Sweetness (part 2): Challenges in Sugar-Free Baking

8 Sep

[From Rachel]

You might remember how I have pledged to experiment with using no cane sugar in a few recipes this month.  Now, I love to research and I really like when things work out as I had anticipated.  Thus far, with local-only sweetened baked goods, I’m having less of the perfection I anticipated for someone who has been reading up on baking with honey, fruit juice, fruit puree and maple syrup.

My first idea, on 9/1 was a peach upside-down cake.  Originally I thought of something like an applesauce cake that would just be sweetened by the peach puree.  However, the peaches didn’t really sauce down as I had hoped, but by then I had changed the plan to use peach JUICE as a sweetener.  You can find some recipes that call for fruit juice concentrate (i.e. the stuff that comes from a factory and is made from who-knows-what-country’s grapes or apples).  This peach juice was pretty sweet, so I crossed my fingers.  Rustic cakes like this are pretty forgiving.  I decided I was nervous to convert a recipe from white sugar to fruit juice, though I’ve read that you can substitute 3/4 cup juice concentrate for 1 cup of sugar in regular recipes and reduce the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons. I found a recipe that simply called for juice anyways.  I also used butter since the sunflower oil taste is pretty strong.  I spread the cooked-down peaches below the batter, then sprinkled more on top.  While it was in the oven, it smelled like I’d been making belgian waffles.  And it actually tasted pretty good, but not super-sweet.  It seemed like a great breakfast cake/quickbread, that could even be spread with some nut butter (nuts are one of my “cheat” foods, and Once Again is the only nut butter I’ll use…September or otherwise).  I was pleased enough to have this in my evenings, and my taste tester seemed to enjoy it, though agreed it wasn’t very sweet (his portion, however, disappeared within a day).  The bigger upset was not that the cake was less dessert-y, but that (duh!) a cake with no cane sugar in it is thus not “preserved” in the same way.  In other words, the last 1/3 of the cake molded within a few days at room temp.  OOPS!  Here’s the recipe, aptly titled.

Peach Upside-Down Breakfast Treat

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, melted/OR 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt
  • 1/2 c. Unsweetened fruit juice (I obtained peach juice while cooking down peaches into a compote)
  • 1 1/2 c. flour–find local if you can!
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cooked-down fruit (start with about 4-5 peaches, slice, cook over low heat for a while, ladling out juice until you have about a cup)
1.  Combine the egg, butter, yogurt and fruit juice.
2.  Combine the flour, baking powder, soda, salt (and any spices if they fit within your challenge rules)
3.  Add in the liquid to the dry and stir just to combine–don’t overmix!
4.  Place 1/2 the cooked peaches in the bottom of a round or square pan that has been oiled or greased
5.  Spread the batter on top.
6.  Strew the rest of the cooked fruit over the batter.
7.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool and serve–it holds up well, a very moist cake.  However, it should be kept in the refrigerator after a day.
On 9/6, I moved on to a cookie recipe.  Another charming character trait of mine is starting with very complicated things (I started with things like home-made chocolate eclairs from scratch when teaching myself about pastry, etc.).  So I’m sure there are simpler cookie recipes that use honey (my selected sweetener for this experiment), but I wanted to make a zucchini cookie today.  I found an abundance of zucchini-oatmeal recipes online–they were generally dubbed as healthy but that’s not the point of a cookie, and 1 cup of processed cane sugar and 1/2 cup of butter don’t equal healthy in my mind.  Given that I had a big bag of beautiful freshly rolled oats from Pennsylvania Yankee Mercantile, this sort of recipe seemed perfect.  I settled on an oil-based recipe since organic butter is a bit costly for a first attempt with unknown probability of success.  I used the basic honey-substitution principles I had learned: for every cup of sugar, use 2/3 to 3/4 cup honey.  Yeah, it’s a lot of honey (but that’s also a LOT of cane sugar, we just can get it for way too cheap these days).  I go to the local foods co-op and get my New York State honey in bulk–I just chill out next to the honey tap while a gorgeous golden river of honey flows into my mason jar.  This reminds me of a locavore tip, by the way, if you aren’t used to purchasing all these foods that you’re being challenged to eat this month.  They can be really inexpensive if you find a co-operative grocery store or natural foods store with a bulk section.  Call ahead, learn what their bring-your-own vessels policy is (you may need to have them weighed upon entry to the store, etc.), then set on your adventure for some bulk beans, grains, honey and maple syrup.  Anyways, the recipe seemed conducive to the conversion.  I knew I’d need to reduce liquid by a few tablespoons, but since the only other liquid in this recipe was oil, I figured I’d just go light on that.  Fast-forward to what ended up like a cake batter.  ANOTHER cake.  However, I really love zucchini bread (which is cake, don’t kid yourself there), so I’m not that disappointed.  It does have quite a sunflower flavor, which again, I don’t mind.  I’m just grateful that we have local sunflower oil so I don’t have to use so much expensive local organic dairy when doing these experiments.  So I guess I’m still on the quest for a local-sweetener recipe for actual cookies.  I can’t well dunk slices of my zucchini-oatmeal-honey cake into a glass of my (homemade) soy milk.  It’s sweet enough that it may count as cake, which I don’t feel I had achieved in the peach cake experiment.  With this pattern, the next thing I try to make won’t be a cookie, but will turn out like one, right?  Here’s the recipe, because it is good.  Make your choice on the oil vs. butter issue again, and if you get the ratios of ingredients right to make proper cookies, PLEASE post your comment.  I’m sure it’s just about paying more attention to the liquid and dry ingredient ratios.  The moisture content of the zucchini probably didn’t help matters…Like I said, I start with complicated stuff.

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup corn oil sunflower oil, less a small amount to reduce liquid
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar  2/3 c. honey (222g) for 1c. total sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour farmer-ground wheat flour, increased by a few tablespoons in an unsuccessful shot at making a cookie dough, not a cake batter
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 1/3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup finely grated zucchini
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees (less 25 degrees for honey–> 325). Beat together the egg, oil and both sugars until well blended.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Add the oatmeal and zucchini and mix well.
  3. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, placing them about 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 2 dozen.  Scratch head, sigh because you have a perfect cake/quick bread batter that smells like sunflower seeds.  Pull out a rectangular pan and make cake that you can cut into squares instead.  Bake for about 40 minutes, or until risen and golden.
A few resources on honey and bees in our region:
Rochester Honey/Standard of Identity
2007 New Yorker Article Highlighting NYC Beekeeper David Graves
Queen of the Sun (Movie) Information Site
American Honey Producers Association
Cooking with Honey
As you can see from some of the recent media attention (perhaps there has not been enough), it is important to learn about the source of your honey.  Since honey is a product artfully collected and marketed across our state, there is less of a challenge of finding local honey, and honey you can feel confident is not contaminated.  However, many some producers not only keep their own bees and bottle different varieties (from bees collecting nectar from different flowers, or a mix of them), but also source quality honey from other parts of the country, due to those locations’ particular plants (orange blossoms in Florida, for example).  If you want to be sure that not only the honey business but the actual honey is local, you may need to ask for clarification.  This is your great opportunity to get to know beekeepers–a very well-informed and talkative bunch, I’ve found!  Next time you are at a market with a honey vendor, make sure you engage (politely) with the vendor about the different sources of their honeys.  If the vendor doesn’t carry a local product, you could explain that you are challenging yourself to think more about the mileage behind your food this month, and that you would love to purchase locally-sourced honey from them in the future.  Your conversations and commitment to the Locavore Challenge could be the tipping point for that vendor!
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2 Responses to “Sweetness (part 2): Challenges in Sugar-Free Baking”

  1. JP September 8, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    I, too, have been working on limiting white sugar and white flour from my baking, while trying to be as local as possible. What a challenge! My poor family has gotten to “enjoy” a lot of the “interesting” things that have resulted from my experiments. I have, however, invented a cookie recipe that the kids (and adults) seem to like. The only problem is that a couple of the main ingredients aren’t really native to this area. Here’s the recipe, in case you want to play (or experiment – you could probably easily turn these into an apple cookie recipe)… (I weighed some stuff and measured others, nothing like make things difficult.)

    MAKS Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

    1 stick softened butter
    85 grams honey (local, from Otto, NY) – I think this is about 4 1/2 Tablespoons
    85 grams maple syrup (local, from Wales, NY) – Again, try about 4 1/2 Tablespoons
    195 grams peanut butter (the real stuff – ingredients peanuts)
    1 egg (local, free-range, from Wales, NY)
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    145 grams whole wheat pastry flour (mine wasn’t local, but I could have gotten some – no clue on volume of flour… maybe about 1 1/4 cups?)
    6 grams baking soda – 1 teaspoon
    1/2 cup old fashioned oats (like how I switched to measuring v. weight?)
    2 teaspoons flaxmeal (optional)
    couple of handfuls of peanuts (so scientific)

    Preheat oven to 375. Use parchment paper or silpat on cookie sheets.
    Cream butter, honey, syrup, peanut butter. Add egg and vanilla. Mix well. Sift together flour, baking soda, flaxmeal, and oats – slowly add to the butter mix. Fold in peanuts.

    Makes about 2 large cookie sheets worth of cookies. I do smaller ones – about 20/cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes. Let sit on tray for a couple of minutes and transfer to cooling rack. They are definitely not a crispy cookie, but we find them quite tasty.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Honey, you’re so versatile. « NY Locavore Challenge - September 18, 2012

    […] in more than traditional oatmeal-sweetening or cookie-enhancing applications.  Last year, Rachel posted a bit about the ways to convert recipes to use just these local sweeteners.  Today, in honor of Rosh Hashana (and all that honey you might have left over from celebrations) […]

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