Monthly Archives: May 2013

Tips & Tricks for Baking without Sugar!

Almost every week I get an email from a stranger asking me about sugar substitutes in baking. These people write from all over the world. Their needs vary: a pie recipe for a husband’s 65th birthday, a batch of holiday cookies, a child’s birthday cake. The one thing that all these people have in common is diabetes. Pardon the pun, but they want to have their cake and eat it too. And why shouldn’t they?

But how does one manage to enjoy pie, cookies or birthday cake when he/she is not supposed to eat sugar? I have frequently debated this topic. Some people are of the belief that it’s best to just enjoy sugary treats from time to time, come what may. Others choose to use sugar substitutes. Like Lance Armstrong doping, baking with sugar substitutes is a contentious topic. How do they work? What kind of results will you get? Does cheating really pay off when it comes to baking?

I’m helping to take the guess work out of sugar-free baking, and just in time for summer! Which means that whether you can’t have sugar, or are just trying to watch what you eat in lieu of bikini season, now you can enjoy your sweets without overindulging in sugar.


First, it’s important to understand that sugar plays many major roles in baking. It does not simply make desserts taste sweet. Sugar is hygroscopic, and therefore adds moisture to brownies and cakes. Sugar caramelizes, giving crisps and pies their lovely brown hue and toasty flavor. Lastly, sugar helps add structure, giving cakes their delicate crumb and cookies their crisp texture. Once you understand all the major roles sugar plays in baking, it’s easier to understand why baking with sugar substitutes isn’t always such a sweet experience.


If you decide to bake with Stevia (which I prefer to Aspartame and other sweeteners that are not natural), you should only us half the amount of Stevia as you would sugar. Stevia is much sweeter than sugar, and therefore requires that you use much less. There are over 200 varieties of Stevia plants. This also means that quality, flavor and levels of sweetness can vary greatly. My personal favorite Stevia brand is Truvia. In the past few years I have become a spokesperson for them. So, in the name of objectivity, I always encourage bakers to taste and bake with several different brands in order to find the Stevia product that best suits their tastes and needs. Once you have chosen your brand of Stevia, you are ready to start baking! Of course it would all be too easy if you could now just do a simple one to one swap in all our favorite baking recipes. Now it’s time to select the ideal recipes for sugar free baking.


The easiest way to start playing with Stevia is to begin by making a simple panna cotta or apple pie. In custards like panna cotta, you are able to avoid running into trouble with the above baking laws of sugar. A nice fruit pie is always a great way to go. You can easily leave the sugar out of crust, brush a little egg wash on the pie, and get a nice golden hue. The natural sugars found in the fruit will help to keep the flavors and texture of the inside of the pie the same as it would be if you used refined sugar. Now if you are determined to bake a sugar-free cake, batch of cookies or brownies, then I do suggest that you follow a recipe intended for sugar-free baking. Oh, and did I mention that I have about 30+ sugar-free recipes in my cookbook Sweet & Skinny? Ok, shameless self-promotion aside, below is one of my sugar-free Sweet & Skinny recipes. It will help you get the desired “yellow jersey” results when making sugar-free desserts.
Sugar Free Lemon Yogurt Mousse with Blueberries and Basil

Serves 4
Per serving: 170 calories, 8 grams fat

1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup plain Greek nonfat yogurt
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons Truvia or other preferred brand of Stevia (quantity can be adjusted according to your personal taste and desired sweetness)
1 cup blueberries
4 fresh basil leaves, rolled up and cut cross-wise into thin ribbons

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the whipped cream while slowly adding in the Stevia. Beat the cream until stiff peaks form. Swiftly whisk in the yogurt, lemon zest, vanilla and salt.

Divide half of the mousse evenly between four six-ounce dessert glasses. Top with half the berries and half the basil. Spoon the remaining mousse over each and top with the remaining blueberries and basil. Serve immediately.

Make Ahead! The mousse can be refrigerated, tightly covered, up to one day in advance. Prepare the blueberries and basil just before serving.


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Vegan Olive Oil Cake

As many of you know this is the week of Greek Easter, which means that it’s a time of Lent. While I am more than happy to partake in the Easter festivities of eating lamb and cracking eggs, I typically don’t participate in the 40 days of fasting and repenting. However this year I decided to become a bit more involved in all the processions surrounding Easter. By “involved” I mean that I decided for one day (hey you gotta start somewhere) not to eat meat, eggs or butter. This also seemed like the perfect opportunity to put myself to a dairy free, egg free baking challenge. The result was this delicious polenta and olive oil cake served with a fruit compote. It was so delicious that it actually has me thinking about going for two days of fasting instead of one next year! Here is the recipe, should any of you need some Lenten baking inspiration. Καλό Πάσχα!

  • Olive Oil & Cornmeal Cake
  • 1 ¼ cup cake flour
  • ¼ cup + 2 Tbsp. yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • zest of ½ orange
  • zest of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp. rosemary, finely chopped
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • Fig and Orange Honey Compote
  • 1 pint of fresh figs
  • 2 oranges
  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup + 2 Tbsp. water
  • 2–4 tsp. fresh lemon juice, to taste

For the cake, preheat oven 350 degrees. Prepare 8” x 2″ round cake pan with parchment circle, oil and a very light dusting of flour.

Sift the cake flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

Place sugar, orange and lemon zest and finely chopped rosemary in a food processor and blend a couple of minutes until the mixture is aromatic. Pour mixture into a large bowl and whisk in the oil until smooth. Add the orange juice and blend thoroughly. Gently stir in the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, cinnamon and salt until just blended. Do not over-mix.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife or spatula around edge of cake and invert. Remove parchment paper and flip the cake bake over onto a serving platter. Cool completely.

For the compote, slice the peel and white pith from the oranges with a very sharp knife. Carve out the orange sections over a bowl to collect all the juice. Cut the figs into quarters and add to the bowl of orange slices. It can be difficult to find figs in May, so if you don’t have figs you can add more oranges, or some dried cherries.

Place the honey and water in a saucepan and warm over low heat until dissolved and blended. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice to taste. Toss the fruit with honey lemon syrup.

Dust the cake with powdered sugar and serve with fruit.

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