Have Your Cake & Eat It Too: Healthy Citrus Cake

Patti Cook, BA, MS, Ed.D., Culinary Grad and B & P Student (Photo Credit)

Often, when people find out that I’m in a baking and pastry program, they ask me how I don’t gain weight or why I’m not fat or how I stay slim or some such variation on the question. First, I share that my passion is healthy cooking. Then, my response is always the same: I eat everything—but in small portions—and I cook most of it in my own kitchen. It helps that I also walk a couple miles most days. Because, as dessert trends consistently support: I want my cake, I want to relish every bite and I want to be healthy too.

Although cake gets a negative rap for being high in calories and “bad” for you, it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve learned that once you know the key elements of baking, it’s easy to create a yummy cake that you can also feel good about eating. I reduce saturated fat by using canola oil and reduce overall fat by using low-fat milk. Citrus zest provides a big pop of flavor (with no calories) paired with the crusty sugar topping (just enough for a sweet hit on first bite, but only adding a few calories). This is a great basic cake recipe that can be used for cupcakes or other small cake molds too. As Easter approaches, I’ve been making it in my egg cupcake mold and, much to the delight of my sweetheart, family and friends, serving each egg-shaped cupcake on a bed of slightly sweetened strawberries and blood orange sorbet.

From my kitchen seat, eating healthier doesn’t mean you deprive yourself of eating wonderful cake, it means you find ways to decrease the not-so-good stuff like fat and calories and increase the good stuff like healthier ingredients and amazing flavor. And, most important: have your cake and enjoy every bite—especially with people you like.

Easy and Healthy Citrus Cake Recipe


1/3 cup low-fat milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon, lime or orange zest (or a mix)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons turbinado or colored sugar (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. This recipe will also work in a 8-inch square pan or small cake molds.

2. Combine milk and oil in a small bowl. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Set both aside.

3. Combine eggs, egg yolk, sugar and lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on high for 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides, add zest and vanilla and beat 1 minute. Scrape down the sides.

4. With a rubber spatula, stir one-third of the flour mixture into the egg mixture and fold in until blended. Fold in half of the milk mixture. Repeat, ending with the remaining flour.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. If desired, sprinkle turbinado or colored sugar evenly over the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

6. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of the pan and place right side up on the rack. The cake can be eaten slightly warm or after it’s completely cooled. It stores well in an airtight container.

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