It can be tricky to mess with a baking recipe—too much flour or not enough baking soda, and your favorite chocolate chip cookies become crumbly or fall flat. So it’s a little daunting to even consider swapping out that most basic baking building block—sugar—for something else sweet. But actually, it’s OK to give your sugar canister a rest from time to time. Substituting in another sweetener is easier than you might think, and you can do it without compromising texture or flavor in the cookies, cakes and desserts you love to make.
Whether you’ve run out of sugar or you’re looking to mix things up, these smart baking substitutions will help ensure your baking stays delicious.
1. Experiment with Maple Syrup and Honey
For basic baked goods like sugar cookies or pound cake, using maple syrup or honey instead of sugar lends the finished product a little extra flavor. You’ll need a little less of these sweeteners for your recipe—just ¾ cup of maple syrup or honey replaces a full cup of granulated sugar. And because these sweeteners are liquid, you’ll also need to use a liquid measuring cup and reduce the amount of other liquids (water or milk, for instance) in the recipe by three tablespoons for every cup of syrup or honey to compensate. Also, keep an eye on your cake or cookies, or reduce the oven temperature by 25°F, as they may bake faster than the same recipe made with standard sugar.
Swap it: 1 cup granulated sugar = ¾ cup syrup or honey
2. Try Agave Nectar
This syrup, derived from the blue agave plant, is super sweet, so you’ll only need ⅔ cup to replace a full cup of sugar. Like honey and maple syrup, you’ll need to reduce the amount of other liquids in the recipe by three tablespoons per cup of agave nectar, and watch for your baked goods to be ready sooner. But unlike those other liquid sweeteners, agave doesn’t have a strong flavor of its own, so your baked goods will taste more like the original sugar recipe.
Swap it: 1 cup granulated sugar = ⅔ cup agave nectar
3. Explore Brown and Powdered Sugar
One of the most game-changing baking hacks is creating your own brown sugar and powdered sugar—it’s easy with a few pantry staples. For confectioners’ sugar, simply grind granulated sugar in a blender or food processor until it’s fine enough for what you need. (It takes a few minutes, depending on how powerful your blender is.) The finely processed powder is nearly double the granulated sugar’s volume, so if you need a cup of confectioners’ sugar for your recipe, start with about a ½ cup of granulated sugar to make it. If you’re processing it to store and use later, add a tablespoon of cornstarch for each cup of granulated sugar to prevent clumping.
Swap it: 1 cup granulated sugar = 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Brown sugar is even easier to make. Simply mix about a tablespoon of molasses for every cup of granulated sugar before adding to the recipe. (Use a terracotta disk to store brown sugar in order to keep it from becoming hard as a rock in your pantry.)
Swap it: 1 cup brown sugar = 1 cup granulated sugar + 1 tablespoon molasses
4. Discover Fruit Sugars
Fruit sugars like date sugar and coconut sugar can be used in baked goods in lieu of granulated sugar and will give your baked goods a little of their signature flavor. You can find them in most health food stores.
Swap it: 1 cup granulated sugar = 1 cup fruit sugar
5. Swap in Pureed Fruit
If you like the taste of fruit sugars, take things a step further and just add fruit! Applesauce and mashed bananas can be used in a 1:1 ratio to replace sugar in your recipe. If you’re using bananas as a baking substitute, get the ripest ones you can find and blend them so they’re smooth before adding.
Swap it: 1 cup granulated sugar = 1 cup mashed banana or applesauce
6. Go Half-and-Half
If you want to make a recipe lighter, but still crave that decadent taste of a sweet treat, substitute half the sugar with one of these alternatives, and keep the other half of the sugar that the recipe calls for.
Swap it: 1.5 tablespoons liquid sweetener reduction = ½ cup granulated sugar
Now that you know how to tweak your recipes like a pro, make sure you have all the right tools to make baking a breeze.