Tag Archives: low sugar

Low sugar baking #2: End of summer plum cake

I’ve been spurred out of my posting lethargy by the realization that this recipe will soon be out of season (may be on its way out right now, even). Last Saturday┬ámorning I went out with a friend along a nearby run/bike/hike trail and it was starting to feel decidedly fall-like–gray sky and a tinge of moisture in the air. But enough of the weather. Plums.

This recipe evolved from a wonderful pear cake recipe that I first discovered several years ago. I started off by tweaking the batter (wheat germ! less sugar! maybe some other things…), but stuck with the original fruit of pears. This year, when plums started showing up at the market, it occurred to me that they might be a perfect substitute for pears. When I went back to look up the original pear cake recipe while writing this post, I saw that it has started life as a plum cake, so…there you go. Plums are indeed, substitutable for pears, in some instances. I changed up the spices I had been using a little too, adding a little of the mixed spice (aka Christmas pudding spice) that M. loves. Most of the sweetness in this cake comes from the plum juice seeping into the batter as it bakes, and the batter itself has just a few spoonfuls of sugar. While I normally shy away from the idea of labeling sweet baked goods as “healthy enough for breakfast”, I think this recipe comes pretty darned close.

After I made this plum cake for the first time last month, I realized it was M.’s total first exposure, as he’d somehow missed all the previous pear versions. He sometimes objects to the use of whole wheat flour, so I thought he might dismiss this cake as a little too healthy. Fortunately, my fears turned out to be baseless–maybe the mixed spice?

Lower Sugar Plum Cake
makes one shallow 10″ cake

Ingredients
1/2 c. unsalted butter, plus a little for greasing the pan
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp milk
2 eggs
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. wheat germ
1/2 tsp mixed spice* (see note below)
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
12 plums or Italian prunes, halved and pits removed

*Mixed spice is fairly similar to pumpkin pie spice, so you could substitute in a pinch. To make your own, combine a 3:3:2:1:1:1:1 ratio of allspice, nutmeg, mace, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and coriander.

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350F, lightly grease and flour a 10″ tart pan.

2. Cream together the butter, sugar, and milk. Gently beat the eggs into the mixture.

3. Combine the flour, wheat germ, mixed spice, baking powder, and salt.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in 3-4 batches. The batter should be fairly thick and even semi-solid.

5. Pour batter into tart pan and press fruit into the top of the batter. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until cake is browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving.

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Low sugar baking #1: Ginger softies

As promised (or threatened), I’m working on a little series of posts focused on baking with less sugar, which, if you’ve perused this blog much at all, you probably know is a quasi-obsession of mine. My goal with this series is not just to share recipes, but also some general tips for using less sugar, and to also describe some of my less-successful attempts at sugar reduction (so you don’t do the same thing!).
So for the first post, let’s start off with a few of the key things to remember when you start to tinker around with a recipe to reduce the sugar content.

You don’t need much sugar to make things sweet
Seriously. Many commercial baked goods use a lot more sugar (or whatever their sweetener of choice is) than is needed to achieve sweetness. I have found that I can usually use less than half sugar called for in a “regular” version of something and still have the final result taste perfectly sweet. Also, with less sugar in a recipe, other flavors (vanilla, spices, etc.) become more prominent, giving a more complex tasting experience. Elana just happened to mention the same thing in a post she wrote earlier this week, so you know it’s not just me. However…

Sugar does affect texture and structure
One of the characteristics that sugar brings to baked goods is, broadly speaking, crispness or crunch. In some cases, the sugar is critical to the structure of the finished product (think meringue kisses, florentines, etc.). I don’t spend much time trying to re-make recipes that really need sugar for structure. Instead, I focus on recipes where a slight change in texture is not going to be such a problem. For example, today’s ginger cookie recipe is softer, less chewy, and more cake-like than a ginger cookie from the local store or bakery, but it is still delicious, full of spice, and completely recognizable as a cookie.

Is there a “best” or “healthy” sweetener?
My personal opinion is that for the most part, whole fresh fruit is the “best” sugar and the only sweetener that can really be considered “healthy”. After that, I believe it’s better to simply focus on using less sweetener, no matter the source. To that end, I use the sweetener I think will work best in a recipe (for reasons of either taste or texture), be that fruit, white sugar, brown sugar, honey, dates, or molasses. A while back, health-bent wrote an extensive post about sugar vs. more “natural” sweeteners and it really captures a lot of my thoughts on the topic.

And now, a recipe! Today’s recipe is a pretty easy one, a lower sugar version of the classic ginger cookie. Ginger cookies generally rely on two sweeteners: regular white sugar and molasses. Since molasses does actually lend a distinctive flavor I focus more on slashing the white sugar content. This recipe has 1/4 c. each of sugar and molasses–most recipes with a similar yield would use around least a cup of sugar, plus 1/4 or 1/3 c. of molasses. What the cookies do not skimp on is the spices: each bite is bursting with ginger flavor, plus undertones of cinnamon and cloves. I hope they will become a favorite in your baking repertoire!

Ginger Softies
makes about 30 plump 1″ cookies

Ingredients
2 c. white whole wheat or all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon and cloves
1/2 c butter
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c molasses
1/4 c milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Method

Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Stir in molasses, then work the dry ingredients into the mix in 3-4 batches. Add milk and vanilla extract and combine.

Preheat oven to 350F. While the oven is heating, pinch off ~1″ lumps of dough, roll into balls, and place on cookie sheets. When oven is heated, place cookies in oven and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool, then enjoy fresh or store in an airtight container. Cookies will keep at room temperature for several days.

Olive oil shortbread with lemon and rosemary

Last weekend I came home to find a bag full of lemons and limes by the back door. Can I just brag about how awesome it is to have friends who leave you gifts like this? Very awesome. I always love to have these little citrus fruits on hand. A quick squeeze of lemon or lime is perfect in so many things. But when I have a bounty of lemons like I did last week, it’s time to do more than just squeeze a little lemon over my salad or into a water glass (plus, the best way of ensuring future citrus gifts is to follow up with baked good gift, no?)

And so, my lemon bounty led me to this bright little shortbread. I had been tinkering with a recipe for olive oil shortbread with rosemary, and the addition of lemon juice and zest was just what it needed for a light and summer-appropriate flavor. A mix of cornmeal, and white whole wheat flour makes for a wholesome and rustic crumb. Mostly I have been enjoying these shortbread wedges alongside an afternoon cup of Darjeeling, but on hot evenings when I crave a cool glass of almond milk after dinner, it turns out that a little shortbread is quite nice in that setting also.

This recipe is also another one of my low-sugar experiments; just 1/4 c. for the whole recipe. I’ve been thinking of doing an occasional series of posts on my strategies for baking less sugary treats, some of the things I’ve tried that have worked well (or not), recipe makeovers, that kind of thing. Thoughts? Interest? Just post the shortbread recipe already?

Olive oil shortbread with lemon and rosemary
makes one 9″ pan of shortbread (8-12 wedges)

Ingredients
1/2 c. olive oil
1 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour (or a 50/50 mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flours)
1/4 c. yellow cornmeal
1 tbsp. flax meal
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. lemon juice
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp fresh rosemary

Method
Preheat oven to 300F and grease a 9″ pan. In a food processor fitted with the metal s-blade, combine and thoroughly blend all ingredients except the rosemary. Add rosemary and process for 10 seconds. Press dough into greased pan and slice into 8-12 wedges, depending on your preference. Use a fork to make decorative pricks in the surface.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until just beginning to brown. Turn off heat in oven and leave shortbread to sit for 15 minutes before removing.

Tahini and lime cookies (vegan, gluten free)

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This weekend, I was doing some baking, and M. requested “paleo” cookies. These little morsels, a remake of a favorite recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade your Cookie Jar, were the result. If the flavor combination is sounding a little odd to you, let me assure you that actually, lime and tahini in cookie form is pretty awesome. Also, I’ve practically convinced myself that they’re seasonally appropriate: citrus is abundant in winter, and tahini, being Middle Eastern, is totally something that might have been eaten by shepherds gathering around the manger in Bethlehem. Right? Maybe? At any rate, these cookies are moist, lightly sweetened, and perfect for pairing with and afternoon or evening cup of tea.

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I considered calling these cookies “sugar free”, but ultimately decided not to. If you draw your “sugar” line at table sugar, then feel free to consider this recipe sugar free. Personally, I always feel a bit weird calling a fruit-sweetened dessert “sugar free”, because fruit does contain sugar. So instead I’ll give the long form: these are sweetened with dates, and they have about half as many sugar calories as most “conventional” cookie recipes, plus a bit more fiber and protein. Okay, spiel over. Back to the recipe. It’s really good, I promise.

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Tahini and Lime cookies (vegan, gluten free)
makes 2-3 dozen cookies

Ingredients
1/2 c. coconut oil
1/2 c. tahini
12 dates, pitted and roughly chopped
grated zest of 2 limes
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c. lime juice
3/4 c. almond milk
1 c. coconut flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp sesame seeds

Method
1. Sift together coconut flour, salt, and baking powder.

2. In a food processor fitted with the metal s-blade, blend together oil, tahini, lime zest, and dates until dates are fully incorporated (there will probably still be some brown flecks.

3. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer (or, if you don’t have one, a wooden spoon), incorporate the remaining wet ingredients into the mixture. Add the flour mixture, a few large spoonfuls at a time. When all the flour has been incorporated, the dough should be moist and somewhat sticky (if you pick up a piece, pinch it, and then pull your fingers apart, some dough should stay stuck to your hands). If needed, add more almond milk to the mixture, one tablespoon at time.

4. Start oven preheating to 350F and line two baking pans with parchment paper. Place sesame seeds on a small plate or saucer. Form dough into approximately 1″ balls. Press each ball into the sesame seeds, then place on the baking tray, seed side up.

5. Bake at 350F for 14-16 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool before eating (if you can!)