Five Tips for Low-Sugar Baking From Chef Joanne Chang

The Flour Bakery co-owner and author of Baking With Less Sugar offers her best advice for healthier baking.

Joanne Chang

Joanne Chang photo by Kristin Teig, provided

You probably know Flour Bakery for its delicious but diet-busting cinnamon buns and brownies. Co-owner and chef Joanne Chang, however, is adding something new to her repertoire: low-sugar baking.

Chang is the author of Baking With Less Sugar, a new cookbook filled with recipes that help dessert addicts cut down on refined sugars. “I had been playing around with reducing white sugar in my baking at home—focusing more on honey and maple and fruit,” she says. “Too much sugar really does numb your tastebuds to everything else.”

While some recipes from the book, like honey-sweetened biscotti and a low-sugar oatmeal raisin cranberry walnut cookie, are on the menu at Flour, Chang also offered her five best tips for healthier at-home baking:

1. Compensate for lost moisture. “Sugar makes and keeps pastries moist and tender,” Chang says. “If you are baking with less, you may want to add moisture in other ways.” You can do that with extra fats or, for lightened-up baking, fruit or ground nuts.

2. Stock your pantry. Chang says fruit, honey, and maple syrup are all great natural sweeteners. Just keep in mind that if you cut out solid sweeteners in favor of honey or syrup, you may want to use less of other liquids in the recipe.

3. Play with proportion. When sugar levels drop, Chang says, other flavors become more prominent. She recommends using more of flavors like almond extract, cinnamon, and other spices to take advantage of their new starring role.

4. Allow frozen treats to soften. Chang explains that sugar is what makes it easy to scoop desserts like ice cream and sorbet. “If you reduce the sugar, you want to let the frozen treat sit at room temperature for at least 10 to 15 minutes to allow it to soften so you can fully enjoy it,” she recommends.

5. Give yourself time to adjust. Weaning yourself off sugar is a process; at first, desserts may not taste as sweet as you’d like them to be, Chang warns, but that won’t last forever. “If you consume fewer sweet pastries, your tastebuds will start to appreciate less sugar and you’ll find that you prefer pastries that are not as sweet,” she says.