Conscientious Cook: A Sweet is Still a Sweet

Baking with Alternative Sweeteners

By Andrea Swedberg // Photographs by Paulette Phlipot

On any given Sunday—especially during the holidays—our house claims scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and vanilla. It’s not unusual for the Mister to come home, stomp the snow off his boots and exclaim, “Do I smell cookies?!” I love to bake, and the holidays offer even more reason to fulfill my baking obsession. So this year, I spent a fair amount of time recipe testing with alternative ingredients. I discovered that while traditional recipes are still king, I’m leaning away from traditional sweeteners.
Sweets—is there a better way, my fellow patissiers, to spread love during the holidays?

These days, my favorite sweeteners are coconut palm sugar (not to be confused with regular palm sugar, which is from a different palm tree) and Medjool dates. The coconut sugar has a deep caramel undertone and imparts a beautiful golden color to cakes and cookies. And the dates, once pitted, chopped, soaked, and pureed, become a wonderful sweetener and moistener in baked goods recipes.

Now, before we head into the kitchen, I need to say that it doesn’t happen often that someone speaks my mind almost better than if I said it myself. But just the other day, Irvin Lin, a fellow lover of baking, professed in his blog, eatthelove.com, just why he adores it. He was comparing the art of baking to the science of it. As I read, Lin conveyed my beliefs exactly: While the food world is fueled by two concepts (art and science), one thing remains constant—if you prepare food with love, those partaking will feel loved! So, it may be science, it may be art, but however it bakes up (alternative sweeteners or not), it’s baking season! Happy holidays and, as always, bon appétit.


Spiced Christmas Cake


Makes one 8-inch cake or 8 cupcakes

This little gem is quickly making its way onto my personal “holiday favorites” list! The coconut palm sugar’s caramel undertone pairs happily with a warm sipper of Glögg and a well-lit Christmas tree.

1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup almond meal
2 tablespoons coconut oil, room temperature
3 tablespoons almond milk* (or sub 2 tablespoons chai and 1 tablespoon
almond milk)
3 egg whites AND 2 whole eggs, room temp, gently whipped together
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
Pinch of nutmeg
5 tablespoons coconut palm sugar
4 tablespoons arrowroot powder

1. Preheat oven to 340° F.
2. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, cut to fit, or line a cupcake tin with festive cupcake liners.
3. In a medium-size bowl, cream the flour and meal with the oil.
4. In a separate bowl, combine almond milk, eggs, and vanilla. Pour this into the creamed mixture, mixing completely with no lumps.
5. In a third bowl, mix the dry ingredients: baking powder, salt, spices, sugar, and arrowroot. Whisk to combine.
6. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture. Combine completely.
Scrape the batter into a cake pan and spread to level or fill cupcake liners two-thirds full.
7. Bake 20 to 23 minutes for a cake and 18 to 20 minutes for cupcakes, or until the cake springs back when gently depressed and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
8. Turn out of pan to cool completely.
9. Allow to cool completely before frosting. (I enjoy a cinnamon-ginger buttercream frosting.)

*Note: Baking with a combination of coconut flour and almond meal can lend a grainy, even crumbly, texture. But using arrowroot powder as a tenderizing agent results in a perfectly soft and moist crumb.


Piia’s happy bars


Makes approximately 20 bars (depends on how you cut ’em)

Cakey, moist, chocolatey, and SWEET—with dates, that is—these bars are easy to make and can be used as the bottom layer to an even more exquisite creation.

20 Medjool dates, pitted and soaked*
1/4 cup organic raisins, soaked*
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
3/4 cup gluten-free oat bran
(I like Bob’s Red Mill)
1/2 cup almond meal (you can make your own by
pulsing raw almonds until fine)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons arrowroot powder
8 ounces mini chocolate chips (I like
Enjoy Life)
1 tablespoon coconut oil for prepping pan

*Note: Soak together with just enough water to cover for about an hour, or longer if time allows. The softer, the better.

1. Preheat oven to 340° F.
2. Grease an 8-by-9-inch pan with coconut oil.
3. Drain water from dates and raisins, without pressing.
4. Combine dates, raisins, vanilla, and eggs in a food processor. Pulse to an almost-smooth paste.
5. In a separate medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients: oat bran, almond meal, baking powder, soda, salt, and arrowroot. Whisk well to combine.
6. Fold chocolate chips into the dry mixture.
7. Add pulsed date mixture to the dry mixture. Combine well.
8. Pour batter into prepped pan.
9. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. It’s OK if the melted chocolate sticks.
10. Let cool completely in the pan before cutting into bars.


Fruit and Nut Dark Chocolate Clusters


Makes approximately 11 clusters

Quick, easy, and beautiful! Share these festive little bundles on small squares of parchment, as they melt easily. Or stack them three high, tie with kitchen twine, and place them in a box with tissue for a scrumptious gift.

3 Coconut Secret Peruvian dark chocolate bars* (or sub your favorite
alternatively sweetened variety, approx. 6 ounces)
20 whole, raw cashews
20 macadamia halves, roasted and salted
20 pecan pieces
20 dried cranberries
1 tablespoon cacao nibs (optional)
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted

*Available at Jackson Whole Grocer and Barrels & Bins in Driggs

  1. Slowly melt the chocolate in a double boiler.
    2. Spoon the melted chocolate, by the tablespoonful, into 1-inch rounds on a silicone mat or parchment-covered baking sheet.
    3. Allow to cool about 3 minutes.
    4. Arrange nuts, fruit, and nibs (if using) on chocolate rounds, finishing edges with toasted coconut.
    5. Allow to cool on countertop 15 minutes, then place the sheet in the fridge to cool completely.
    6. Serve when solid. Store extras in the freezer.