Sugar-Free Sweets-Making [with Erythritol and Chicory Root]: Part I

PRE-POST NOTE: I know I ramble a lot, so here’re quick links to each of the recipes on this page. Go ahead and pick the one that suits your fancy if’n you don’t want to read all this HIGHLY INTERESTING stuff:

1. Lakanto Chocolate Truffles
2. Chia Seed Carrot Cupcakes
3. Chia Seed Chocolate Cupcakes
4. Chia Seed Chocolate Chip Cookies

NOW BACK TO YOUR REGULARLY-SCHEDULED POST:

(This is a joke about fiber)

So, I’ve been doing a bit of experimenting with sugar-free concoctions in my kitchen. Suffice it to say that sugar is awful, but most artificial sweeteners are too (aspartame and splenda for their chemical and brain-damaging properties, agave for its high fructose content, honey and maple for their molecular resemblance to sugar, et cetera.) That said, all of these recipes were made with the healthy natural sweeteners erythritol or chicory root, in respective order with these specific brand names:

Lakanto and Just Like Sugar

Note on Lakanto: Lakanto is a mixture predominately composed of non-GMO erythritol (99.8%) with the rest being the extract of a super-sweet Chinese plant called Luo Han Guo. A refresher on erythritol: It is a sugar alcohol, and the only naturally-derived and 0 calorie, 0 glycemic-index sugar alcohol. Erythritol is about 70% as sweet as sugar, but the Luo Han Guo stuff is supposedly 300 times sweeter than sugar and low/no calorie/GI; the .2% contained in this Lakanto stuff is enough to bring the sweetness ratio to about 1:1 sugar:Lakanto, so everything works out. Lakanto, unlike plain Erythritol, is very organic sugar-esque in scent and even has the brownness thanks to the color of the Luo Han Guo extract. Erythritol, Lakanto not excluded, is known for its “cooling effect” on the tongue. I’ll note later what effect this had on the recipes, below. IMPORTANT: It should be stated that erythritol and most all of the sugar alcohols are HIGHLY TOXIC to cats, dogs, and some other domestic animals. Do a search online for whatever your pet might be, by all means, but to be on the safe side DO NOT let your precious pet pals near erythritol!

Note on Just Like Sugar: Just Like Sugar is a mixture of chicory root, calcium, vitamin C, and orange peel. It was recommended to me by Jane Barthelemy, who in case you didn’t see in my 3/27 “To the 9s” post, has published a great all-you-need-to-know page on sweeteners. It’s very much like powder, and opening the package will undoubtedly let a minute amount escape into the air that you’re directly breathing. It was a highly-pleasant sensory surprise for me, and a nice sample of the taste. Being mostly chicory root, this stuff is almost all fiber. It also boasts no calories and no glycemic index. Ms. Barthelemy recommended I use the “Table Top” variety for all things, so I abide!

Neither of these healthy sugar alternatives come cheap. The Lakanto, at 800g (about 4 cups/2 lbs.), was a staggering $35. The Just Like Sugar was not far behind, at about $18 for 16 oz. So, unless you’re rolling in it, these obviously aren’t everyday choices; though I guess they’d be fine for an every-once-in-awhile treat.

One more relevant introduction before I continue:

Chia seeds. As you see, I dedicated a post to these nutritional powerhouses; but for right now all you need to know is I use these as a flour substitute in any recipes below where flour would usually be present. I don’t have a picture and right now I’m too lazy to make one (SO SOLLY), but I do grind them into flour-like consistency. This can be done with a coffee grinder, or as I did with a basic blender.

All right, to the goods:

Lakanto Chocolate Truffles

Printable version

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
4 oz. Lakanto
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
Unsweetened cocoa powder, for covering

I don’t have pictures of the process of making these, but it’s so simple you probably won’t mess it up:

1. Pour Lakanto in a small heat-proof or glass bowl (No plastic!).
2. Chop chocolate well, about to shredded or toothpick-width pieces, and put atop the Lakanto in the glass bowl. Don’t mix.
3. Place heavy cream and butter in a small pot over medium heat. Stir enough so the butter and cream are well-blended, and allow the mixture to just come to a boil.
4. Immediately pour cream mix over chocolate-Lakanto mix, attempting to fully cover chocolate with the liquid mixture. Allow to sit for about a minute.
5. Stir the mixture with a spoon or spatula; if chocolate has not adequately melted, place in a microwave for 20 seconds or so. Stir again until everything has come together.
6. Refrigerate for a while. I wish I could say a definite time, but I honestly don’t believe it matters. With regular truffles it would, but since we’re mixing the sugar (Lakanto) as part of the process these truffles won’t get as smooth as normal ones, but also lose the need for a time-consuming thickening process.
7. Dust a plate with unsweetened cocoa powder. Remove chocolate mixture with a melon-baller or spoon, roll in hand till round, and then roll on the plate to cover them in chocolate powder. Ta-da!:

Thoughts on these truffles: I’d say they pass the test. They’re definitely not creamy like one would expect a truffle to be; no, they are actually more crumbly. However, the cream-butter mixture makes them melt in your mouth, regardless, and the cooling effect of erythritol is actually enchanting in this case; it imbues these little guys with an almost “double melt-in-your-mouth” feel. I think if I were to do these again, I would probably try to find some way to add the Lakanto to the cream mixture for boiling. Supposedly, the endothermic effect or erythritol is negated when it’s put into water; but more importantly in this recipe, it would probably make them more like the creamy truffles of my memory. Still, the low amount of cream and butter does not seem adequate enough to dissolve the Lakanto, so I think without some heightened adding of cream and butter (which would make me have to reduce through boiling) all we’d be changing in my recipe would be the cooling effect (which, again, is actually a welcome addition). Anyway, I pretty much guarantee nobody will complain about these.

Chia Seed Carrot Cupcakes

Printable version

Cake portion:
7 carrots
1/4 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened)
2 eggs
3/4 cup Just Like Sugar
1/3 cup Lakanto
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup Chia Seed Flour (Just ground chia seeds)
2/3 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ginger
1/2 cup raisins

Frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups Just Like Sugar
Small dabs of milk

Before I start, just gonna say a couple of things: First, I halved this recipe to only make six. I did this due to both the expense of the ingredients (Not only the sugar subs and chia seeds, but I use all organic stuff; yipes) and the fact I also made 6 chocolate cupcakes simultaneously (recipe below). Second, for the frosting I used powdered sugar instead of Just Like Sugar. Yes, I know: GASP! and what-not. My only justification here besides the price-point of JLS (and you can definitely use this too!) is that the amount of fiber you’re getting from both the chia seeds and the Just Like Sugar in the cake portion is more than enough to make up for the sugar ingested (One cupcake itself is probably well over the RDA of 30g). Still, if I was rich I would definitely use JLS for the frosting! ANYWAY, the instructions:

1. Heat oven to 350 F. Shred carrots in a food processor, and add shredded coconut and eggs; stir.
2. In a separate, large bowl, sift together remaining ingredients; excluding raisins.
3. Mix contents of two bowls together; it may take some arm work, but you’ll get it. Mix in raisins.
4. Line cupcake pan with 12 cupcake cups. Fill the cups to the top with the batter, and place in oven.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes. With chia flour I’ve found that the toothpick test isn’t very accurate; just cook these guys until the outside edges like sort of “dry and bubbly.” Kind of vague, but it worked out for me!
6. While they cool, we can woik on the frosting! (By the by, putting them in the freezer to cool won’t harm anything, and will get these carrot concoctions to your mouth, faster. Mmm!). Soften the butter and cream cheese together in a plate in the microwave; heat on 10-15 seconds a few times until both are soft, but not all-out melting. If they melt a bit, it’s fine. Just don’t let them turn into water.
7. Transfer the cheese and butter to a bowl, and whip by hand or with a mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.
8. Add the Just Like Sugar a little at the time, stirring till smooth and then adding more until it has all been used.
9. The frosting should be fine at this point, but if you think it’s too stiff or if it has clumps of sugar, you can add milk. Add the milk a little at a time and stir after each addition. This ensures you get the consistency you want; you don’t want to get into a game of adding too much milk and having to make up with more sugar, then having to add more milk, et cetera- just add about a capful at a time!
10. When cupcakes are cool, frost and enjoy!

The cupcake looks miserable, but it was actually pretty good!

Thoughts on these cupcakes: Well, this was ultimately a test of the efficacy of using chia flour in place of regular. The complete-protein having, omega 3 filled, low glycemic index chia seeds are all the nutritional rage, but did they stand up to good ol’ white flour in the baking arena? Surprisingly, in this case: Yes! The chia seed flour, due to having complex soluble fiber structures, rises. I won’t lie and tell you these cupcakes had the texture they would’ve had with real flour, they didn’t, but in the case of carrot cupcakes it kind of doesn’t matter; carrot cupcakes are made with shredded carrots, coconut, and raisins, after all. That fills a lot of the space that flour would otherwise take. The texture the chia seed flour gives these cupcakes is different, but not a game-breaker by any means. Plus, when you consider that you’re eating something you love and it’s actually good for you…well, y’know.

Chia Seed Chocolate Cupcakes

Printable version

Cake portion:
1 cup chia seed flour
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup and 2 tablespoons Just Like Sugar or Lakanto
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla
3/4 cup milk

Frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups Just Like Sugar
Small dabs of milk

Again, this is for 12 cupcakes. If you just want to do 6, as I did, just half everything. (Except the egg, obviously; just leave it at 1)

Instructions:
1. Heat oven to 350 F. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa and salt.
2. In a separate heat-proof bowl, cream together butter and Lakanto/JLS until it’s fluffy; you can do this with a fork. Just Like Sugar is less likely to get “fluffy,” so if you use it just fluff it until it and the butter are well-mixed.
3. Add the eggs to the Lakanto/JLS mixture one at a time, making sure the first egg is completely mixed in before adding the second. Stir in the vanilla.
4. Add the flour mixture a little bit at the time alternatively with the milk to ensure mixture stays cohesive and soft, until you have added all of both.
5. Line your cupcake pan with 12 cupcake cups, and fill them nearly to the top with the batter. Place in the oven for 25-30 minutes. The toothpick test works a bit better for these guys than the carrot cupcakes, but definitely let them sit for at least 25 before checking on them.
6. When you think they’re ready, let them cool. As like the frosting above, soften the butter and cream cheese together in a plate in the microwave.
7. Transfer the cheese and butter to a bowl, and whip by hand or with a mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.
8. Add the Just Like Sugar a little at the time, stirring till smooth and then adding more until it has all been used.
9.Add the cocoa powder alternatively with the milk, until you reach a desired consistency. REMEMBER TO USE LITTLE DABS OF MILK AT A TIME, or you’ll keep having to compensate with extra JLS.
10. When cupcakes are cool, frost and “enjoy!”

Thoughts on these cupcakes: Welp, highly disappointed with these. I’m a huge fan of chocolate cup’m cakes with chocolate frosting, and a number of factors made these so far from what I remember a good chocolate cupcake being they weren’t really worth it. For one, I highly recommend you choose Just Like Sugar instead of Lakanto for the cake portion. Unlike in the case with the truffles, the cooling effect of the erythritol from Lakanto was not welcome. Also, the chia seed flour didn’t do as well here as with the carrot cupcakes. I attribute this to the fact that it took up much more space than in the carrot cupcakes, i.e. there weren’t carrot pieces and the like to hide the fact this flour isn’t well-suited for cupcakes. I was so confused whether or not they were done, regardless of their rising, to the point I had them in the oven for 40+ minutes. The toothpicks never came out completely clean, but I figured this was due to the weird, sticky soluble fiber of chia seeds. I was scared the chocolate was gonna burn, so I pulled ’em. The center was gooey, the outside more well-done, and the texture of the chia seed flour along with the cooling of the erythritol just made my tongue hurt. Oddly, in allowing these to sit a day or two, they became more palatable but also a lot more crumbly. One of my friends, who is notorious for being picky, actually tried one and liked it highly. I tried one at this point; while it was a lot better than it was when it was fresh, definitely still not very great. I guess I’m thankful for the nutritional profile, but other than that I can’t really recommend these.

Chia Seed Chocolate Chip Cookies

Printable version

1 cup chia seed flour
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
6 tablespoons butter
½ cup Lakanto
¼ cup Just Like Sugar
½ tablespoon vanilla
1 egg
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (the sugar in these might be off-putting, but 1) bittersweet has the least of any chocolate chip type, 2) again, the fiber contained in the chia seeds and JLS is more than enough to compensate and 3) melting down the chocolate to add JLS or Lakanto, freezing it, and breaking it into chips would be highly time-consuming. Up to you, I reckon!)

1. Heat oven to 325 F. Place butter in microwave for about 25 seconds to melt.
2. In a medium-large bowl, mix together Lakanto (who for our purposes is imitating brown sugar) and Just Like Sugar (who’s playing the role of white sugar). Pour the melted butter over the “sugars,” and stir until well-mixed.
3. You may notice that the “sugars” form coarse grains when mixed. If this happens, you’re going to have to put the mixture through a blender or smash the large granules with a spoon, until you can rub your fingers through it and detect no such coarseness. I’m not sure what causes this effect.
4. Stir in the vanilla and the egg until well-mixed.
5. Mix in chia flour, baking soda, and salt; just long enough until somewhat-cohesive. Stir in chocolate chips.
6. Line a cookie sheet with foil, and grease the foil. You can shape out 12 small or 6 large cookies (I prefer the latter!) with this amount of mix. You MUST smash the cookies down; though chia flour rises, it doesn’t spread. If you make them like typical chocolate chip cookies, i.e. ball-shaped, you’ll end up with a ball-shaped gooey-insides cookie.
7. Place in oven for 20 minutes. The cookies will be ready when the outside edges look done. Remove them from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes, at the very least, before devouring.

Thoughts on these cookies: Magnificent! I suppose I saved the best for last on this post; I really enjoyed these cookies. I’m a big fan of chocolate chip cookies, and these hit the spot. Being flat, they cook more uniformly than chia seed cupcakes and the chocolate chips really drown out most of the “gumminess” of the cooked chia flour. Their nutritional profile, with all that complete protein, fiber, and omega 3s, just drives it home; one of these could actually be a legitimate meal! Plus, they look camouflage so you could make them for your favorite military person or make jokes like “I made them like this so you wouldn’t eat them all.” to a friend. You know, because you didn’t want them to see them? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Conclusions

It’s not often that I get to eat such great sweets, and even less often can I say they don’t wreck my blood sugar. Unfortunately, it will still continue to be a “not often” thing. Not only is the expense an issue, but equally weighing on my mind is excess. What I mean is that, at least in the cases of chia flour and Just Like Sugar, the macro- and/or micro-nutrient profiles are being abused in this dessert medium. There’s no way anybody needs as much fiber and calories as even one serving of these desserts provide (especially in the case of fiber). Chia seeds in particular are probably best used as a supplement to regular meals; just one serving (1 Tablespoon) has 3g complete protein, 3g of fat, and a whopping 5g of fiber. On one hand, chia seed flour provides an interesting alternative to flour; it rises like flour and is very resilient. On the other hand, one might have to worry about oxidation and degredation of fatty acids in milling it to a flour. For something so expensive, I don’t want to be “wasting” it in that way.

Still, and especially in the case of the truffles, there’s some promise to this manner of dessert-making. If you truly only mess with desserts during holidays when friends and family come to town, baking as outlined in this post might be feasible. To others, like me, who have extreme sweet teeth, this is not an everyday option and I say: “Get out those fruits!”

One final note on the sweeteners: I was told by the woman who introduced me to Just Like Sugar (again, Jane Barthelemy) that it is her choice in alternative sweeteners. I have to agree, after these experiments. I’m somewhat leery on the Lakanto/erythritol because it has no nutrient profile, has that endothermic effect, and there simply aren’t any controlled studies that delve into the subject of prolonged use of the stuff in humans. The Just Like Sugar really is just like sugar, comes from a natural root that has been consumed for a long period by humans, and gives you a whopping dose of fiber to boot. That said, be sure to drink plenty of water with these recipes to make sure all the fiber moves through you! (APPETIZING!)

In any case, hope you enjoyed this foray into sugar-averse baking. If you have any questions about methods or anything like that, feel free to drop me a line! ♦