Dive in to Sweet Treats

You’ll be treading lightly with these desserts, which feature smart recipe substitutes
A delicious fruit tray, rich and flavorful brownies, and sweet little custard cups get rave reviews from partygoers.
A delicious fruit tray, rich and flavorful brownies, and sweet little custard cups get rave reviews from partygoers.

The holidays have passed, and you’ve shared many wishes with friends and family for a healthy new year. The start of a new year might even have you diving headlong into new depths of fitness workouts, or considering dietary restrictions.

Perhaps you’ve tread these waters for a few days, or even weeks, but you quickly found yourself washing ashore, feeling overwhelmed and defeated, watching helplessly as your new efforts and resolutions float away, without you, toward the horizon.

Maybe the plan was a bit too drastic, observes Jonathan Serman, M.D., a board-certified family medicine doctor and certified functional medicine practitioner.

“Fitness and weight loss goals can be reached without severity,” he says. “In addition to good sleep habits and breathing clean air, especially when sleeping, successful weight loss can be achieved in small steps. If you can reduce, just a little, the number of unhealthy things you’re eating and then build on that, you’ll succeed.

“If you have three cans of pop every day, try cutting it down to two for a week. Then, the next week, cut down to one. With changes like that, you’ll be amazed at how soon you’ll see healthy results without being drastic and then backsliding.”

The following dessert recipes are perfect for a cut-back philosophy and will offer you, your friends, and family simple options for healthier, lighter, easy, and really delicious treats. Leftovers will keep well in the fridge for four days, making each an anytime, help-yourself goodie option.

Each selection can also be sweetly enhanced and decorated with two unique jarred toppings: Salted Maple Caramel and Chocolate Fudge Sauce from Michigan’s own American Spoon (spoon.com), which is celebrating 40 years of working with Michigan farmers to preserve and present their small-batch, sustainably created jams, jellies, sauces, nut butters, salsas, baking mixes, and much more.

American Spoon has locations in Petoskey, Harbor Springs, Traverse City, Saugatuck, and, seasonally, in Charlevoix.

Many of their products are also sold in area gourmet retail shops, and all are available from spoon.com.

Dressed-Up, Fancy
Vitamin C Fruit Tray


2 pineapples, peeled. Core, if desired.
2 navel oranges, peeled (including pith)
2 ruby grapefruits, peeled (including pith)
4 clementines, peeled and sectioned
American Spoon Salted Maple Caramel
American Spoon Chocolate Fudge Sauce
Ground cinnamon for sprinkling
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon honey
Wax paper
One large tray or two medium trays, to hold the fruit that will be sliced or segmented

Tip for Success

To prevent scorching, heat the opened jar of Chocolate Fudge Sauce on medium stovetop heat, in a small saucepan that’s filled with about 2 inches of water.


Slice the oranges and grapefruits into half-inch slices, and arrange them on the tray, alternating them.

Drizzle the rows with American Spoon Salted Maple Caramel.

Gently warm the American Spoon Chocolate Fudge Sauce (see Tips for Success, above). Dip each mandarin slice halfway into the sauce and lay it on waxed paper. When the segments are dry, arrange them on the tray.

In a small bowl, gently mix the honey into the Greek yogurt. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon. Serve with the tray as an optional topping or dip for the fruit.

Let’s Eat!

This dessert is such a refreshing end to any meal, and the “sunshine vitamin” quality of these fruits is deliciously uplifting. Any leftovers make a great addition to the next day’s breakfast.

Rich and Flavorful Brownies

Chocolatey-Chunk Brownies

This is a lightened-up version of the brownies I served as a former restaurant owner.


2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as safflower, plus more for the pan
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup dark-brown sugar
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: ½ cup chopped walnuts

Tips for Success

For the richest flavor, use high-quality cocoa powder and, to assure their delicious moistness, do not overbake.


Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush a 9-inch square pan with oil and then line it with parchment, with about 2 inches hanging over two sides, and then brush the parchment with oil. In a small bowl in the microwave, on medium setting, heat half of the chocolate pieces, stirring every 30 seconds, until melted.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, applesauce, yogurt, melted chocolate, eggs, oil, and vanilla (and chopped walnuts, if desired) until combined. Add the flour mixture, and mix gently, just until moistened.

Spread the batter into the pan. Sprinkle the top with the remaining chopped chocolate pieces. Bake 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan, and then lift them out using the overhanging parchment paper. Peel the paper, and cut into 16 squares.

Let’s Eat!

If your guests desire a bit more decadence, let them drizzle their brownie with American Spoon Salted Maple Caramel or Chocolate Fudge Sauce. If you’d like to serve these alongside a platter, like our Dressed-Up, Fancy Vitamin C Fruit Tray (for those who truly require a bit chocolate for dessert), then cut some of the brownie squares diagonally to form smaller-sized triangle bites.

Michigan's American Spoon Caramel and Sweet Little Custard Cups

Big Red’s All-American Baked Custard
(Big Red is my mom!)


2 eggs and 1 egg white, slightly beaten
1/3 cup minus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 dash of salt
2 ½ cups skim milk, scalded
Ground nutmeg
Six 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins
13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan

Tip for Success

When scalding the milk, never have the stovetop heat higher than medium, and stir constantly. The milk is scalded when it’s just below the boiling point, with tiny bubbles at the edges.


Heat oven to 350 F. Mix eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl. If you have a bowl with a pouring spout, now is the time to use it! Gradually stir in the milk. Pour into the cups, and sprinkle each with nutmeg. Place cups into the pan. Pour very hot water into the pan, to within a half-inch of the top of the cups. Bake about 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Let’s Eat!

There’s a nutritional beauty to this dessert that makes it perfectly acceptable — and delightful — to enjoy any time of the day or night, or as a light meal on its own, perhaps topped with fresh fruit or, delectably, the American Spoon Salted Maple Caramel.

If you’re having guests, it’s easy to make this ahead of time for them to grab for themselves, microwave-warmed or cold. I’m not generally a dessert maker, but am easily able to make this recipe of Big Red’s, although it definitely seems better when she’s the one who’s made it.

By Honey Murray & Photography by Steven Prokuda 

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