It's a hard job, but someone has to do it. I have been trialling my sugar free options in various recipes to see how they perform, and yes I've been doing lots of taste testing too of course. Once again, the results have been pretty clear.
Yesterday I got very scientific and did another round of chocolate chip biscuits, this time doing one batch with condensed milk and standard sugar, and another with agave nectar and xylitol. I also did a bit of juggling with my measurements (but that's a story for the next post) and did half in my own oven and half in my Dad's oven - all to try and ensure that my "control" batch were as perfect as possible. Indeed they were. The condensed milk and standard sugar batch were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside with a little bit of chew. The xylitol and agave, however were soft without even a bit of crunch. I have suspected for a while that's where we were heading
I've trialled xylitol in some other baking too. I put it in pikelets and there was no discernable difference to taste or overall result. I put it in my muesli bar (flapjack) recipe and they tasted the same but they were definitely more cakey. And I have tried coconut sugar in chocolate pudding a number of times and the taste is no different though I suspect the end result is a little drier so I just add a drop more liquid.
So we are getting somewhere. Xylitol and coconut sugar leave things more cakey and less crunchy. If you want cakey-ness and not crunch, such as in a chocolate pudding, this is not a problem. But if you are after crunch, such as in biscuits, then the result is a little disappointing (though not unpleasant).
Coconut sugar has a strong flavour that comes through in some baking more than others - it's too subtle for things like strong flavoured puddings and cakes, but the flavour comes through in lighter weight things such as plain biscuits. Xylitol so far has not had a noticeably different flavour. Agave worked well mixed with milk and used in place of condensed milk, but I haven't tried it anywhere else yet as it is hard to work out substituting a liquid for a dry sugar. I use honey in my muesli bar and I really should have tried agave instead, but there's always another day. Though the recipe requires a lot of honey and I can't pour the entire contents of my bank account in to my baking...
These sugars could be put to the test further of course. Xylitol in meringues could be challenging - this might be a place where the minty flavour does come through, and meringue without crunch would be no good at all. But I'm curious enough to try one day. And if you like sugar in your tea or coffee I would be very keen to know if any of these options are appealing to you - I'd love you to try it and let me know. I'm quite certain the flavours would come through and I'm not convinced they'll be liked.
If I was to choose one sugar substitute to have in my house it would be Xylitol... so far. Though I do like that coconut sugar is not highly processed. I am keen to give Stevia a try sometime (I think I need a break for a while) and no doubt there are other options. But there is one more thing I haven't covered. A significant one. COST. This may well be the biggest stumbling block. Come back to my Sugar-Free Sweetness page (roll over that link) to see the costs and a little summary of the results above.