Friday, March 2, 2012

Sugar-Free Liars

I need to go on a mini rant right now, after trying to look for already-low carb baked goods recipes last night when i came across several sites and blogs that touted "sugar-free" recipes only to find that they seem to think that it's just the pure white granulated cane sugar that counts as sugar. Well i'm sorry to tell you that no, that is only one form of sugar. Your precious honey, molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar (which is just granulated white sugar sprayed with molasses!), tubinado sugar, etc IS ALL SUGAR TOO. And it all pretty much acts the same way in your body as the white stuff. When i say sugar free i even exclude any fruit because i know that fruit has fructose, which is sugar. Or agave, which is basically just low-glycemic sugar but it's still sugar. Yes there are trace minerals in a lot of those substitutes and i applaud you for trying to be more "natural" and "healthy" by using them but i think you're a lying liar if you call it sugar-free.

One of the biggest problems i have with this is not only wasted time browsing through sites that don't actually have what i want is that sugar provides a function in baked goods and candy recipes and not every recipe is going to come out as intended if you just replace honey with splenda. Sugar lets things get crunchy, gooey, sticky, browned, caramelized, brittle, chewy, it helps yeast rise, generally provides texture, and a bunch more things.

So, for the record, if i post any recipe as "sugar-free" it will have no other sweetener than sugar alcohols or splenda. If, say, something calls for a dark chocolate bar or some "sugar free" jam in it (and for whatever reason i do not use my favorite sf "baking" chocolate bars--which are very delicious to eat on their own too but they also make great quick sf chocolate chunks or melting chocolate) i will label it as "low sugar/optional sugar free" or something like that. Later this year i will experiment more with Baker's unsweetened chocolate bars because they are slightly more economical than the Simply Lite ones and for large batches of things that comes in handy.

The only sugar substitute i currently use is Splenda. I get the giant bags of the granulated stuff auto-shipped from Amazon every so often. I know technically the granulated kind has less than a carb per serving because of the dextr-whatever they put in it to make it flake and not clump but i've yet to see the liquid stuff anywhere and the texture of the granulated is needed in some cases. I do on occasion use the Splenda brown sugar blend but not often. I can't tolerate Stevia or rebiana or whatever name it goes by because i'm pretty sensitive to the aftertaste of it but if you want to use it in place of Splenda in any recipes i post then more power to you. I have a bottle of maltitol syrup in my pantry that i'm looking forward to experimenting with, and a bottle of sugar-free "honey" that i believe is made of xylitol in case i want a honey flavor. Another flavor-sweetner i have is this sugar free maple syrup which in my opinion is worlds above the Mrs Butterworth's sugar free crap since they only specialize in "pancake syrup" which is nothing like real maple syrup and an abomination to anything you put it on. Oh, and i have a bag of granulated xylitol that i've not tried using yet. To sum things up though, i primarily use granulated Splenda and use the other sugar subs sparingly.

Okay! To reward you guys for suffering through that lecture i'll give you one of my favorite low-sugar/sugar free-optional chocolate dessert recipes. It's from The Wine and Food Lover's Diet by Phillip Tirman, MD. This recipe gives you a lot of options to vary how much sugar you want int there so if you don't low carb you can add all sugar. If you only want half the carbs or using too much Splenda bothers you, you can add half sugar. Or if you're like me, you'll use all Splenda most of the time. This is also gluten free if you use those types of ingredients.

Flourless Chocolate Cakes - serves 5

1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/2 pound dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao) coarsely chopped (i use the dark Simply Lite bar, but i've also made it with the milk chocolate one and it came out delicious too)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup Splenda, plus more for whipping cream (optional)
1/4 cup sugar (this is where you can sub in all Splenda for totally sugar free)
1/4 cup almond meal (i use Bob's Red Mill)
3 eggs (try for room temp, y'all, because i find it better for baking)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional) (Trader Joes has a no sugar kind, bourbon vanilla, if that amount bothers you)

In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the hazelnuts, stirring constantly, until they just begin to turn light brown, about 5 minutes. Immediately enclose the nuts in a clean kitchen towel and rub vigorously to remove the dark brown skins (this may permanently stain a terrycloth towel for some reason, fyi). Do not worry if tiny pieces of skin remain on the nuts. Pour the nuts into a colander and shake to separate the skins from the nuts. Coarsely chop the nuts and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl suspended over, but not touching, barely simmering water in a saucepan, melt the chocolate with the butter, stirring occasionally until smooth (This is where my laziness kicks in and i actually just stick the chopped chocolate and butter in a pyrex glass measuring cup and pop it in the microwave, periodically stirring. keep a close eye on it and stop it just before it's completely melted because stirring it will melt the last few pieces anyway). Set aside to cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or in a large mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer, whisk together the 1/4 cup of Splenda, the sugar (or more Splenda), and the almond meal. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, whisk in the cooled chocolate mixture.

Divide the mixture among five 1-cup ramekins, filling them three-fourths full (i use muffing tins and they come out great. if you only make five instead of dividing it into six, remember to fill the empty cup halfway with water to prevent overheating of that section. if your pan is not nonstick i'd suggest spraying them very lightly with cooking spray). Bake until the cakes begin to crack slightly on top, 18 to 22 minutes. While the cakes are baking, in a small bowl, whip the heavy cream with the vanilla and a pinch of Splenda (or more) (if using) until soft peaks form.

Run a small, sharp knife around the sides of each cake and invert onto a dessert plate. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and a scattering of hazelnuts. Serve warm.

These come out dark and fudgy and really are best served warm but if you are too desperate for something chocolatey to use the microwave for a few seconds then cold/room temp is good too. I've frozen some and they kept pretty well that way in case you don't want to be tempted to eat the entire batch in one sitting and have to force yourself that one extra defrost step in the future. I keep them in a ziplock bag and put them in the fridge.

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