I got a call a few weeks ago from a reader, who had this question, which he allowed me to transcribe and publish in today’s paper:
My wife does not eat sugar of any kind, so I read every label in the store to avoid it. I like to bake and have been following your Year of Baking stories, and when I bake, I try to use xylitol as a sugar replacement, but it’s pretty coarse and doesn’t blend as well. What other suggestions do you have? We use maple syrup and honey, also, but we’d love any thoughts you have for folks who are on a sugar-free diet who want to bake and enjoy something sweet.
Baking with xylitol is uncharted territory for this food writer, but from what I’ve read, it’s a tricky proposition because of that texture issue you mentioned. However, there are lots of alternatives, depending on what kinds of sugar your wife is able to eat. Honey and maple syrup, although suitable sugar substitutes, can still cause a spike in blood sugar, so you might consider other sugar alternatives that are lower on the glycemic index, such as agave syrup or stevia.
There are a few recent cookbooks that address this issue specifically. “The I Quit Sugar Cookbook: 306 Recipes for a Clean, Healthy Life” by Sarah Wilson (Clarkson Potter, $27.50), “Sensationally Sugar Free: Delicious Sugar-Free Recipes for Healthier Eating Every Day” by Susanna Booth (Hamlyn, $29.99) and “Cut the Sugar, You’re Sweet Enough: Cookbook” by Ella Leche (Andrews McMeel, $24.99) feature hundreds of recipes for sweet and savory dishes with minimal or no added sugar.
The best for baked goods and desserts is “Sensationally Sugar Free,” which has ice creams, puddings, breakfasts, granola bars and other foods that are typically packed with sugar. Some of these dishes are sweetened naturally with fruit or ingredients such as roasted, pureed beets, while others use some of the many sugar alternatives that are on the market today, like the stevia powder in these brownies. You can use a dairy-free margarine in place of butter in this recipe to make it vegan. (And if you missed the brownie recipes we ran in our Year of Baking series earlier this year, go to austin360.com/yearofbaking to find the recipes and how-to video.)
7 oz. butternut squash
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, chopped
2 tsp. stevia powder
3 oz. no-added-sugar semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
3 1/2 oz. pitted dried dates
Scant 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
Scant 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil an 8-inch square baking pan with sunflower oil, or line the pan with parchment paper.
Seed the butternut squash and chop into 1-inch cubes. You can keep the skin on — it provides extra nutrients, and you’ll never notice it in the finished brownies. Spread the chopped squash out in the baking pan and roast for 20 minutes until soft. Let cool for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the butter, stevia powder and chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as most of it has melted, remove the pan from the heat. Let stand until everything has melted.
Place the roasted squash, eggs and dates in a food processor and process for about 1 minute until the mixture is as smooth as possible. Add both flours, baking powder and salt, followed by the melted chocolate mixture. Process for about 30 seconds until everything is well combined. Stir in the walnuts.
Spread the batter across the baking pan and smooth it flat with a spatula. Bake for 12-15 minutes until the brownie has shrunk away from the sides of the pan but is still soft in the middle. Let cool in the pan, then cut into 16 pieces.
— From “Sensationally Sugar Free: Delicious sugar-free recipes for healthier eating every day” by Susanna Booth (Hamlyn, $29.99)