Cakes, doughnuts, macarons and brownies - we love the sweet stuff! But, if you’re looking to cut back on the calories, try out new flavours or are simply looking for a healthier alternative, there are a wide range of sugar-free substitutes you can use in your bakes.
Living the sweet life on those sugar substitutes can be tough, if you’re unsure which ingredient to choose for your sugar-free bake. If you lie awake at night haunted by the same question: “but how do I make a sugar-free cake?” we’ve taken a look at some of the most popular sugar-free alternatives on the market to see why they work and why they may not.
But, before we tuck in, do remember that sugar does far more than just add a sweet taste. It plays a big role when it comes to texture, adding air to your bakes and has this magic ability to draw in moisture and help keep your cakes and brownies moist. So, with that in mind, here are some fantastic sugar alternatives that you can use instead of sugar.
We’re nutty about coconut
Best for: Shortbreads and cookies
This clever tropical substitute is made from the sap of coconut palm blossoms, which is similar to palm sugar. Although, it does carry similar carbs, calories and fructose levels, gram for gram this nutty alternative has a lower glycemic index than sugar. This essentially means that coconut sugar retains its health benefits better than granular sugar ever would.
Coconut sugar looks a lot like brown sugar and will add a golden brown colour to your bakes. It also, surprisingly, doesn’t taste like coconut, which is good or bad depending on how you feel about Bounty bars in the chocolate box at Christmas.
Its dry, yet soft, texture is not a friend of the cake and will cause an uneven rise, as well as being dense in appearance and rather dry to taste. But you can simply overcompensate for this by adding more fat or fruit into the mix to give it some moisture.
Sunny stevia is blooming with flavour
Best for: Custard and for cakes when combined with baking powder
Naturally calorie and carb free and with a low glycemic rate, stevia sweeteners are a great sugar alternative for your bakes - and who knew it was part of the sunflower family?
Stevia is white in colour and has a similar texture to sugar. It does have a naturally bitter aftertaste, although it is generally sweeter in cakes. This means that your measurements will need to be altered so the sweetness doesn’t blow your socks off after each bite.
It may look like sugar, taste like sugar and it may even make you dance like sugar, but, let’s face facts - it’s not sugar. Without those scientific components that sugar provides, it’s useless for icing and caramelising, but it’s great for custards. If you want to use it in your cakes, you’ll need to pair stevia with a bulking agent such as baking powder or egg whites depending on your recipe, or they won’t rise as well.
Oh honey, you’re so sweet
Best for: Drizzling on cakes once they’re baked
Packing flavour; the sticky, golden goodness of honey can definitely help settle a sweet tooth. But, although we thank those busy bees for all their hard work producing this all natural substitute, it doesn’t work well for all sugar-free cake recipes.
Any recipe that traditionally involves creaming butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy will not work with honey, maple syrup, treacle or any other malt syrup alternative. The gooey texture just doesn’t help the bake rise like granular sugar does. This is because syrup can’t cut through butter to create air pockets, which means your cakes will be dense, heavy or sometimes even flat. Great if you’re into that sort of thing, but if you’re after a soft, spongy cake it simply won’t turn out that way.
As well as this, it’s said that heating up honey causes it to lose all of its health benefits so it’s best to drizzle honey rather than bake it. Great if you want to add a topping to a loaf cake or cupcakes. Maple syrup and treacle are also the better options for puddings and flapjacks.
Go au naturel with apples and pears
Best for: Cakes, cookies, brownies
There’s something quite sweet about puréeing your pears, mashing up your banana or juicing your apples before a bake. Even cooking off your sweet potato or chopping your beetroot has a real ‘I own the kitchen’ vibe to it. Fruit and vegetables are full of fibre, vitamins and minerals and they’re the most natural choice (obviously). They’re great in cakes, as an alternative to your usual granular sugar.
You’ll need to be careful though with your quantities when creating your cake mix, as fruit and veg will alter how wet the batter is - but the good news is you’ll never get a dry cake. Depending on the fruit, the texture of your cake will change and it may lose its stability if you’re piling your decorations up high.
Using fruit and vegetables in a classic cake or brownie recipe is all in the preparation. While fruit purée, such as apple or apricot, is best for flapjacks and cookies, you can use root vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potato and beetroot to add sweet structure to your cakes and brownies.
These sugar alternatives are still as sweet as the real thing - with all the added health benefits. You’ll be baking sugar-free cakes in no time and serving them up to friends and family who won’t be able to tell the difference.