With bees in the backyard, and concerns about high fructose corn syrup and other easily refined sugars in processed food items, I have been considering how to move towards healthier sweeteners in our home. Easy enough when adding syrup to waffles or honey to yogurt, but a little trickier when thinking about baked goods.
Fortunately, around the same time I received a copy of the Green Market Baking Book, by Laura Martin, for review. This book provides 100 recipes for sweet and savory treats, and includes additional details on how to incorporate natural sweeteners into your own home cooking. The books also includes detailed information on local and seasonal produce, and provides an interesting chapter on substitutions.
The book is divided into seasons, a great help when eating what is currently ripe and ready, and has a brief section on preserving the harvest, with tips for freezing, canning and drying your favorites.
This summer, I tried the Peach and Nectarine Upside-Down Cake (page 82), and while it was very juicy, the cake received good reviews. Not the most attractive dessert, but with maple syrup and brown syrup as the sweeteners, it was refreshingly devoid of refined sugar.
The illustrations in the book are beautiful; it makes a good evening read. And each season has a highlight of what is good and fresh for that period, along with simple botanical drawings of the fruit and vegetables.
Many chefs have contributed to the book, but the author has managed to keep the recipes and voice similar throughout. Many recipes are also highlighted as dairy-free, low-fat, vegan and gluten-free.
My one gripe with the book is that it seems as though some of the chef-created recipes included in the book have been modified from the original recipe to include a natural sweetener, without the testing necessary to ensure a good quality product. There are many included recipes which are clearly tested and provided by the chefs with the natural sweeteners, but every once in a while a recipe will appear that has been included in the book, but not necessarily created using natural sweeteners. Since many of these sweeteners are liquid (maple syrup, brown rice syrup, honey), I think this leaves the end product open to less success.
Some recipes in the book don’t use any sweeteners, so they are included because of the seasonal produce in the recipe, that is ok. But several recipes have also been included as pure product recommendations (Pesto Pizza with Goat Cheese and Figs, page 100), and a couple from Eden Natural Foods, Bob’s Red Mill, the National Honey Council and U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. It is nice to show breadth of recipes, but eventually it starts to feel a little commercial.
I also see a few recipes that could be more specific in their details, for example, Persimmon Bread (page 142) which does not specify Hachiya or Fuyu persimmons (big difference). And realistically, many of these recipes are quite a bit more expensive than their refined counterparts (to be expected). I made the Green Market Baking Book Chocolate Chip Cookies (page 31) and priced them out to be about $18 a batch, as opposed to the Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies (page 30) which are closer to $6 a batch and don’t require additional trips to the grocery store.
On the plus side, there are a few recipes which have been really vetted with natural sweeteners, including Pumpkin Pie and Custard (page 130) and a few recipes which are no brainers for natural sweeteners, such as Applesauce (page 148) and Honey Strawberry Jam (page 68). It is good to build awareness about what is natural and not in baking, and this book helps that cause.
Would I buy the book? Probably. I like all the recipes with honey, and I think the illustrations are great. I also like the layout of the book, reinforcing the eating seasonal objective I share with my family. It would make a nice gift this holiday season for someone looking to reduce/eliminate refined sugars in their diet. This book provides a good starting point and enough information you point you in the right direction.
And just in time for apple season, here is the Apple Cake recipe from the Green Market Baking Book:
We were delighted to find out we could easily (and deliciously) substitute natural sweeteners in this cake with fantastic results. The maple syrup and apples are a fabulous combination.—GMB
- 1 cup maple syrup
- ¾ cup brown rice syrup
- 1 ½ cups very lightly flavored olive oil
- 3 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 4 ½ to 5 cups apples, peeled and chopped, such as Granny Smith
- 1 ¼ cups coarsely chopped pecans (or walnuts)
- ½ cup raisins (optional)
- ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter
- ½ cup maple syrup
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Measure the olive oil in a glass measuring cup and pour into a large bowl. Use the same cup to measure the syrups. Add the vanilla, and mix until well blended.
- Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
- Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, mixing well but not overmixing.
- Fold in the apples and nuts (and raisins if using).
- Pour into a greased and floured 9×13-inch baking pan. Bake for at least 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Leave the cake in the pan as you prepare the glaze. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the maple syrup and stir, cooking over low heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the cream and boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Leave the cake in the pan and poke holes all over with a fork or skewer. Pour the slightly cooled glaze over the cake, making sure to distribute it evenly.
Reprinted with permission from Green Market Baking Book © 2011 by Laura C. Martin, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.