Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sugar Free Baking

Firstly, please click here and make an entry into the very first Sanaworld blog giveaway, which is open until 5pm next Wednesday (NZ time).

Don't be scared. We won't judge you. So far there is only one entry and I have a suspicion that it is The Programmer attempting to stop my pouting. He's a good man.


Baking with Stevia

Many years in the health industry, particularly the manufacturing side of it, have forged a love-hate relationship between me and Stevia-as-a-sweetener. Mostly it was hate.

Stevia is notoriously difficult to work with. It has a very narrow range of use - too little and you don't taste it, slightly too much and you get a terrible 'licorice like' aftertaste. In addition, there was a lot of sweetness variation between batches. Just when you got it right, the batch would run out and the next shipment would invariably be different. 

There were also political issues: bad press, good press, legislative issues, industry in-fighting.  

However, customers have consistently asked for Stevia, so about a year ago, we started making enquiries and testing samples for both Stevia and Lo Han Guo, which is a mogroside sweetener extracted from monk fruit. The sweet compounds in Stevia are steviosides of which rebaudiosides are a component.

With a bit of experimentation, I've discovered that both these sweeteners can be made to do my will. 

The technology around Stevia extraction seems to have rapidly progressed and there is far more consistency in flavour. There are also methods of 'de-bittering' and increasing the rebaudoside A content. Some say this component has a better flavour than stevioside, although I'm not sure how much of this claim is a marketing ploy to sell the more pricey high-Rebaudioside A Stevia. 

Lo Han Guo was great too, and I've put it on the Sana wish list (the price made me cross-myself and pass out).

Now I have to learn to use Stevia. The main issue is that the hyper-concentrated nature of it means that you have to recalculate like a recipe ninja. For example, 1 teaspoon of Stevia extract delivers the sweetness of about 1.5 cups of sugar (and this is where many people go wrong, use too much, create something truly awful and give up). You also have to replace the bulk of the sugar with something else. 

My first attempt at a Stevia cake was a rerun of this recipe - Chocolate Zucchini Cake. I made the full sugar version a few weeks ago.

The recipe has two cups of sugar in it. My original plan was to replace those two cups with one cup buckwheat flour and one cup rice flour. Buuut. I ran out of rice flour so it became one cup buckwheat, 1/4 cup rice flour and 3/4 cup erythritol. This is, in addition to the flour already in the recipe.

Before adding the liquid ingredients, I added one flat teaspoon of Stevia (undershooting, rather than overdoing it).

Then I went to add the oil and noticed that there was only a dribble left in the bottom of the bottle :-/. I melted down all the butter in the fridge instead, but the mix was still very dry - I blame the extra flour. As my patience was waning, I just added some water. If I was not on low-fuctose Junkfree Jan, I would have moistened it with apple sauce.

Because of these uncontrolled ingredient variables, and because it's not perfected, I'm not posting a full recipe today. Look out for that next week.

The end result, you ask?

Pretty good!

The cake was not quite as gooey and fudgy as the original, and the zucchini did not entirely 'disappear'. There were a few green bits - a situation which must be remedied if I am to present this to Miss J when she visits. One hint of greenies would signal instant rejection.

The level of sweetness was just about right. I fed it to visitors and nobody grimaced. Of course, I did smother theirs with icecream. 

Have you tried Stevia? Any favourite recipes? Any funny disaster stories?


  1. I shall wait until you've completed your scientific experiments before braving the Stevia beast again.

    I can see now that I obviously used too much, I think I threw a teaspoon into a single serve "thing" - shake or something, can't remember now, it was way back in about 2005. Anyway, the aftertaste was vile.

  2. Even the new Stevia's have a pretty low trigger point for aftertaste. Working with intense sweeteners like undiluted Stevia is really something that only food techs should do. This is why you can buy Stevia diluted with a bunch of other stuff, some of which you don't really want to be eating a lot of (e.g. Maltodextrin). I tend to think that customers can learn to use it, but most people USE TOO MUCH. It is about 300 times sweeter than sugar.

    1. Ooh, ooh! Guess what I found at the supermarket this morning? A stevia/erythritol blend. Granules. I clapped my hands with excitement, then remembered where I was. Oops. Lucky it was early and there was nobody in sight. :D

      I may need to make a batch of maca brownies...

    2. That's something that is on the 'next up' for Sana. We are doing a Stevia/Erythritol and a Stevia/Erythritol/Gum Acacia. The one with the gum should be better for baking as it will act as a humectant (holds moisture). I have supermarket excitement syndrome too. I think the last time was when I found organic chickens at a non-stupid price. :D I may have whooped.

  3. The stevia baking blends are ridiculously expensive here! I'm making butternut brownies with walnut frosting this week and would like to sub some of the sugar for stevia, but man... I can get a $5 brownie elsewhere and not have to make it, ya know? I do use stevia to sweeten things like oatmeal and overnight oats, though, and I actually really like it! A little bit goes a loooong way.

    Sara, do you have experience using dates as a sweetener? They are expensive, too, but they are SO SO SO yummy, so I'm going to try some date-sweetened desserts in the near future. I have some Medjools in my fridge left over from the holidays. They really are nature's candy!

    1. It's crazy that the baking blends are so pricey, because the fillers in them are dirt cheap. There is a bit of extra processing cost, but mostly you are paying for convenience. I'd prefer it if people could learn to handle the 'real' stuff, but might end up releasing a baking blend anyway, using just erythritol and acacia gum as bulking agents.

      I have not tried dates in desserts, but I think they would work really well and will try it once 'Junk Free Jan' is over (JFJ is low fructose and dates are full of that). I imagine you could soak them and then use both dates and water in the mix. I have used them to make fruit and nut bars - 'date paste' (can get it in specialty "Mediterranean' stores)is the best for that, even though it will kill your food processor!

  4. Anonymous10:15 pm

    I was eyeing it off until I saw that there's zucchini in it. Blech! Now I know that IF I didn't know there was zucchini in it I might like it, but now that I know....

    1. Aw, you can't even taste it! Come on.. give it a try!! It's delicious. It's my fault because I was lazy and used a coarse grate. If you grated finely you wouldn't even see it with a magnifying glass. :D


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