Wednesday 9 January 2013

Date and Maple Brownies

I don't really subscribe to the school of thought that refers to baked goods made without cane or beet sugar as 'sugar-free'. To me there are usually just as many calories in what are sometimes referred to as 'natural' sweeteners -  honey, maple syrup, fruit molasses etc - and they are really just other forms of sugar. There are too many chemicals in the old fashioned sugar substitutes to want to use them to replace sugar(sucrose) regularly. Newer sugar substitutes such as agave and stevia may be lower in calories, but they are expensive to use. In addition to all this, the health benefits of changing to sucrose substitutes aren't really proven!

Dried fruit, however, does reduce calories, increase fibre content and go a long way towards sweetening things such as bread, cakes and baked desserts if used to replace some of the sugar. It was with this in mind that I decided to combine two of this month's challenges. The We Should Cocoa challenge is to bake something free of beet or cane sugar, and the AlphaBakes challenge is to bake something either containing a main ingredient beginning with the letter D, or with a name containing a word beginning with the same letter. In this instance, D is for Dates, of course. I'll suspend my scepticism about sugar-free baking for the duration!

I looked at many recipes for brownies containing dates before deciding on this recipe from Australian chef Bill Granger. It had lots of good reviews and didn't contain a huge amount of sugar, so I didn't expect substituting what sugar was there to have a huge effect on the recipe. It also used cocoa, so I didn't have to adjust the sweetness of a recipe using chocolate containing sugar, to allow for using 100% cocoa solids chocolate instead.

I wondered about using pomegranate molasses instead of the 90g of sugar in the recipe, but thought the sour flavour notes might be too overwhelming in something with reduced sweetness, so I went with maple syrup instead. I did a straight swap - take out 90g sugar, add 90g maple syrup - but was prepared to add more flour if it looked necessary.  I changed the method slightly, by adding the liquid sweetener to the dates and melted butter, to give the dates a chance to absorb some of the liquid. The raw batter looked fine after mixing so I went ahead with baking it - it took a few minute longer to bake but turned out well.

These were light, cakey brownies, rather than the dense fudgy sort made with a high sugar content, but they were still quite moist and very tasty.  The flavour of the maple syrup wasn't strong, but that might have just been a characteristic of my maple syrup; having tasted them now, I think it would be worth trying pomegranate molasses another time, for a stronger flavour. I deliberately chopped the dates very finely in a food processor, as I didn't want to see too many lumps of fruit in the brownie. Dates have quite a neutral flavour when used in baked goods this way - even people who don't like eating the fruit on it's own usually like things such as sticky toffee pudding made with dates. I think they'd like these brownies too!

The We Should Cocoa challenge (rules here) is hosted this month by Choclette, of Chocolate Log Blog, who shares her hosting duties with Chele from Chocolate Teapot, and various guest  hosts. The AlphaBakes challenge is hosted alternately by Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline from Caroline Makes..., and the rules can be found here.


Alicia Foodycat said...

I'm with you on the "sugar free" thing. I also think stevia has a really nasty aftertaste.

Unknown said...

Yes, I think that 'sugar-free' thing is a rort too! I am a recent joiner of the Bill Granger fan club and can easily believe these brownies are good. I am a massive fan of dates, though we don't eat as many as we used to in this house - as you say, they are still calorific, even if they're 'sugar free'!

Snowy said...

Wow Suelle, you've done well on your monthly challenges! I agree with you on the 'sugar free' thing - don't like the taste of a lot of the alternatives, and, as you say, they're just as calorific. Like dates and these brownies sound good.

Caroline Cowe said...

I love brownies, I've never put fruit in them before but I think I might have to try this! Thanks for sending them in to Alphabakes.

Suelle said...

The dates aren't noticeable in the same way that other dried fruit would be, Caroline - except for the largest pieces, they seem to melt into the cake mix.

Choclette said...

Suelle, you never fail to please. I do like your decided opinions ;-)

Dates make excellent sweeteners and as you say don't overwhelm things with their flavour. These brownies look really good, but I also like the idea of using pomegranate syrup. Thank you for being creative and entering them into We Should Cocoa.

Ruth Ellis said...

These look delicious, and I'm intrigued with the possibility of using pomegranate molasses - I'll bear it in mind next time I feel the need for a kitchen experiment!