Food: Sweeten the sugar-free deal with tasty goodies

Susanna Booth
Susanna Booth

Like it or lump it, sugar has fallen out of favour and is being blamed for endless health woes. 
Susanna Booth shows Keeley Bolger how to cut down and keep it (sort of) sweet

There is no sugar-coating the fact that sugar consumption is having a massive impact on our waistlines, teeth, moods and overall health and wellbeing.

From reports that slashing the amount of sugar in sweetened drinks by 40 per cent could prevent 300,000 cases of Type 2 diabetes, to news that the average five-year-old consumes the equivalent of their own body weight in sugar in a year, reducing the white stuff has become something of a national priority.

Yet while many are painfully aware of the destructive influence of sugar (that’ll be the 3pm grumps, ageing skin and bingo wings then), it doesn’t help that: A, sugar is added to lots of food and drinks, even unsuspecting savoury products; B, sugar is embedded in our daily diets (hello, mid-morning biscuits with a cuppa), and C, it tastes nice.

Here to help is cookery writer Susanna Booth, who used her polymer chemistry degree to create sugar-free goodies that don’t sacrifice taste, sweetly displayed in her new recipe book, Sensationally Sugar Free.

But with sugar playing “quite a big role in a lot of baking”, the challenge was to find a way of adding texture and crunch - which sugar provides - as well as sweetness.

So far, Booth’s recipes (in which she uses apple puree, sweeteners like stevia and naturally sweet fruits) have been well received by her friends and family.

The key, she says, is to accept that sugar-free deserts will taste different to sugar-laden versions of the same dish. “If you put my carrot cake next to another carrot cake that was made with sugar, you would notice how much less sweet it is,” says Booth.

“But actually, most of the time, you don’t really want loads of sweetness. In a way, I think you just become accustomed to it.”

Although many of us are habituated to eating sweetened food, there are some things to keep in mind if you want to reduce the amount of sugar you use in baking.

“Think about that sugar hit,” explains Booth, who often uses fruit as a topping for cakes.

“If you make a Madeira cake and cut out pretty much all the sugars and use apple puree or whatever instead, it would be disgusting. It would just be like having a loaf of bread.

“It just will not be what you’re looking for mentally. You have to think about the proportion of things. If you have a sweet topping like whipped cream, you get that nice mouthful and feel like you’ve got something luxurious. You can sweeten the cake mixture very little and still feel like you’ve got that thing.”

Although not completely sugar-free, Booth “cooks from scratch”, so she can keep track of how much sugar she and her family eat.

“I think it’s better to try and reduce as much as you can,” she says.

“Any step is a step in the right direction because I think, as a population, we are eating too much sugar. Everyone is saying that now and more negative health effects are being found, so I hope that people find it helpful to try baking in a new way.”

If you’d like to give Booth’s method a whirl, here’s a lovely recipes from Sensationally Sugar Free to try at home...

Banana Bread

(Makes about 12 slices)

4 ripe bananas, about 700g

75g unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing

1 egg, beaten

150g white plain flour

50g wholemeal plain flour

4tsp baking powder

1/2tsp salt

75g sunflower seeds

Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas mark 6. Lightly grease a 22 x 11 x 7cm/1kg loaf tin with a little butter.

Peel and mash the bananas in a large bowl (a few lumps are OK). Add the melted butter, followed by the egg, and stir well.

Add both flours, the baking powder and salt to the bowl. Gently fold everything together until well mixed. Set aside about one tablespoon of the sunflower seeds, then fold the rest into the mixture.

Use a spatula to transfer the mixture to the loaf tin. Shake gently to distribute it evenly in the tin and then smooth the top with the spatula. Sprinkle the reserved sunflower seeds on top.

Bake for 55-65 minutes until well browned and risen. Leave to cool in the tin.