When you think of the most common ingredients that go into baked goods, you likely automatically think of sugar. Sugar is a very common ingredient in almost all baking recipes and it may even be hard to imagine baking without sugar.
However, it definitely is possible to avoid using sugar, finding alternative ways to sweeten a recipe or to skip the sweetness completely!
This guide will help you learn all about baking without sugar and how to make baked goods that come out wonderfully despite missing this key ingredient.
The Role of Sugar in Baking
Before you think about eliminating or replacing sugar in a recipe, you should know the role that sugar plays in baked goods.
In fact, sugar has a few important jobs in every baked good recipe that it is in and understanding this and being able to assess why sugar in in a recipe is essential.
Adding a sweet taste to baked goods is probably the first thing you think of when you consider the sugar in recipes. Of course sugar makes things sweet! That is why we love it so much!
No matter what kind of sugar your recipe calls for, brown sugar, powdered sugar or granulated sugar, it will make the final product sweet.
When sugar is heated, it will start to caramelize. This helps baked goods turn a beautiful golden brown color as they bake. The more sugar in a recipe, the more brown it will be once it has fully baked.
If a recipe has no sugar at all, you will notice right away that it is much paler in comparison, even if all the other ingredients are kept the same.
Sugar has hygroscopic properties which means that it absorbs water and then holds on to it. Even after baking, sugar will hold onto moisture and therefore keep baked goods nice and soft, even for a few days after they have baked.
A perfect example of how much moisture sugar can hold is when you look at breads made with no sugar and those that have lots of sugar. A French baguette is made with no sugar at all and will have a very crunchy crust. The day after baking, the baguette will likely be as hard as a rock and almost inedible.
If you bake a sweet roll, made with sugar, it will be very soft and will have the same soft texture the next day thanks to the sugar.
Sugar can act as a leavener in baked goods in a few different ways. If you have a recipe that asks you to cream butter and sugar together, the graininess of the sugar will cause air to be trapped inside the butter and sugar. When baked, the air will expand and cause the baked good to rise.
Since sugar holds onto water inside baked goods, it also acts as a leavener when that water begins to evaporate in the oven, pushing the baking food upwards.
Sugar can act as a stabilizer in many baked goods, especially when it is beaten with egg whites. The sugar begins to dissolve in the whites and acts as a cushion between the egg white bubbles which, in turn, stabilizes the egg foam, helping baked goods stay light and fluffy as they cook.
The last role of sugar in baking is to help the baked goods look their best. Powdered sugar is often used to dust on top of cakes and brownies while sugar cookies may be decorated with colored sugars after they bake. You can even caramelize sugar to make decorations to go on top of anything!
As you can see, sugar can be quite important to the taste, integrity and visual appeal of baked goods. Assessing your recipe and seeing what the role of the sugar is will help you determine how to replace it or if you can skip it completely.
Yes, sugar can be important but it is not always necessary- you can definitely bake without sugar!
Add Sweetness Without Sugar
There are many reasons why you may want to skip adding sugar to your baked goods. Perhaps you are looking for a more natural ingredient to use in place of processed sugar.
Or perhaps you need a low calorie sugar replacer. Maybe you are just in the middle of baking something and you ran out of sugar. No matter your reason, chances are that the main reason your baked good needs sugar is to give it sweetness.
If the primary reason for the sugar in your recipe is to add sweetness, you can easily replace the sugar completely, using a different ingredient to make your baked goods deliciously sweet.
Take a look at these options which will still give you a tasty, sweet product but without using real sugar.
There are hundreds of sugar replacers on the market that you can use in place of sugar. When choosing which sweetener to use, look for ones that are similar to the type of sugar your recipe calls for.
For example, if your recipe asks for one cup of granulated, white sugar, look for a sweeter that is also granulated. There are many white sugar, powdered sugar and brown sugar replacers that you can easily find in the grocery store.
There are lots of man-made sugar replacer on the market and others that are more “natural” options so you should take this into consideration as well when you start looking for substitutes. Both sweeteners have their benefits.
If you are looking to eliminate white sugar to cut calories, you may want to try something like Equal, Sweet n Low or Splenda. If you want to replace sugar with a granulated sugar that is more natural, look for something like baking stevia blends or monk fruit sugars, both of which are made with plants.
Most sugar replacers that are made for baking will be labeled “for baking” or “use in place of granulated sugar.” You should also be sure to check the package to see the directions on how to replace the sugar.
One cup of regular sugar may be replaced with ¾ cup of a sugar alternative if the sweetener is more saccharine than regular sugar. Follow the directions and you should easily have success!
Honey, Agave or Syrup
Many people like to replace white granulated sugar with honey, agave or maple syrup. All of these sweeteners are often considered more natural and unprocessed which may be something you are looking for.
In addition to adding sweetness to a recipe, they will also impart a unique flavor to the baked goods.
To make you baked goods sweet using honey, maple syrup or agave, replace one cup of sugar with 2/3 cup of the liquid sweetener you are choosing. It is also recommended that you also subtract ¼ cup of other liquids in the recipe for every cup of honey or syrup you add.
This will help you balance the moisture content of the baked good and have success sweetening with these ingredients.
Sweetening with Fruits
Using fruit in place of sugar is definitely possible and another great natural alternative to processed sugars. In addition to providing sweetness, fruits will add fiber, calcium, iron and so much more!
Keep in mind that any fruit you use will add it’s own, unique flavor to your recipe as well. Here are a few fruits you can use in place of sugar and how to use them.
- Replace 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup smooth applesauce but reduce any other liquids in the recipe by ¼ cup.
- Use one cup mashed banana in place of one cup of sugar.
- Puree one cup of pitted dates or figs with ½ cup hot water until very smooth. Use one cup of this mixture to replace 1 cup of sugar in your baked goods.
Be Ready for a New Look
If you take a recipe that calls for regular, white, granulated sugar and you replace the sugar with something new (no matter what it is!), be prepared to have a baked good with a whole new look.
As I mentioned earlier, sugar has a lot of different jobs inside each baked good and many of those jobs will change the look of a final product. While some sugar replacers will caramelize in the oven, giving your baked good a nice golden brown exterior, others may not.
For example, if you choose to replace sugar with a baking xylitol, your baked goods may be fairly pale as this sweetener does not brown well. That doesn’t mean it won’t taste amazing though!
Baking without sugar can also affect how dense a baked good is since sugar can act as a leavener, making baked goods light and fluffy. If you replace sugar with date puree, you are definitely going to have a much denser product. Once again, it may still taste great but you may be surprised when you take that first peek into the oven.
If you were going to use sugar as a decoration for your baking, you may be able to use a sugar replacer instead. Granulated erythritol can replace white granulated sugar as a decorative option and there are many powdered sugar replacers as well.
Specialty stores tend to carry colored sugar replacers, giving you great low calorie options on pretty decorations.
You can also consider using a drizzle of honey instead of a sprinkle of sugar as a garnish! All in all, if you choose to replace or eliminate the sugar in a recipe, be ready for a baked good that looks a little different than your traditional recipe would produce.
This is not a bad thing though- new can be great!
Look for a New Recipe
While there are clearly many ways to take your favorite recipe and make them without sugar as explained above, you may want to consider looking for new recipes completely.
There are many fantastic low sugar or no sugar recipes that you can find that have been tried, tested and altered to make perfect baked goods. It may pay to try a new recipe that has been written, calculated and altered to make a perfect baked good without regular sugar.
When searching for a new recipe that uses alternative ingredients to sugar, be sure to search for the kind of sugar replacer you are interested in. For example, look for “muffins made with honey” or “Erythritol chocolate chip cookies”.
This way, you will find exactly what you have in mind and get a viable recipe to go with it.
When There is No Sugar
If you have a recipe that does not call for sugar but you wish that it was a little bit sweetener, you have a few options to making your recipe sweet without ever touching sugar.
Here are a few simple ways you can add a touch of sweetness to a recipe without ever using sugar.
- Add a little vanilla extract which is naturally sweet and contains no sugar.
- Use ¼ cup pumpkin puree, ¼ cup prune puree or ¼ cup mashed banana in place of one egg to add sweetness and also do the job of the egg.
- Use pumpkin puree or applesauce instead of butter or oil for a sweeter option.
- A pinch of extra salt can help bring out the sweet flavors in a recipe since salt enhances all tastes!
- Add a sprinkle of cinnamon to your dish- the spice is actually sweet!
- Adding a few shredded carrots to a baked good can add some natural sweetness (a great option for muffins and cakes).
You do not necessarily need a sweetener or regular old sugar in order to make your baking sweeter. There are plenty of options!
No matter your reason for wanting to bake without sugar, there are plenty of alternatives that you can consider. From artificial sweeteners to great natural options, you are sure to find a unique way to make your baked goods sweeter and delicious, maintaining the integrity of the baked goods at the same time.
Use this guide to help you, and happy baking!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.