Photos by Leigh Beisch

Wholesome ingredients, including nuts, apples, pears, pumpkin, and ginger,turn dessert into a healthy treat.

After the traditional harvest feast, the ritual of a buttery-crusted, sugar-laden pie topped with mounds of whipped cream is a temptation that seems hard to pass up. But with these six scrumptious, special-occasion desserts, you can have your cake and eat it (guilt-free!) too. Made with wholesome, seasonal ingredients—good-fat nuts, fresh and canned fruits and vegetables brimming with vitamins and antioxidants, herbs and spices that aid digestion and circulation, even a potassium-rich natural sweetener—each slice offers an indulgent but health-conscious way to finish your celebration. Here’s to happy endings.

Pear Tart with Cornmeal Crust
Serves 8–10 / A pretty open-face tart gains new dimension with this crunchy, nutty crust. Look for date sugar, a potassium-rich sweetener made from dried dates, in bulk bins at natural foods stores.

Crust
1/2 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons date sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold nonfat milk

Filling
4 small, ripe pears (Anjou, Bosc, or Bartlett)
2 eggs
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons low-fat (1 percent) milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup apricot jam

1. In a food processor, combine cornmeal, flour, almonds, date sugar, and salt, and process until fine crumbs form. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles small peas. Add milk and process just until dough forms into a ball. Press into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Refrigerate.

2. Preheat oven to 425°. Peel, halve, and core pears. Place pears, cut side down, on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, evenly score lines horizontally across each pear half, about 1/8 inch deep and 1/4 inch apart. Do not cut through pear. Arrange seven of the pear halves in the crust, with the narrow end pointing toward the center. Cut a circle from the remaining pear half and place in the pie’s center (feel free to eat the rest of the pear).

3. In a medium bowl, beat eggs until pale and thick. Add honey, milk, melted butter, vanilla extract, nutmeg, and flour, and blend well. Pour over pears. Bake for 10–15 minutes, then reduce heat to 400° and bake for another 20–25 minutes or until set and golden brown. Remove to a rack.

4. Heat jam until melted. Brush over top of hot tart. Cool and remove pan sides before slicing.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 319 calories
% fat calories: 31
Fat: 11g
Saturated Fat: 5g
Cholesterol: 73mg
Protein: 5g
Carbohydrate: 52g
Fiber: 4g
Sodium: 94mg


Gingerbread with Citrus Chiffon Mousse
Serves 12 / A hint of cocoa and fragrant spices add depth and richness to this moist gingerbread; the smooth, tangy mousse provides a unique accompaniment. Because it uses only egg whites and canola oil, this dessert is cholesterol-free.

Gingerbread
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup hot green tea
Powdered sugar, for garnish

Citrus Chiffon Mousse
1 cup nonfat plain yogurt
13/4 cups fresh orange juice, divided
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons honey
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger, for garnish

1. To make the mousse, place yogurt in a fine strainer over a bowl and drain for 1 hour. Beat drained yogurt with an electric mixer until light and smooth, about 2 minutes.

2. Combine 1 cup orange juice, lemon juice, and honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until reduced to about 1/3 cup, 20–30 minutes. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the hot citrus syrup. Continue beating for 5 minutes.

3. Pour remaining 3/4 cup orange juice into a small saucepan over low heat. Add gelatin, orange peel, and salt, and stir until gelatin dissolves. Pour into yogurt and blend well. Cool until thickened but not fully set. Gently fold yogurt mixture into egg white mixture. Refrigerate mousse until serving time.

4. For the gingerbread, preheat oven to 350°. Lightly oil and flour a 10x15-inch jellyroll pan. Combine flours, spices, cocoa powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a second large bowl, beat together oil, brown sugar, molasses, and corn syrup until well blended. Add flour mixture alternately with beaten egg whites to oil mixture. In a small bowl, stir baking soda into hot green tea; on slow speed, slowly mix tea mixture into batter. Blend well.

5. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20–25 minutes. Gingerbread is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool. Dust with powdered sugar.

6. Cut gingerbread into eight 3-inch squares; halve each square diagonally to make 16 triangles. (There will be gingerbread left over.) To serve, spoon mousse on each plate and place two gingerbread triangles on each side. Sprinkle with crystallized ginger.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (with 2 tablespoons mousse and 1 teaspoon crystallized ginger):
Calories: 352 calories
% fat calories: 24
Fat: 10g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 5g
Carbohydrate: 62g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 238mg


Pumpkin and Lemon Crème Brûlée
Serves 10 / A light, fresh, easy-to-make version of the classic dessert. This can be cooked in a single serving dish or in individual ramekins. The pumpkin also sneaks in some beta-carotene and vitamin C.

2 tea bags of lemon verbena, lemon balm, or chamomile tea
1/2 cup boiling water
2 cups reduced-fat (2 percent) milk
1 1/2 cups evaporated skim milk
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2/3 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
3 eggs
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 ounces fat-free sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
8 ounces low-fat cream cheese
1/2 cup brown sugar, for topping

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Combine tea bags and boiling water in a glass measuring cup. Steep for 30 minutes. Strain and reserve liquid.

2. Combine milk, evaporated skim milk, and cornstarch in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and transfer to a food processor along with pumpkin, whole eggs, egg whites, vanilla extract, sweetened condensed milk, maple syrup, cream cheese, and 3 tablespoons of reserved tea liquid. Process until very smooth.

3. Divide into individual ramekins, or one 8-cup ovenproof serving dish. Place in a large baking pan and pour boiling water around base to reach halfway up sides of ramekins or dish. Bake for 30–45 minutes (depending on dish size) until center is almost set.

4. When cool, cover and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.

5. Just before serving, preheat broiler. Place 1/2 cup brown sugar in a blender and process until very fine. Sprinkle each serving with 2 teaspoons brown sugar. Set ramekins or serving dish on a baking sheet and broil 2–3 inches from heat until sugar bubbles, about 1 minute. Watch carefully to avoid burning. (This step can also be done with a kitchen blowtorch.) Serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 246 calories
% fat calories: 24
Fat: 7g
Saturated Fat: 4g
Cholesterol: 78mg
Protein: 12g
Carbohydrate: 36g
Fiber: 0g
Sodium: 266mg


Chestnut Soufflé with Lavender-Chocolate Sauce
Serves 8–10 / A touch of lavender in the rich chocolate sauce lends a pleasant subtlety to this ethereal soufflé. Culinary lavender can be found in many natural foods stores, often in the herb or bulk section, and is a natural stress-reliever. Look for bottled sweetened chestnut purée in well-stocked grocery stores.

Lavender-Chocolate Sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons culinary lavender, or 2 tablespoons brewed Darjeeling tea
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Soufflé
Canola oil or cooking spray
2 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur (such as Cointreau)
1 cup sweetened chestnut purée
6 egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Fresh mint leaves, for garnish

1. To make the sauce, combine honey and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in lavender (or tea). Let sit for 30 minutes. Strain and discard lavender. In a food processor, grind bittersweet and unsweetened chocolates together. Add canola oil through the feed tube with the machine still running, then slowly pour in warm honey mixture. Add vanilla extract and process another 15 seconds. Set sauce aside until serving time.

2. To make the soufflé, preheat oven to 350°. Lightly coat a 2-quart straight-sided casserole or soufflé dish with canola oil or cooking spray. Coat dish sides with 2 teaspoons sugar. In a small saucepan, heat liqueur over low heat and stir in chestnut purée, blending well. Remove from heat.

3. Beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Slowly add 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time. Add baking powder. Beat until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/4 cup egg white mixture into chestnut purée mixture. Gently fold chestnut purée mixture into remaining whites.

4. Pour mixture into prepared dish; smooth the top and run a finger around inside edge before placing in oven. Bake until puffed and golden, 15–20 minutes. To test for doneness, insert a knife blade; if it comes out dry, the soufflé is ready.

5. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, mint leaves, and lavender- chocolate sauce on the side. (Sauce should be just warm to the touch.)

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (with 2 tablespoons sauce):
Calories: 248 calories
% fat calories: 30
Fat: 8g
Saturated Fat: 3g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 5g
Carbohydrate: 38g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 133mg


Sweet Potato–Ricotta Cheesecake
Serves 14–16 / Traditional autumn flavors, including molasses, cinnamon, ginger, sweet potato, and pomegranates, contribute to the creamy richness of this luxurious yet low-fat cheesecake. If possible, make this two or three days in advance to allow flavors to blend. If you choose to forgo the pomegranate syrup, simply dollop each slice with organic cranberry sauce.

Crust
1/4 cup pecans
1/4 cup minced crystallized ginger
1 cup all-natural gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 20 small cookies)
1 tablespoon canola oil

Filling
1 15-ounce container part-skim ricotta cheese
2 8-ounce packages nonfat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sweet potato purée or canned unsweetened pumpkin
1 cup date sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt

Topping
2 cups nonfat plain yogurt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
16-20 pecan halves, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Coat bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Place all crust ingredients except oil in a food processor; pulse until fine crumbs form. Add canola oil and process another 5 seconds. Press mixture evenly against pan bottom. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool.

2. For filling: Place ricotta cheese in a clean dish towel. Knead to remove excess moisture until cheese holds together like soft dough. Place in a mixer bowl or food processor and beat until smooth. Add cream cheese, sweet potato or pumpkin, date sugar, molasses, 1 whole egg, and spices; beat until well blended.

3. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar at medium speed until soft peaks form. Slowly add 1 tablespoon sugar and pinch of salt; continue to beat until stiff but not dry. Gently fold into sweet potato–cream cheese mixture.

4. Place the springform pan on a baking sheet and pour in the filling. Bake in the center of the oven for 80–90 minutes, or until sides are set and a knife inserted comes out clean.

5. While cheesecake bakes, prepare topping by mixing together yogurt, sugar, and vanilla extract in a medium-size mixing bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

6. When cheesecake is done, remove to a rack and cool for 15 minutes (don’t turn off the oven). Pour topping over cheesecake and decorate with pecan halves. Return to oven and bake for another 5 minutes. Cool on a rack. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight. Then cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time. Remove pan sides before serving. Serve with pomegranate syrup* drizzled over each slice, if desired.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 257 calories
% fat calories: 27
Fat: 8g
Saturated Fat: 2g
Cholesterol: 31mg
Protein: 11g
Carbohydrate: 36g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 286mg

*To make pomegranate syrup, combine 1 cup pure pomegranate juice and 1/4 cup honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half, stirring occasionally. Cool and stir in 1/3 cup fresh pomegranate seeds.

Cinnamon-Walnut Baked Apples
Serves 6 / Meringue-coated baked apples filled with healthy-fat walnuts and antioxidant-rich cranberries give this old-fashioned treat a new twist. These can be made without the meringue; they are still delicious! Buy apples of uniform size for even baking; a small apple serves one, while large apples can be cut in half.

Syrup
2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup date sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

6 small to medium baking apples (Cortland or McIntosh)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup date sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/2 cup dried cranberries
6 cinnamon sticks

Meringue (optional)
6 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To make the syrup, mix cider, date sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat, simmer for 5 minutes, and add vanilla extract. Remove from heat.

2. Wash apples and remove cores, but do not cut all the way through to the bottom. Peel a wide strip around the top edge.

3. Preheat oven to 350°. Mix together walnuts, date sugar, lemon peel, and dried cranberries. Fill each apple with walnut mixture to within 1/4 inch of top. Insert a cinnamon stick into the center of each apple.

4. Place apples upright in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Pour prepared syrup over apples. Bake for 30–40 minutes or until tender, basting frequently with pan syrup.

5. While apples are baking, make meringue, if using: Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Slowly add sugar and continue beating until stiff and shiny. Blend in vanilla extract.

6. When apples are done, remove from oven. Increase oven temperature to 450°. Spoon or pipe meringue decoratively over the upper one-third of each apple. Return apples to oven and bake for another 3–4 minutes, or until meringue is golden brown. Watch carefully to avoid burning.

7. To serve, pour hot syrup onto each plate and place a baked apple on top. Remove cinnamon stick before eating.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 341 calories
% fat calories: 25
Fat: 10g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 3g
Carbohydrate: 64g
Fiber: 5g
Sodium: 6mg



Karin Lazarus is a freelance recipe developer and dessert fanatic. She enjoyed creating classic Thanksgiving recipes with a lighter touch, and she looks forward to offering her guests more dessert choices.