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Thanks to Ina for this leaner blondie

This adaptation of Ina Garten's blondies features less fat and sugar.
This adaptation of Ina Garten's blondies features less fat and sugar. Submitted

I love Ina Garten. Yup, I do.

Garten is one smooth cookie on TV; so relaxed, yet hits all the right notes. In the end, I believe I can make any dish she's making.

When I came across Garten's Chocolate Chunk Blondies online, the picture looked mouthwatering, and her kitchen video making those blondies convinced me that not only could I make them, too; I could improve them. R-e-a-l-l-y. How?

First, let's see what makes her blondies so great. Garten uses a half-pound of butter, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 1 1/4 pounds of semisweet chocolate and 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts. Without ever tasting them I knew, for certain, that they were sensational.

For me, there were gray clouds hanging over Garten's blondies: sugars, fat and calories. The brown and white sugars in her blondies contributed 313 sugar grams and 1,223 calories. The half-pound of butter adds 1,656 calories coming from 184 fat grams. The cup-and-a-half of walnuts delivered 1,148 calories and 114 fat grams. Finally, those semisweet chocolate chunks tipped the scales at 309 sugar grams (nearly equaling the brown and white sugars total), 170 fat grams and wait for it -- 2,722 calories.

Heading to my calculator, I added up everything and came up with 622 sugar grams, 468 fat grams and 6,749 calories. Those numbers don't even include the two extra-large eggs (160 cals, 11 fat grams) and 2 cups of flour (910 cals, 191 carbs). That's a lot of fat, sugars and calories to stuff in a 12-by-8 pan.

I secured my leanwizard's pointed hat and went to work. The first thing I cut was the fat coming from the butter and walnuts. I tossed out one of the butter sticks (828 cals and 92 fat grams) and substituted a 1/2 cup of drained, unsweetened organic applesauce (68 cals and 18 carb grams). I cut the 1½ cups of walnuts to one cup and lightly toasted them; so long 383 calories and 38 fat grams.

Instead of using semisweet chocolate chunks, I went with dark chocolate baking chunks (Whole Foods’ 365 brand). Nestle's semisweet chocolate chunks are made with 47 percent cocoa, while Whole Foods' dark chocolate chunks have 67 percent cocoa. Using dark chocolate was a great way to boost the chocolate flavor, and since the more cocoa in chocolate, the less sugar (8 sugar grams for semi versus 5 grams for dark chocolate), I could cut sugars significantly, too. More chocolate, less sugar? Count me in.

Speaking of giving sugars the old heave-ho, I cut out one-third of Garten's added sugar by substituting 13 packets of organic stevia (a natural sugar substitute) for the half-cup of Garten's granulated sugar. Adios 387 calories and 100 sugar grams.

Garten used her stand mixer to blend the butter with the sugars. Wise move since a stand mixer has the strength to beat small air bubbles into butter, giving the batter lift from the baking soda inflating those bubbles.

Garten's recipe stated: "Bake for 30 minutes exactly. Don't overbake!" Since I was using a slightly larger pan with less shortening, I cut that time back to 28 minutes "exactly."

How did my leaner Chocolate Chunk Blondies turn out? Amazing.

To be certain, though, I took them to my office and put them out for everyone to sample. As the blondies disappeared my email box filled up; many asking for and (some demanded) the recipe. I'd call that a big-time success.

For the same size blondie, Garten's delivered 325 calories each, where mine delivers 258. Thanks Ina for starting me down a very tasty, yet leaner path.

Don Mauer may be reached at leanwizard@aol.com.

Chocolate Chunk Blondies

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup drained unflavored, unsweetened applesauce

1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

13 packets organic stevia

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup chopped lightly-toasted walnuts

1 1/4 pounds dark chocolate (67-percent cocoa) chunks (such as whole Foods 365 brand)

Place the oven rack in middle position and begin heating the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 13-by-9-inch metal baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease with the butter on the butter wrapper.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, drained applesauce, brown sugar, and stevia on high speed for at least 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, and mix well, scraping down the bowl once.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt until well combined and then with the mixer still on low, slowly add flour mixture to the butter mixture. Stop the mixer and remove the bowl from the stand. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the walnuts and chocolate chunks into the batter.

Transfer the batter into the prepared pan; smoothing the top. Bake for 28 minutes exactly. Don't overbake! A toothpick may not come out clean. Cool completely in the pan and cut into 2-by-2-inch bars. Makes 24 blondies

Nutrition values per serving: 258 calories (59 percent from fat), 16.9 g fat (8.4 g saturated fat), 30.8 g carbohydrates, 17.5 g sugars, 3.8 g fiber, 4 g protein, 28 mg cholesterol, 110 mg sodium.

For the original recipe by Ina Garten, see www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/chocolate-chunk-blondies-recipe

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