What Does Sugar Do in Baking?
As well as the sweetness sugar has other roles in baking; it provides moistness, caramalises at high temperatures and helps cookies spread during baking to make them crisp. This makes it hard to replace sugar in baking – but you can decrease the amount of sugar by 1/3 without affecting the quality.
What is Sugar?
Refined sugar is 99% sucrose which is a simple carbohydrate. Other refined sugars include brown sugar, and raw sugars such as demerara or turbinado. All these sugars have the same nutritional value – brown sugars simply contain more molasses content.
Most artificial sweeteners provide a sweet taste but lack the browning and moisture retaining properties of sugar.
Sucralose is the one sweetener that can be substituted 1:1 for sugar in baking.
Saccharine is over 200 times sweeter than sugar and can be used in baked goods. Use 6g (6x1g packets) for each ¼ cup of sugar.
Aspartame is heat sensitive and loses its sweetening power when heated so cannot be used for cookies or cakes but may work in no-bake pies and added to puddings after removal from the heat.
However, I would strongly advise avoiding artificial sweeteners as their effect on health and the human body is very questionable.
Honey is up to 50% sweeter than sugar so you can use less honey to sweeten than sugar. Flavour and colour of honey can vary depending on the flowers visited by the bees. Goods made with honey are moist and dense but tend to brown faster than those made with granulated sugar.
Use ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon honey in place of 1 cup sugar, and reduce the other liquid ingredients by 2 tablespoons. Unless the recipe includes sour cream or buttermilk, add a pinch of baking soda to neutralize the acidity.
Maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees and is less sweet than sugar but has a unique flavour that works very well in baked goods. Maple syrup has different grades – Grade A is lighter and more delicate, Grade B is thicker and darker and is better for baking with a stronger flavour.
Although maple syrup is only 60% as sweet as sugar, use ¾ cup for every cup of white sugar and decrease the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons to compensate for its liquid state.
Molasses is a by-product of sugar refining. It has small amounts of B vitamins, iron and calcium. It is not as sweet as sugar and has quite a dark colour and strong flavour.
When substituting molasses for sugar, use 1 1/3 cups molasses for 1 cup sugar, and reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 5 tablespoons. Molasses is also more acidic than sugar; add ½ teaspoon baking soda for each cup of molasses used. Replace no more than half the sugar called for in a recipe with molasses.
This is a fructose sweetener made from the agave cactus. It has a subtle sweetness and also a lower GI impact on blood sugar. Raw, organic agave has been through the least processing and tends to have mild taste. Use 1/3 to ½ cup of agave nectar for every 1 cup of sugar in the recipe.
Refined fructose is sweeter than granulated sugar. It can be easily substituted in baking recipes – simply add one-third less. Fructose attracts more water than sucrose, so fructose-sweetened products tend to be moist. Baked products made with fructose will be darker than if they were made with white sugar. Fructose is available in health-food stores.
Brown rice malt syrup
This consists of maltose, glucose and complex carbohydrates. It is an amber-hued syrup resembling honey, but it is not as sweet as honey. It can be substituted cup per cup for granulated sugar, but the liquid ingredients should be reduced by ¼ cup per cup of rice syrup. Enzyme-treated syrup, as opposed to malted syrup, will tend to liquefy the batter of a baked product. Use the malted syrup for best results.
Fruit juice concentrates
Such as apple juice concentrate, orange juice concentrate, or white grape juice concentrate, are wonderful substitutes for sugar and add interesting flavours as well. Juice concentrates are made up of fructose and glucose. Use ¾ cup for every cup of white sugar, and decrease the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons.
Stevia is a naturally sweet, zero calorie herb that has been used for hundreds of years. It comes in powder or liquid form. A tiny amount goes a long way. Since neither the herb nor its powdered form has been approved as a food additive by the FDA, it is available only as a dietary supplement.
Maple Sugar and Date Sugar
These natural alternatives have a granular sugar-like texture that works well in certain cakes and cookies although the finished product may be denser. Substitute on a 1:1 ratio.
Coconut Sugar and Palm Sugar
This sweetener is made from the sap of coconut flower buds and contains vitamins and minerals. Substitute on a 1:1 ratio.
Sorghum molasses is made from the gluten free cereal sorghum and contains iron and other minerals. It has quite a strong flavour.
Raisins pulsed to crumbs in a processor can be used as the main sweetener in drop cookies and cookie bars. They are quite subtle and you could try a combination of processed raisins and coconut in place of sugar or add a touch of honey, agave or molasses to help bind the dough and boost sweetness.
Puréed ripe bananas are very sweet and also add moistness. You may need to experiment with the recipe and adjust other liquid ingredients to account for the extra liquid of the banana. Other fruit options could include applesauce, sugar free jams and white grape juice
Xylitol is as sweet as table sugar but has 40% less calories and 75% less carbohydrates. It is often chosen by diabetics as it is very slowly absorbed and has less effect on insulin. It can be used in baking as heat does not affect it and it is substituted on a 1:1 ratio.