Keeping the taste while losing the sugar

Joanne ChangIn addition to running an expanding restaurant and bakery empire, Joanne Chang has authored two best selling baking books (Flour and Flour, Too). She returns with a totally new perspective in her latest cookbook, Baking with Less Sugar. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book, and check out the events calendar to see where the book tour is headed.) Joanne spoke with us about the significant challenges she faced in reducing refined sugar while keeping the flavor and texture of baked goods.



This is your third baking book.  The other two, Flour and Flour, Too are traditional baking books, featuring recipes from your Boston bakeries, Flour.  How much harder was it creating the recipes for this book?

This book was much harder! The obvious challenge was reducing/removing white sugar from popular pastries and making sure they still taste amazing. With the first two books I had a starting place and I simply needed to clarify the directions and reduce the quantity to make a reasonable amount. For this book I was starting from scratch much of the time and there was a huge amount of testing and retesting that went into creating these pastries. I made up brand new recipes for a honey cashew morning bun, gingersnaps, strawberry fool, maple cheddar bacon scone and more!

Did you have any surprises in what worked and didn’t work when looking at alternative sweeteners?

I was shocked at how much sugar affects the texture of desserts. I knew they would taste different and I learned a lot of little tricks that allowed your palate to still enjoy your favorite treats with less sugar. But I couldn’t get over how difficult it was to create crispy, chewy cookies and moist tender cakes. 

Using reduced fruit juices was a super pleasant surprise – I loved baking with apple and grape juice and am going to keep testing new recipes using fruit juices. I also fell in love with dates. Pureeing dates and mixing into cakes and cookies and custards was a revelation to me. The date pecan shortbreads from the book are one of my new favorites. 

Were there any recipes that you wanted to recreate with less sugar but they would not work without it? Anything with caramel springs to mind!

Ah this list is too long for one q+a!!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes caramel was out. Although I did reduce maple syrup to make maple creme caramel and pear tart tatin that are amazing. Meringues were pretty much impossible. I wanted to try angel food cake but compromised with chiffon cake that came out really well! I tried making a maple pudding cake (similar to a lemon pudding cake) about a million times and eventually had to give up. I still think it’s possible…but not in time for the deadline for the book!

There were traditional sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup before refined sugar came along.  What new sweeteners are there that are acceptable alternatives?

Stevia comes to mind, as does agave nectar. I didn’t use either of these incidentally. I wanted to stick to traditional sweeteners that people were familiar with and had ready access to.

Have you found there is demand from customers at Flour for baked goodies without refined sugar?

Yes one of the reasons for writing the book was hearing our guests ask if we had pastries that were free of refined white sugar. We just added a super delicious mixed nut and honey biscotti to our menu that is made without white sugar.

What surprises did you have when you started this experimenting with your established Flour recipes?  Any that you think have been improved in the new version?

One surprise was the lack of color in the reduced sugar pastries. The coffee cake, banana bread, oatmeal raisin cookies, carrot cake – all have a very pale appearance because they are missing the caramelization effects that happen when your pastry has lots of sugar in it. I love many of these new versions just as much or even better than our current. I love sweets but I don’t like my sweets to be too sweet so these versions are very appealing to me. However a significant effect of reducing sugar in your baked goods is that keeping quality is greatly reduced. Especially with the Flour favorites you want to eat them the day they are baked so that they are as fresh and moist as possible.

Your 4 Flour bakeries are all in Boston and Cambridge and are very successful.  Have you considered expanding the operation into other cities?

To be honest I haven’t thought of it before but I’ve learned over the years to never say never.

As well as the Flour bakeries you have an Asian restaurant (Myers + Chang) with your husband, Christopher Myers.  Are there any plans to produce a cookbook from the restaurant?

Yes! That is our next project – we just started recipe testing and I can’t wait to share all of our recipes!


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