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Authors: Joanne Chang

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BOOK: Baking with Less Sugar
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Over the last two decades as my experience as a pastry chef has grown, the one immutable lesson I am certain of is: The more I know the more I don't know. Every time I learn of a new ingredient or technique the boundaries of what I think makes an excellent pastry expand. Of course, molecular gastronomy—making mango foams and coffee air and caramel smoke and such—has introduced us all to flavors and textures never before seen in desserts until recently. But even less dramatic than that is realizing that nothing is absolute, especially what defines “delicious” to me. A recipe for chocolate mousse that I made when I was first starting out in pastry now tastes awfully bland to me; an almond torte that I used to swoon over, I barely cast a second glance at; ricotta turnovers that I couldn't wait to remove from the first pastry menu I inherited, I now adore. My previously unexamined assumption that sugar is the most direct source to creating the sweetness that we love has been tested over and over again as I've sampled and experimented with other far more interesting paths towards that same goal.

I've realized that desserts benefit from spanning the sweetener spectrum to include honey, maple, fruit juice, and more. I've surrounded myself with more and more ways of eating sweets all day long but in a more balanced fashion. I still crave something sweet as soon as I wake up . . . but it no longer needs to be covered in icing and showered in sugar. I have always believed that the best desserts highlight flavors other than just that of sweet, sweet, sweet. Nuts and fruits and cream and chocolate are all such enticing flavors, and they should be the stars of the show. My own personal favorite pastries are those that showcase the richness of creamy butter, the round warmth of vanilla bean, the balance of acid and sweetness in fresh fruit, the spiciness of grated nutmeg, in fact everything but the hit-over-your-head aspect of sugary sweet flavors that I used to crave.

The running joke in the Chang-Myers household is that, despite the fact that all I eat all day long is cake and cookies and muffins, we have nary a pastry in the house. It didn't start out that way. In fact, part of the wooing process Christopher went through when we were first dating was to visit me at the first Flour almost every single day to get his morning pastry and/or afternoon treat. His sweet tooth rivals mine (it is one of the many, many ways I knew immediately he was the one for me), and over a slice of carrot cake or a shared chocolate cupcake we would banter and joke and flirt. Was he here to see me or because he was addicted to our peanut butter cookies and lemon tarts? Or both? Now that we are married he teases me that I pulled the wool over his eyes. He thought he signed up for a lifetime supply of baked goods, but day in and day out I come home empty-handed. “We're like the shoemaker's children who never have shoes!” he declares. “We never have sweets in the house!”

As life would have it, it turns out that Christopher is sensitive to sugar. It fills him up with giddy energy and then sends him crashing down into a daze. I've witnessed the sugar rush and ensuing inevitable crash enough times to finally see the pattern. How ironic is it that sugar—the stalwart ingredient of my career—is the culprit? Over the years I've searched for other ways to satisfy his sugar cravings, starting with simple fruit treats like frozen bananas dipped in bittersweet chocolate, and mango sorbets made creamy with a hit of coconut milk to more involved pastries like a sticky toffee pudding cake sweetened with just a touch of maple syrup, and granola bars full of
dried fruit and bound together with a smidge of honey. I am fascinated by the exploration of finding other ways to add flavor and delight to a dessert without relying on white sugar. And I know you will be, too.

Here you will learn to bake all of your favorite pastries with minimal or no refined white sugar. While sugar is obviously the most common sweetener used in baking, it's by no means your only option. You will discover, as I did, that when you don't focus on sugar and sweetness, you end up with desserts that are full of amazing, compelling flavor. Many sugar alternatives are items you already have stocked in your pantry. You will incorporate sweetness into desserts with more varied ingredients such as honey, maple syrup, chocolate, and fruit. White sugar is familiar and pleasing, but these alternate sources of sweetness offer more alluring, complex flavors and deeper, more interesting elements to your desserts in ways that sugar alone can't.

You'll find recipes for White Chocolate–Cherry-Almond Cookies
(page 47)
, Yellow Birthday Cake with Fluffy Chocolate Ganache Frosting
(page 62)
, and Cinnamon Sugar Monkey Bread
(page 37)
that you and your family will clamor for . . . made with a fraction of the white sugar that these treats typically use. You will bake Banana Cinnamon Bread Pudding
(page 103)
sweetened only with honey and a Pear-Maple Tarte Tatin
(page 147)
that relies on maple syrup, not sugar, for sweetness. A decadent Truffle Chocolate Cream Pie
(page 88)
is made with no added sugar other than the sugar that is in the chocolate, and it will become your new favorite dessert to satisfy the chocoholics in your life. You won't believe that Carrot-Pineapple Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
(page 186)
and buttery flaky Spiced Pear Turnovers
(page 161)
have no white sugar, and you'll learn how to sweeten desserts with simply fruit and fruit juices. You will be amazed over and over at how you can make awesome baked goods that contain little to no white sugar. You will realize that you can bake with less or no sugar for exactly the same reason why we bake in general: to make fabulous, scrumptious desserts that you, your friends, and your family love to eat.

WHY LOW/NO SUGAR?

I sell sugar. Plain and simple, it's what I do. The hallmark of every beloved pastry is that it is SWEET. That's what makes it dessert! In fact my first book,
Flour
, is a celebration of all of the magical delights you can create when sugar is the star. So what in the world am I doing making pastries that have little or even no sugar? It wasn't something that came to me automatically. My goal in baking has always been to bake something that is so mouthwatering you simply can't stop eating it when you try it. We look to our refrigerators and pantries for inspiration and then guided by a taste memory or a new idea, we create ooey-gooey, fluffy, tender, delectable treats. When testing recipes for the bakery, when we make something that I end up gobbling down in one sitting and looking around for more, then I know we've hit on something good. Pretty much the only restriction I've had to figure out so far is, how do we make space on our pastry counter to showcase this must-have dessert?

A few years ago, I read an article in the
New York Times
titled, “Is Sugar Toxic?” by Gary Taubes that questioned whether or not we as a nation were consuming too much sugar. It reminded me of when I was first opening up Flour about a decade earlier and was faced with dealing with the low-carb movement and Atkins diet acolytes. Who was going to come to a place called Flour when it was being branded the enemy? It's so easy to fall into the trap of changing our eating—and thus our cooking and baking—based on the latest trendy research. (Eggs are good! Eggs are bad! Now they are good again!). I've done it myself over the years—anyone else remember sprinkling oat bran on everything we ate and making muffins and pancakes with it?
Not this again!
I thought to myself.

But yes, this again. When the article came out, I was finishing up my second book,
Flour, Too
, and looking forward to new challenges. I'd been bitten by the cookbook-writing bug (when it gets in you, it's hard to escape), and I was toying with a few different cookbook ideas in my head. Should I do a Myers+Chang book (it's in the works!), or maybe a “how to open a bakery business” book, or follow the trends and work on a gluten-free or maybe a vegan baking book? Out of the blue, my editors at Chronicle Books called me and asked what I thought about writing a low-sugar baking book. I'd dabbled a bit in some low-sugar baking at home; Christopher tries to balance his white sugar intake when he can, which can be difficult when your wife is a pastry chef. But I'd never actively thought about compiling a list of recipes with little to no sugar. “Think about it!” they urged me and we hung up the phones. Not a week later
O Magazine
—yes,
that
O—contacted me and asked me if I had any interest in contributing to an article they were writing on no-sugar desserts. I almost thought it must be a joke. (Or those folks at Chronicle were pulling out all the stops to get me to consider their idea!!) Turns out
O Magazine
was simply ahead of the curve, and they wanted to see what I could do without any white sugar. The seed was planted.

I contributed a few recipes to the article, fell in love with how mouthwateringly delicious they were (as did Christopher), and continued to be intrigued with the idea of developing dessert recipes that rivaled those of my first and second cookbooks that were made with little to no refined white sugar. Could I create pastries that would fully gratify our incessant sugar cravings while still pleasing parents, doctors, health addicts, and anyone else wanting to reduce the amount of sugar we consume each day? Every single moment at work I'm surrounded by sugar. How easy or hard would it be to teach people's taste buds to enjoy desserts that are not over the top with sweetness? A hallmark of many of the desserts we sell at the bakery is that they are not crazy sweet; sure, we have some pastries that are pretty decadent, but the majority of our treats are already well balanced in the sweetness department. How far could I continue this trend? I made a low-sugar oatmeal raisin cookie and a low-sugar banana bread just to see what the result would be . . . and I was hooked! My bakers and I all loved the newer versions of these Flour classics so much that I immediately imagined creating a new baking book, one that carried on the same “I can't stop eating this” philosophy with recipes that had a fraction of the sugar, if any at all, in them.

I'm no doctor (to the chagrin of my mom, who comes from a family of doctors), so in no way is this book a medical treatise on how to eat better or a diatribe against sugars. Nor is it a diabetic or no-sugar baking book by any means. As an active member of the food community known for providing baked goods made with real whole ingredients, I saw a unique challenge to create sweet treats that people love that are less dependent on sugar than their traditional counterparts and that use other sweeteners to taste delicious. One of my cookbook readers even reached out to say, “Since I've started baking, I am surprised by the amount of sugar stated in cookbooks, and I wonder, do people really eat that much sugar and does the recipe need that much sugar. I have a sweet tooth but not that sweet a tooth. I am not a health nut. I just feel one does not depend solely on sugar to make baking delicious.” Mandy in Singapore, I couldn't have said it better myself.

Working in the food business, I've become aware of all of the variations of abstinence eating: some of us shy away from fat or carbs for health purposes, others might avoid nuts or dairy for allergy reasons, still others abstain from animal products or meats out of personal preference. I will never not eat sugar—it's programmed w-a-a-a-a-ay too much into my life. We can still have our cake and eat it too if we learn to satisfy our cravings in other ways. These recipes are for every one of us. So here is a baking book, using my experience in the pastry kitchen and my knowledge of the science of baking, to help you change your palate to appreciate less-sweet pastries as well as employ alternate sweeteners in your baking to satisfy your sweet tooth.

So back to the question at hand . . . what made me tackle low/no sugar baking? Well, for starters, there are our customers. At Flour, we are happily entrenched in the neighborhoods we have established ourselves in. We get to know our regulars, and our goal each and every day is to try and make our guests' days with our smiles and delicious food. Every pastry and sandwich and coffee has to pass the Mom Test—would you hand this to your mother and be proud of it?—and if it doesn't, we won't serve it. When we opened the first Flour, I worked hard on making a menu that everyone would love. I tried to pack it with home-run favorites, special twists on classics, interesting takes on the most popular pastries, and it took off. We've listened to our guests over the years, adding things, changing
things, and adjusting ourselves so that we are continuing to offer what they want. It's not easy when you are trying to please everyone! But I think we've hit on a nice balance of making many, many people happy with our food. Over the years, we've had requests for gluten-free foods, nut-free selections, and vegan and vegetarian options. All of these have been incorporated into our menu, and we are always on the hunt for how we can improve. More and more guests are reaching out asking if we can create the same desserts they know, crave, and love with less sugar. What I've noticed is that these requests come from everyone: women and men, young and old, parents and singles. Choosing to consume less refined sugar is not a diet issue that pushes different groups' buttons. Rather, it is the approach that always wins the day for all of us: intention and moderation over restriction and elimination.

Besides responding to the requests of our guests, doctor or not, I am aware of the over-consumption we as a nation have of sugar and the numerous health implications. A decade ago I'd never heard the term
glycemic index
. Now it is the catchphrase of the day. Different foods are assigned a GI rating based on how they cause our blood sugar to rise when we consume them. The higher the GI, the more rapid the rise in blood sugar. When you consume foods that cause your blood sugar to rise and fall, your body sometimes has trouble with the spikes and valleys. As a result you could develop insulin resistance, which has been linked to everything from diabetes to obesity to heart disease. Whoa! For those looking to continue to indulge in baking but be intentional about their sugar intake, I want to share the other ways in which I've learned to satisfy my sweet tooth.

BOOK: Baking with Less Sugar
10.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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