The Secret Ingredient Swap To Make Your Desserts Less Sweet

IMAGE Majoy Siason

Sugar plays a big role in your desserts. It not only offers sweetness, but it also gives moisture and stability to your baked goods. That's because sugar is a wet ingredient, not a dry ingredient

For example, if you remove the sugar in a chocolate cake recipe, you won't just get a bitter piece of bread, it will also be hard as a brick. Just reducing the sugar amounts in your sweets is not be as simple as you'd think. You'll need to do more than just cut down on the sugar to make a tweaked baking recipe successful. 

Chef Will Goldfarb of Room 4 Dessert, who was featured in Chef's Table Season 4 (Episode 4), though, found a solution to this. While in Bali, he was obsessed by the local unrefined palm sugar in coconut husks. According to him, this ingredient was more "umami than sweet." So when he used this sugar ingredient when developing his meringue recipe, it produced a fluffy cloud with a tamed sweetness but was still stable.


The "sweet but not too sweet" ingredients you can use 

There are two sweet ingredients you can use instead of the regular granulated white or brown sugars. Here are your regular sugar alternatives: 

1 Unrefined palm sugar (panutsa) 

This unrefined palm sugar is locally available in the Philippines, too! You can get it in wet markets, usually near the coconuts, where they are known as "panutsa." It's what's usually used to make the brown, thick syrup of our childhood: arnibal. You can chop these up and use as you would normal sugar. 

However, beware of two things: there will be debris and you may have to experiment when using as a substitute for sugar. That means you'll have to watch out for impurities in the sugar and test a recipe using panutsa before you can confidently say it's a baking success. Even a seasoned Michelin-starred chef like Goldfarb needed many attempts to perfect its use in his baking projects.

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So is it worth learning how to use panutsa? Definitely, especially if you love the taste of it and want to cut down on the sweetness of your desserts.

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2 Muscovado sugar 

Another ingredient you can use to reduce sweetness is muscovado sugar. If added in the same amount as regular white or brown sugar, muscovado sugar yields almost the same sweetness as brown sugar, but its other flavors-the slight smokiness and its strong molasses and caramel-like notes-give the sweetness more depth and in effect, make your dessert taste less sweet.

When used, it can replace brown sugar 1:1. You can further reduce sweetness by cutting it down by 25%. We used muscovado sugar to replace both white and brown sugar in an edible cookie dough recipe as well and found it to have a stronger flavor, all the while being less sweet. Just make sure, that you crush large chunks of sugar if you don't want big bits of muscovado in your finished goods. (Those chunks, though, taste amazing!)


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Another bonus to using panutsa or muscovado sugar? Not only do you get more flavor, but it's also better than your refined sugars because it still contains trace amounts of minerals and is less processed. Although it's still sugar, it will yield almost if not the same amount of calories. If you're consuming sugar, then you might as well pick the less refined sugars.

If you don't want to experiment, though, you can simply reduce a recipe's sugar amount by cutting it down by 25% without having to alter the rest of the recipe. If you want to reduce the sugar even more than that, you may have to adjust the rest of the recipe to introduce more moisture. 

Desserts need to be sweet, we definitely agree. Fortunately, the perfect dessert isn't just sweet. It has flavors and textures, too, at just the right balance. As the closing dish to a delicious meal, the perfect dessert will leave you satisfied, not leave you with a toothache! 



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