It’s no surprise when your healthiest friend says she’s cutting back on white sugar.
But when Joanne Chang, the baker and owner behind Boston’s famed Flour Bakery says the same? Then it’s time to sit up and take notice.
Chang’s love letter to the topic, Baking with Less Sugar: Recipes for Desserts Using Natural Sweeteners and Little-to-No White Sugar ($25), has just been published.
As life would have it, Chang’s husband is sensitive to sugar, and the giddy energy high and subsequent crash it brings. Well aware of America’s over-consumption of the sweetener and the resulting health implications, she’s searched for other ways to satisfy sweet cravings.
Chang doesn’t just cut sugar in the recipes and call it a day: as befits a former Harvard math major, she explores the science behind sugar and how removing it changes the chemical nature of baking.
She starts by presenting classic treats like blueberry bran muffins and fudgy mascarpone brownies made with at most half or even one-third the typical amount of sugar. From there she moves on to recipes using honey, grade B maple syrup, chocolate and alternative sweeteners like apple and grape juice concentrates, bananas and dates—all of which lend alluring, complex flavors and deeper, more interesting elements to desserts in ways that sugar alone can’t.
Joanne Chang and her new cookbook (Photo credit: Colin Clark)
She says, “You will discover, as I did, that when you don’t focus on sugar and sweetness, you end up with desserts that are full of amazing, compelling flavor. I’ve witnessed firsthand that once you learn to rein in your sugar intake, your palate adjusts to desserts that are not super-sweet, and you end up enjoying these treats much more.”
We’re sharing the recipe for Chang’s Honey-Almond Snack Cake. It’s a cake that you can feel really great about making for your family. It’s sweetened with honey, has a velvety tender crumb, and the frosting is just sweet enough without being over the top.
It turns out: Less sugar can equal more flavor.
Honey-Almond Snack Cake
Makes one 9-by-13-in cake
Note: For a terrific gluten-free alternative for this cake, instead of 1½ cups all-purpose flour, try substituting ½ cup sorghum flour, plus ½ cup sweet rice flour, plus ½ cup potato starch. Additionally, ½ of the white flour can be substituted with whole-wheat flour or a ¼ of the white flour can be substituted with buckwheat flour.
½ cup coconut oil
⅔ cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 large eggs plus
2 egg yolks
1 cup organic crème fraîche
1½ cups organic all-purpose flour
1 cup almond flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 oz organic cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
⅓ cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-in baking pan, spray with nonstick cooking spray, or butter and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, honey, vanilla, and almond extract until well mixed. Whisk in the eggs and egg yolks until well combined. Whisk in the crème fraîche. In a separate medium bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until thoroughly combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
3. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the cake springs back when you poke it in the center and is pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
4. Meanwhile, make the frosting: Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with an electric hand mixer), beat the cream cheese on medium speed for at least 4 minutes, or until perfectly smooth. (Cream cheese has a tendency to lump up easily, so don’t skip this step.) Using a rubber spatula, scrape the bowl and add the butter. Add the honey, vanilla, almond extract, and salt and beat well on medium speed until thoroughly combined. The frosting can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
5. When the cake is completely cool, using a rubber spatula or an offset spatula, frost with creamy frosting and serve. The frosted cake can be stored, well wrapped with plastic wrap or in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days; remove at least 1 hour before serving so the cake is not cold.
Adapted from Baking with Less Sugar: Recipes for Desserts Using Natural Sweeteners and Little-to-No White Sugar (Chronicle Books, 2015)