We all know that too much sugar (especially refined sugars) are not good for us. There are certainly artificial alternatives, but I like to keep it natural if possible.
I recently got my hands on this new cookbook: Baking with Less Sugar: Recipes for Desserts Using Natural Sweeteners and Little-to-No White Sugar. The cookbook is written by Joanne Chang, whose bakery, Flour, in Boston, has received tons of accolades. Joanne has a couple of regular (sugar-full) cookbooks, Flour: A Baker’s Collection of Spectacular Recipes
and Flour, Too: Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe’s Most Loved Sweets & Savories, but admits she enjoyed the process of creating sweet treats with less sugar.
The book uses natural sources of sugar: brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, fruit purees, and dates for its sweetness, and little to no refined or white sugar.
Awesome. Love the idea. But does it work? Will a no sugar spice cake pass the dreaded 11-year-old taste-tester?
I’m happy to say, it did. In act, I fed this cake to quite a large panel of people (including the 11-year-old), and passed with flying colours.
This cake has zero added sugar. It is sweetened with squash puree (yes, squash) and dates. I’ve made a few recipes from this book, and I chose this one first, because it seemed like the biggest challenge.
A quick note on texture: the cake is of a denser sort. It’s not a light and fluffy birthday cake kinda dealio. It’s heavier, comforting, enjoyed, I think, with a cup of tea. I made a few additions to the recipe the second time I made it, namely, adding some cardamom for extra fragrance, and upping the amount of spices and salt, as I wanted a bit more of punch.
The recipe is a little fiddly, as you have to first cook and puree the squash, then you have to soften and puree the dates. I think the first time I made it, I used about 5 different vessels before it was in the oven. I simplified things the second time around by using the blender.
You’ll have some leftover squash puree from this. I’m adding mine into a cheese sauce which will become, eventually, a homemade mac and cheese. The 11-year-old can always use some extra sneaky vegetables.
Kabocha Squash (no sugar) Spice Cake
(recipe from Baking with Less Sugar: Recipes for Desserts Using Natural Sweeteners and Little-to-No White Sugar by Joanne Chang)
- 1 small kabocha squash, quartered and seeded
- 9-12 medjool dates, roughly chopped
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or sub vanilla if you don’t have it)
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
- 2 large eggs
- 1 3/4 cup AP flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- Place the squash in a large saucepan, and fill it up with water so that that the water almost covers the squash. Bring the water up to a boil, then reduce to simmering. Boil the squash until it is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Set aside in the water to cool.
- Place the dates in a small bowl with the baking soda, and cover with hot water. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes, until softened.
- Remove the squash from the water, and mash it with a fork (Joanne says you can mash it skin and all, but I peeled mine). Reserve 1/2 cup of squash puree for the recipe, and the rest you can use for other purposes.
- Heat the squash puree, the vanilla beans and the milk together, either in the microwave, or on top of the stove, until they all combine nicely together. In your blender, add the squash/vanilla/milk mixture, the oil, the eggs, and the drained dates. Zap it on puree until the mixture is frothy and all combined.
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients well. Add the wet to the dry, and mix.
- Pour the batter into a parchment-lined cake tin (8″ or 9″ round or square), and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched. Allow to cool, slice and serve.