Goodbye, sugar.
November 16, 2010 4:47 PM   Subscribe

Help a baking fiend cut out refined sugar.

I have decided to cut refined sugar out of my diet, for various reasons (primarily that my sweet cravings are getting out of control, and there's a history of diabetes in my family). I've done a bit of research and I know what to look out for as far as pre-made products like soup and spaghetti sauce, and I've looked into natural sweeteners, like date sugar, agave nectar, brown rice syrup etc.

Here's where you come in: I love to bake. Often, it is how I de-stress (perhaps this is how I got into this problem to begin with...). Obviously I will cut way down on the baking and find other ways to vent a little steam, but for those times when I just really want to make a batch of cookies or some muffins... where do I go? I've seen this and this, but I'm looking for something a little broader for long-term use. I'd particularly appreciate cookbook recommendations, but of course blogs/websites are also welcome.

Thanks, hivemind!
posted by torisaur to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This was me, although I never developed a fiend-level baking habit. I started making more and more complicated dinners. It's mostly scratched the itch. I follow and and they mostly keep me occupied.
posted by mchorn at 4:51 PM on November 16, 2010

I remember seeing Marilu Henner on some morning show talking about her way of eating and how they don't use any refined sugar in their foods. I think I remember her making some muffins, so might be a resource for you.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:53 PM on November 16, 2010

What about baking more savory breads and pastries? They're not very popular these days, but they have an illustrious history...
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:00 PM on November 16, 2010

Though she doesn't avoid it all the time, one of my favorite cooking blogs, 101 Cookbooks, tries to avoid white flour and sugar as much as possible. A recent tasty-looking recipe was her Unfussy Apple Cake.

You're making a smart decision, BTW. I should do the same thing, as yummy baked goods just send my pleasure receptors off the charts.
posted by pianoboy at 5:04 PM on November 16, 2010

Are you opposed to using Splenda? You can substitute it measure for measure for white sugar in most recipes. I don't bake a lot, but the stuff I have made with it has been really good.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:09 PM on November 16, 2010

1. Welcome to the wonderful world of savory cookies. It's fairly deserted and unexplored, so you might have to come up with your own ideas.
2. Ditto savory muffins, savory scones, and bread.
3. From what I've heard, bakers are very methodical and obsessed with numbers, as opposed to cooks who are more hyper and flexible. However, sous vide cooking is *VERY* dependent on preparation and perfection. Maybe you'd enjoy it!
4. I don't know if this book (vegan, mostly gluten free, mostly sugar free) is any good, but the bakery Babycakes is omg so so so so good.
posted by acidic at 5:09 PM on November 16, 2010

Honey. Bananas (especially used as a binding substitute eggs). Real maple syrup. Brown rice syrup. Stevia (I've never tried it).

I have a suspicion that someone is going to suggest Agave nectar. I've read a lot of speculative stuff on the internet about its potentially dangerous effects on prolonged consumption, especially of its ridiculously high fructose levels (with low glycemic levels), and am almost sold on its dangers. I've tried it before, and while it does taste as great as sugar, it made me incredibly anxious. While I do suspect it's not as healthy as it is marketed, I'd like to find a credible scientific source to prove that it is unhealthy. I'd stay away from it, although many raw food recipes will call for it. Substitute it with your sugar alternative of choice.

I'd suggest Rapadura (raw cane sugar) or Yacon syrup.

I would suggest looking into raw food for some ideas. I am no raw food cultist, but I think a lot of raw recipes are really yummy.

I am a fan of veganimprov, Ani Phyo's Raw Food youtube channel, Rawmazing, and YumUniverse
posted by GEB's fun world at 5:24 PM on November 16, 2010

Response by poster: I actually don't like artificial sweeteners like Splenda, I find they leave a weird aftertaste.

Savory cookies sound interesting...

These are great, all :) Keep 'em coming
posted by torisaur at 5:25 PM on November 16, 2010

I'm anti-splenda/fake sweeteners 'cause their long term impact gives me the heebie jeebies, but I'm also a baking fanatic and I am looking to cut out refined sugar.

My big question is what will happen to the molecular structure of certain baked goods if we're using something other than the standard white and brown sugars. Honey doesn't seem to work as well when it comes to everything homegenizing, though it certainly does the trick for sweetening. Molasses works great in anything that normally requires brown sugar, and it has the added benefit of extra iron, so yay there. Maybe the trick here is to begin to just drop the level of sugar rather than cut it out altogether, and experiment with different (and core) baked goods that you most like to create to see whether or not the omission makes a different structurally, 'cause you can always dribble honey or whipped cream on top of something to give it some extra sweetness rather than baking stuff in.

Now I really, really want gingerbread or something. Dang it! :P
posted by patronuscharms at 5:38 PM on November 16, 2010

I think attempts at avoiding sugar are prone to misery and guilt, sprinkled with lashings of shame and agony.

Eventually you spiral down a slick, maple-sticky precipice towards oblivion, clutching your last remaining lollipop like a talisman, pleading it to save you from the baked goods satan.

Your screams sound like the ripping of an insulin syringe's wrapper. No-one comes to your aid.

...What I'm trying to say is, baking without sugar is like baking without gluten. You need to pick your battles.

If you can, stretch to replacing all refined sugar with naturally made raw sugar. It's processed, sure, but not as much as the others. You can also use coconut, palm or other "Alternative" sugars, but they're all refined in their own way, to their own degrees.

If you stick to "wet" recipes, you'll have better results. Liquid sweeteners won't cream butter properly, they will moisten cakes and buns, and they will make anything relying on egg whites impossible. Your cakes will be heavier, but richer.
posted by Quadlex at 5:42 PM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Are you opposed to using sugar that isn't quite as refined? Like demerara? I've used it for baking and think it's great. Also enjoy substituting whole wheat flour for at least a portion of white flour.

I still have the problem that when I bake things, I find them to be a little too delicious, but at least this would be an option for when you do still want to make sweet stuff. I can't stand the fake sugars either - splenda I can taste for hours when I've used it to bake.

Additionally, for a lot of recipes, you can simply reduce the amount of sugar used to no detrimental effect. Often if a recipe calls for a cup of sugar, I reduce it to around 3/4 cup and it still tastes great.
posted by wondermouse at 5:42 PM on November 16, 2010

I have the Babycakes cookbook linked above, and it's given me lots of great ideas for friends with various dietary preferences/restrictions. But note the ingredient list isn't exactly supermarket-friendly. ie, I haven't actually been able to bake from it yet since most of the recipes require ingredients that require extra hunting all over town and/or internet ordering to procure.
posted by soleiluna at 5:58 PM on November 16, 2010

Why not bake bread? Just as physically engaging, less sugar, and recipients love home made bread.

Alternative sugars are all pretty much the same to your body, aren't they?
posted by Ideefixe at 7:56 PM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have tried a few recipes from Babycakes. The banana bread recipe was a fail for me, but the spelt biscuits are great! I tried the frosting recipe with some success, but I think you are supposed to use the de-scented coconut oil she recommends. That has to be mail ordered.

My favorite cookbook for the muffin recipes is this one. It's a cookbok to help with yeast infections, so the recipes are low in sugar and use whole grains. As a matter of fact, I suspect just about any recipe book for yeast infection problems would be great for this.

Another thing you can do is use pureed fruit, which still has sugar, but also plenty of fiber to balance it out. You can even cook the fruit down, to concentrate it a bit. Applesauce is classic, but many fruits work as well. Pineapple is especially delicious.
posted by annsunny at 8:12 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Pritikin program had some problems, but one thing I did get from it was the use of (unsweetened) applesauce for baking. If you can find the old white paperback called "The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise," it has a recipe for cheesecake that uses the applesauce and cottage cheese(!) as main ingredients, yet still tastes sweet. I'm afraid online searching fails me for this recipe. There were several other baking recipes using applesauce as a sweetener in that book (and in some of the other Pritikin books.)
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:44 PM on November 16, 2010

I'd also like to recommend staying away from agave "nectar", or very high fructose agave syrup. Fructose exhibits chronic toxicity at doses over 50g/day, and agave nectar is 90% fructose. Better to use refined glucose than that stuff. I've also read some good things about coconut sugar, but I have had trouble finding it.

Also, I avoid sugar, but I have occasional coconut water, add some sugar to my tea, and have a small amount of candy after some workouts to replenish glycogen. It's nice to have a few small things that keep you happy, while being small enough to not spark cravings or get you used to always having sweet things.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:19 PM on November 16, 2010

I went sugar free for 4 years. During that time I used stevia in all my baked goods. It makes things sweet, but that is about it. If you want to retain the texture and flavor benefits of sugar-baked goods, it is possible to do so while drastically reducing the amount of sugar in a recipe, but it takes some experimentation.

For instance, in a recipe that calls for 1 cup of sugar, I might add 1/4 cup of demerara sugar, 1/2 tsp. stevia extract and 1/2 cup oats (to take up the liquid not being used by the sugar and to slow down my absorption of what little sugar there is). I have had pretty good results, and eating the finished product doesn't send me in to a sugar crazed bingeing cycle.

You should also watch for HFCS. It is a preservative as well as a sweetener, so it shows up in weird places, like vanilla extract. And as other folks have mentioned, stop buying white flour (except for bread flour - it has a higher protein content, and there really isn't a good whole wheat substitute if you are baking bread). Whole wheat flour works fine in baked goods - just add a smidge less, as it absorbs more moisture than white flour, and mix as little as possible, or else everything will come out gummy.
posted by dirtmonster at 5:25 AM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd no idea about potential fructose toxicity from excessive ingestion of agave nectar! Admittedly, 50g/day is a fairly high mark, but factoring in other fructose-rich foods, I'm sure it adds up relatively quickly. Earl the Polliwog's Nutrition and Metabolism Journal article link is worth reading: here.

I am seconding checkin' out the coconut sugar.
posted by alexandermatheson at 10:48 AM on November 17, 2010

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