And I love what it does to baked goods. In addition to providing sweetness, sugar adds flavor, bulk, and structure. In cakes without shortening, sugar helps delay egg coagulation and allows a cake to "set" properly. It also retains moisture in baked goods. And as it’s heated above its melting point, it caramelizes and takes on an amber color with a wonderful aroma and flavor.
Without pretending to understand physiology or chemistry, I also understand that some people can't (or shouldn't) have real sugar. Alternative sugars are still the best -- beet sugar, fructose, sorghum sugar and maple syrup sugar -- but some people can't have (or don't want) these either.
We get occasional requests for totally sugar-free items, mostly from diabetics and people with digestive illnesses and sensitivities.
Trying to accommodate these diets, we've learned a few things about artificial sweeteners and baking.
Sugar substitutes have plusses and minuses and choosing the right one for a recipe is not easy. The most common obstacles are taste, moistness and volume. People expect sweets from a bakery to look and taste a certain way, whether they contain sugar or not. If we are going to put our name on a baked product, it can't be dry or flat or hard, even if it's sugar-free. And it has to look great too.
We also have to consider the cost of making sugar-free items. We're a small bakery with an extremely narrow profit margin, so we can't afford to spend a lot of time experimenting on items we can't sell. To work for us, a sugar substitute has to *substitute* for sugar without requiring modifications to the recipe.
The most popular artificial sweetener on the market is Splenda (sucralose). You can buy it in a bulk granulated white or brown-sugar variety.
We've tried it and hate it. When used in our recipes, we get dry cookies and cakes, with a chemical after taste. And we can't make a glaze or buttercream with it, so we can't even decorate those dry cookies and cakes.
Maybe, with enough experimenting, we might be able to come up with an acceptable product, but had to make a business decision to stick with real sugar.
A month or so ago, we were introduced to a relatively new sweetener, Ideal, made from a combination of xylitol, natural dextrose, natural maltodextrin and a small amount of non-natural sucralose. It comes in granulated, brown and confectioners (powdered) varieties.
It's not perfect, but it's much better than Splenda. It can be substituted for sugar in many of our recipes. And we're able to make buttercream and glaze for decorating with the confectioners version.
- The buttercream is not quite as smooth as when we use 10x confectiners sugar, but it's pretty good.
- Xylitol is toxic, even in small quantities, to dogs and cats. So, don't share these sweets with your beloved pets.
It also contains a small amount of sucralose (the main ingredient in Splenda), which some people have problems with. However, if you are a diabetic, the benefits may outweigh the risks.
And, if you'd like some sugar-free sweets from Mary's Cakes & Pastries, give us a call.