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Lemon and Earl Grey teacakes are perfect for dunking in a cup of espresso.

I love dessert. I also love being healthy. My four kiddos also love sweets. So over the years, I've created some great strategies for getting some dessert in our lives while also honoring our bodies, which frankly do not need as much sugar as our palates seem to crave.

If you (or your family) loves baked goods too, go ahead and preheat that oven and listen in — I've got some tips for keeping dessert alive while staying reasonable. First: Make your own.

I have a lot more leeway with homemade treats than for the packaged and processed versions from the store. Not only can I manage what is going in them (so I reduce sugar, skip preservatives and artificial stuff), but making my own baked treats puts a minimum half-hour buffer between me and a pan of brownies, which means we all will eat treats mindfully, instead of grabbing a box of cookies and nibbling my way through them unnoticed while watching an episode of "The Goldbergs."

Second healthy dessert tip: Cut up small portions of treats and serve them on a tray alongside a healthier "open quantity" option. For instance, I may place a large bowl of clementines or lowfat Greek yogurt on the table next to a plate of homemade banana bread cut into small squares. Diluting the baked goodie with a protein or fiber-filled option is a low-stress way to make dessert healthier for the whole family.

Third tip: invest in a confectioners' sugar duster and fill it up with organic powdered sugar. Even a tiny dusting of powdered sugar fools our palates into thinking something is sweeter than it is, simply because it's visible. I can sprinkle a bran muffin with the lightest coating of powdered sugar and my kids think they've scored a cupcake.


Finally, a tip just for the adults: Drink espresso with a chunk of dark chocolate or a small finger of homemade cake (like this week's Earl Grey lemon teacakes) for dunking — the deep roasted flavor of espresso coupled with just a little sweet makes a surprisingly satisfying, and sophisticated, dessert.

Earl Grey lemon teacakes

Start to finish: 40 minutes

Servings: 14


1/4 cup coconut oil, soft, but not melted (pop in freezer for a few minutes if needed)

1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea leaves, pounded to a coarse powder (use a small plastic bag and mallet or heavy spoon)

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1/4 cup light agave syrup (or 1/3 cup sugar)

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Confectioners' sugar for decoration, optional


Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray.

In a medium bowl, whip coconut oil, Early Grey leaves, lemon zest and agave syrup using a hand mixer until well-blended and light. Add the eggs one at time and mix well with mixer in between. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and mix well.

In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Then pour in half the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix very briefly. Add the second half of the flour and mix just until blended. Do not over mix.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until cake springs back after pressing lightly with your finger, about 25-30 minutes. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in the pan, and then remove to let cool completely on a rack.

Cut into 14 fingers and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar (optional) and serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 96 calories; 40 calories from fat; 5 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 31 mg cholesterol; 103 mg sodium; 12 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 2 g protein.

Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy." Online: