just over one year. (Previously, she worked in resorts and hotels.)
The bakery items were in development from October of 2015 through the end of the 2015-2016 school year. They were officially introduced to the district in the fall of 2016.
“The brownies are rich and sweet and taste just as a brownie should,” Larson says. “The olive oil lemon cookies are light and fresh. The fresh lemon juice and zest really brightens the flavor of the cookies. As far as the hummingbird cupcake, just imagine an amped up version of carrot cake. It has a lovely spice cake undertone with various flavors and textures of bananas, carrots, pineapple and applesauce. Top it off with a light and creamy yogurt-cream cheese frosting and it is simply delightful.”
To keep the baked goods in compliance with federal Smart Snack regulations, Larson substituted unhealthy ingredients with healthier options such as applesauce, black beans and vanilla extract. These swaps not only enhance the flavors and keep the sugar levels low, they also produce a similar texture and consistency.
“Applesauce has a wonderful natural sweetness that adds depth to the items, and vanilla extract definitely brings out the sweeter notes in items as well,” she says.
According to Larson, there was no challenge in getting the items to fit within the guidelines, but rather ensuring the taste and texture were comparable to a non-compliant cookie, cake or brownie.
“It’s simple to develop things like cakes, rolls and breads with alternative ingredients,” Larson says. “The challenging items are cookies. It is very difficult to develop cookies that have a cookie texture without using actual butter. Most cookie recipes are high in fat, which creates that chewy-crunchy mouthfeel, so finding the right ratio of fat that falls within the guidelines yet is still high enough to provide a great texture takes a lot of time and patience in the development process.”
So far, the time and patience Larson put into developing, testing and retesting recipes is paying off.
“We have had nothing but positive feedback on the Artisan Bake Shop items,” says Lindsay Aguilar, administrative dietitian & site operations coordinator for TUSD. “Many staff members and school communities are thrilled to see healthy alternatives to sweets.”
The Artisan Bake Shop line is available through TUSD’s catering department. The prices are competitive and vary depending on the item.
“These items are a good way to teach kids that by using alternative ingredients they can enjoy baked goods and snacks in a healthy way,” Aguilar says. “Beyond that, it is a compliant way that we can help to support classroom celebrations and school activities by offering fun items that meet the federal requirements.”
As the line gains popularity, more items will be developed. Currently there are a couple more varieties of cookies in the works as well as breakfast breads that can be featured in continental breakfasts.
“We often say we are bringing the fun back to food,” Aguilar says. “We like to come up with creative ways of thinking outside the box and then putting things back in the box based on compliance. The Bake Shop line is a great example of this process.”