I’ve been eating refined sugar-free for a while now, and if there is one thing I have learned it is that not all sugar-free recipes are created Equal.
Just because a recipe claims to be a sugar-free version of something you love, does not mean it won’t rely on highly processed or artificial sweeteners. Or that it will taste anything like the thing you hope it will taste like.
My replacement sugars of choice are maple syrup, honey and stevia powder. Stevia powder is the pick of them, but it is very expensive. It contains hardly any energy and is basically the powdered leaves of a plant. It comes in a few forms, but the volume-boosted measure-for-measure sugar substitutes are the easiest to use. It doesn’t have much of a taste, so it is great in subtle things like iced tea, or in recipes where you don’t want to mess with the liquid content by adding syrup or honey.
Maple syrup is great in that you can only really taste it at room temperature, so for sweetening hot drinks or anything you will consume cold the maple-ness won’t be an issue. I mix it into a paste with cocoa to make hot chocolate. It is also good for making ice cream as it will not clash with other flavours you might use and will not crystallise and make your ice cream grainy.
Honey is great for baking, and is generally the go-to substitute in muffins and cakes. It does tend to retain its flavour, so keep that in mind when adding it to recipes.
White sugar does things in your cooking that most less-processed substitutes are not quite able to replicate. That crunch in your apple crumble. The fluffiness in your muffins. And the ability to sweeten without messing with the flavours. But you can get around all this by trying different sweeteners in different situations.
I find maple syrup to be the best sweetener for home made yogurt. The culture did not like the stevia powder and I ended up with runny yogurt, but the maple worked out just like regular sugar. I like yogurt I can stand a spoon up in, and you can achieve this with plenty of milk solids (late lactation/high fat milk, or a top-up of powdered milk) and a tablespoon of maple syrup.
I use stevia powder in my iced tea. I make a variety of teas, some with very subtle flavours, and the stevia powder mixes in well and doesn’t interfere with the flavour of the tea.
I also use stevia to replace the sugar in things like cheesecake bases and crumble toppings, where you don’t want to add too much moisture.
If you are looking for some tried and true sugar-free recipes, here are some of my favourites.
I found a banana cake recipe that is only sweetened by fruit, it gets quite a bread-like crust on it, which softens after a couple of days, but it is very moist and very sweet.
I used regular self-raising flour instead of plain wholemeal flour and baking powder. I also found that it took quite a bit longer to cook than 35 minutes.
Sugar Free Banana Cake
- 2 cups wholemeal plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 60gms butter
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cups pitted dates finely chopped
- 4 banana mashed ripe
- 1/3 cups milk
- STEP 1 Preheat oven to 180C
- STEP 2 In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and egg with 1 tablespoon of the sifted flour.
- STEP 3 Beat well, then stir in dates and bananas.
- STEP 4 Sift flour, baking powder and soda into the bowl.
- STEP 5 Fold in the remaining flour mixture alternatively with the milk.
- STEP 6 Spread the mixture into a greased loaf tin and bake for 25-35 minutes.
To go with it I adapted a recipe for vanilla cream cheese frosting, as follows:
Cream Cheese Topping
1 cup cream cheese (I used fresh, unsalted chevre)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup
Juice of half a lemon
Beat or whisk it all together and spread on top of your banana cake. I topped mine with chopped walnuts.
Simple Apple Slice Cake
This one is very popular with my family, with visiting kids asking to take a copy of the recipe home with them.
2 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup stevia powder
3 apples, peeled, cored and diced
Toss apple pieces with flour and sweetener in a mixing bowl.
Melt the butter, and stir the egg into the melted butter.
Pour butter and egg mix into the apple/flour/sweetener and mix until combined.
Press lightly into a greased and lined slice tin or lasagne dish.
Bake at 180C for 35 to 40 minutes.
Banana and Berry Muffins
This is my favourite muffin recipe, the one that I make a batch of to freeze for my snack at work.
3 large ripe bananas
1 cup frozen berries (I use a mix, but you can pick just one variety if you prefer)
4 tbsp honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp linseeds
2 1/2 cups self raising flour
2 tbsp rolled oats
1/3 cup milk
Mash bananas. Mix in honey, oil and vanilla.
Add dry ingredients and fold in to combine without over-mixing. Gently fold in berries.
Spoon into greased muffin tins (I use paper cupcake cases)
Bake for 20 mins at 180C
Makes 12 decent-sized muffins