Give Me Some (Healthier) Sugar!

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Baking season is upon us, my friends, and in the next 4-6 weeks many of us will be whipping up holiday cookies, cupcakes, breads, cakes, pies and whatever else we can think of. Yes, yes, I know some of you bake all year long, but it is just too hot here in the summer for me to invest much time in baking. Come fall, though, look out!

The world of baking has changed so much from when I was a child. The range of flours, oils, butters, and sweeteners available now is astonishing. Some of us are working on gluten-free, vegan or whole food recipes, and I can’t wait to see what everyone is creating! One ingredient that has vexed many of us is sugar. One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to reduce our sugar consumption. But we all occasionally want a little somethin’ somethin’. No form of sugar is “health food”, of course, but some forms are better than others. So what are they and how can we use them to our best advantage?

I was working on research about sugars and sweeteners, when I came across a blog for Small Footprint Family. Their blog post on sweeteners contained so much wonderful information, I decided to just feature their post as it is and use my energies elsewhere (like finding more pumpkin recipes on Pinterest).

In our house, we use maple syrup, coconut sugar (LOVE it!), honey, dates and molasses as sweeteners, but I always have a backup stash of unbleached, organic cane sugar. We do not buy bleached sugars, chemical sugar substitutes or corn syrup and now I’m even more glad of that.

What should you do? Hey, your pantry, your rules, and I am not here to judge. But information is your best friend when shopping for any kind of food and this blog has lots to offer, including some types of sweetener that were completely new to me. Check it out!

Click HERE for their blog post!

Get those muffin pans and cookie sheets ready! Baking season is just around the corner!

Interested in reducing your sugar consumption? Here are a few tips:

  1. Make your own treats. I’m preaching to the choir for anyone reading a food blog, but really, when you make your own treats you can control not only how much sugar you use, but also what kinds of sweeteners.
  2. Read the label, read the label, read the label. Our national sugar dependency is not the result of mom (or dad) making cookies. It is all the hidden sugar in processed foods and it is everywhere (have you looked at your toothpaste label?). If you are buying foods labeled as “low fat,” chances are they are also “high sugar”, although the marketing people won’t tell you that. Fat is a flavor conveyor and when fat is removed, companies use excess salt and sugar to make up for the loss of flavor.
  3. Be patient with your taste buds. Reducing sugar (or salt, for that matter), may seem weird at first. Your taste buds may be set on “fructose jolt” and lower sugar foods may not taste as flavorful. It takes about 28 days to make a behavioral change, so give your body and your taste buds a chance to catch up!

Fig and Almond Buttermilk Cake

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I’ll be the first to admit that the photos of this cake do not do it justice. I’m still working on my food photography skills and this one just didn’t work out. I’m hoping to make it again and hopefully get some better photos up. For now, you’ll have to trust me that this simple, one layer cake is freakin’ amazing. I used our buttermilk cake recipe from HERE and adapted it for a combination of figs and almonds. The resulting cake was incredibly moist, but light. The figs baked into the cake and almost melted. Wanting to try cake for breakfast? This is a good choice!

This cake used whole wheat pastry flour and coconut sugar, making it much darker in color than it would be with all purpose flour and white cane sugar. If you haven’t tried coconut sugar yet, this would be a great recipe with which to start. Coconut sugar is a minimally processed sugar that is sustainably harvested from the sap of coconut trees. Unlike cane sugar or even brown sugar, coconut sugar is a low glycemic food (glycemic index of 35) that has 36 times the amount of iron as brown sugar and 16 amino acids. It is also high in potassium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B1, B2, B3 and B6. It is considered safe to use for diabetics and can be used as a replacement for cane sugar in 1:1 ratio. Because it is very dark in color, your baking will also take on a rich, dark brown color, so keep that in mind. I don’t particularly care, but if you are baking a white cake, you’ll want to know that in advance.

I dare you to open a bag of coconut sugar, take a deep inhale, and NOT fall in love. I. Dare. You.

Enjoy the figs of late summer! I hope to make this cake a few more times before fig season is officially over. And maybe–well probably–have it for breakfast 🙂

Fig and Almond Buttermilk Cake (makes one 9″ round cake)

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 stick unsalted, organic butter, softened
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 large farm egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 pint fresh, organic figs, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Grease and flour a 9″ round cake pan. Set aside.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, blend the first four ingredients. Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a mixer, combine the softened butter and the sugar and beat well for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the vanilla, almond extract and egg to the butter mixture and beat until blended.
  6. With the mixer on low, alternately add the flour and buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour. Mix until just blended.
  7. Add the batter to the pan, spreading evenly. Top with the fig halves and almond slices.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center comes out clean.
  9. Cool cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove cake to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  10. Serve slightly warm.

Fig and Goat Cheese Pizza

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Seeing figs at the farmer’s market is a bittersweet thing. On the one hand, I love figs, and I’m almost out of Sticky Fig Jam, so I’m ready to get moving to make some more. On the other hand, the arrival of figs means the end of summer, which is always a sad time for me. Recipes like this Fig and Goat Cheese Pizza give me a reason to smile, though! This pizza is incredibly simple and very, very tasty. The way the end of summer should be, right?

For this pizza, I used fresh, local goat cheese and onions and figs from our farmer’s market. The onions in this recipe are caramelized quickly using a “cheat” of vinegar and sugar, but you can skip the sugar if you want–it gives the onions the flavor of caramelization without the long cooking time, but you can do what works for you. Don’t skimp on the balsamic vinegar though–the pairing of the vinegar with the onions and the cheese is pretty spectacular. We used coconut sugar in our recipe, mostly because we have it handy and I am totally in love with it. It is sustainably produced and has a flavor almost like brown sugar, but is minimally processed and closer to a natural state. I wouldn’t buy it just for this pizza, but it’s worth trying in all kinds of baked dishes.

Fig and Goat Cheese Pizza (Serves 2)

  • 1 recipe whole wheat pizza crust (see below or use your own)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large, sweet organic onion, cleaned and sliced thin
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar (or organic, unbleached cane sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 10-12 fresh organic figs, trimmed and cut lengthwise into thirds
  • 1 cup grated, fresh Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Prepare pizza dough and let rise according to recipe directions.
  3. In a medium size skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until translucent and soft. Sprinkle with salt to help the onion release its juices (this will help keep it from browning too fast). Reduce heat if onion starts to brown or burn.
  4. Add balsamic vinegar and sugar to the onion, reduce heat to low and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Stir frequently and make sure onion does not burn.
  5. Stretch and shape the pizza dough into your desired shape onto a baking sheet or pizza stone (our pizzas are almost never really round, and we are okay with that!).
  6. Mash the goat cheese and distribute evenly over the pizza dough surface.
  7. Top the goat cheese with the caramelized onions.
  8. Arrange the fig slices on top of the goat cheese. Top the pizza with the Parmesan cheese.
  9. Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until the crust is cooked and the cheese is bubbly and melted.
  10. Serve immediately.
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