Book Review: Baking with less sugar by Joanne Chang

Baking with less sugar cover

We could all use a little less sugar in our diet. Some need to lower sugar intake for health benefits, and others are baking for their children, who should be discouraged from worshipping sugar. I, for one, am not ready to totally ditch the sweet stuff. Thankfully there’s Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery + Cafés in the Boston area. In her latest book, Baking with Less Sugar, she has completely reformulated Flour favourites with much less or zero refined white sugar.

The book’s five chapters tackle 60-plus recipes using minimal or no refined sugar. You’ll find the famous Flour banana bread made with only six tablespoons of refined sugar. Using natural sugar alternatives such as honey, maple syrup, chocolate, and fruit, make for more complex flavours and bring deeper, more interesting elements to the desserts. Keith’s Super-Snappy Gingersnaps derive some of their spicy snap from the bite of molasses, and a carrot layer cake is sweetened with apple juice. An entire chapter is devoted to chocolate, most intense when not tempered by the addition of sugar.

Helpfully, the author offers up tips on how to substitute for sugar with other natural ingredients such as dates, molasses and vanilla beans. Rest assured that you won’t find any call for sugar substitutes.

This is a chatty book.  If you’re new to Ms. Chang universe of cookbooks, you should know that she pays great attention to detail. You would expect no less from a Harvard math major. Her exacting techniques are perfect for beginners but may grate on the nerves of more experienced bakers. However, you can’t argue with results. I encountered absolutely no hurdles when I attempted (and succeeded at) the Truffle Chocolate Cream Pie. It turned out rich, creamy, uber chocolaty and garnered hoots and hollers from hungry colleagues.

This book takes very few missteps. The page numbers are maddeningly minuscule, as if daring us to use the index rather than to flip through the stunning photographs. The instructions for the Honey Cashew Morning Buns take a whopping thirteen steps to complete. I won’t be attempting that recipe anytime soon.  Rest assured that most recipes in the book seem to average a very manageable 5-7 steps.

Baking with Less Sugar by Joanne Chang is available at and

Truffle Chocolate Cream Pie

Truffle Pie baking with less sugar

Unbelievably, this rich decadent pie contains no added sugar. Our workhorse recipe for flaky pie dough makes a perfect crust for the double chocolate layers. One is creamy light mousse and the other, a dense, chocolate-rich truffle base. The total amount of sugar in the chocolate in this recipe clocks in at 140 grams (about ¾ cup), or about 18 grams of sugar per slice of pie.


  • 360 g/1½ cups heavy cream
  • 100 g/3½ oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • Pinch of kosher salt


  • 140 G/1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 130 g/9 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 9 pieces
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 Tbsp cold whole milk


  • 180 G/¾ cup heavy cream
  • 120 g/½ up whole milk
  • 250 g/9 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbps unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp kosher salt

* Approximately 3-in (8-cm) block of bittersweet chocolate, at warm room temperature for garnish

1 To make the mousse: Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it is scalded—that is, small bubbles form on the edges of the cream and it almost, but not quite, comes to a boil. Place the chocolate in a medium boil and pour the hot cream on op. Add the salt and whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. With a rubber spatula, scrape the chocolate mixture into an airtight container and refrigerator overnight.

2. To make the pâte brisée: Using a stand mixture fitted with the paddle attachment (or with an electric hand mixer), beat the flour and salt for 10 to 15 seconds, or until mixed. Add the butter and beat slowly for 45 to 60 seconds, or just until the flour is no longer bright white, holds together when you clump it, and there are still lumps of butter the size of a pecan throughout. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and milk and add all at once to the flour-butter mixture. Beat very briefly on low-speed for 20 to 30 seconds, just until it barely comes together. It will look really shaggy and more like a mess than a dough.

3. Dump the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a tight mound. Using the heel of your hand, smear the dough, starting at the top of the mound and sliding your palm down the sides of the mound along the work surface, until most of the butter chunks are smeared into the dough and the whole thing comes together. (This technique is called fraisage and makes for a very  flaky pie dough.) Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and press it down to make a flattened disk. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using. The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days (wrapped in another layer of plastic wrap if storing for more than 1 day) or in the freezer for up to 4 weeks.

4. Remove the pastry dough from the refrigerate and knead it slightly to make it malleable if it feels stiff. Using a rolling-pin, press the dough to flatten it into a disc about ½ in (1 cm) thick. Generously flour your work surface and the dough disk. Carefully roll out the dough disk into a circle about 12 in (30 cm) in diameter. Make sure the table you are rolling on is well floured so that the dough does not stick to it; likewise make sure the disk itself is floured well enough to keep your rolling-pin from sticking to it. Roll from the centre of the disk outward and gently rotate the disk a quarter turn after each roll to ensure that the disk gets stretched out evenly into a nice circle. Don’t worry if the dough breaks a bit, especially towards the edges. You can easily patch these tears up once you’ve lined your pie plate.

5. Once the dough circle is about 12 in (30 cm) in diameter, roll it gently around the rolling-pin and then unfurl it on top of a 9-in (13-cm) aluminum or glass pie plate. Press the dough gently into the bottom and sides of the plate, leaving a ½-in (1-cm) lip around the edge (to allow for shrinkage in the oven), and using any scraps or odd pieces to patch up any tears or missing bits.

6. Refrigerate the pie shell for at least 30 minutes. (The gluten needs a little time to relax so it doesn’t shrink as much in the oven). The unbaked pie shell can be stored, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap

7. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350° (175°C).

8. Blind bake (that is, prebake) the shell so it doesn’t get so soggy when you eventually fill it. Line the shell with parchment paper or a large coffee filter and then fill it with pie weights, uncooked beans, uncooked rice, or even well-washed marble-size rock. Press down slightly on the weights to make sure the shell is entirely filled and place in the oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the shell is brown on the edges and pale and matte when you lift the parchment and peek at the surface of the shell. (If the edges brown too quickly, cover the shell loosely with foil.) When the pie shell is done blind baking, remove it from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When the pie shell has cooled, remove the parchment paper and pie weights.

9. To make the truffle filling: Heat the cream and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until scalded—that is, small bubbles form on the edges of the mixture and it almost, but not quite, comes to a boil. Place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl and pour the hot cream mixture on top. Whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the egg yolks, butter, and salt until complety mixed. Pour into the baked pie shell and bake for 25 to 35 minutes,or until the filling is set and jiggles slowly like Jell-O when you wiggle it.  Remove the pie from the oven and let cool on a wire rack to room temperature for about 2 hours or until completely cooled.

10. Remove the mousse from the refrigerator, using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or an electric hand mixer or by hand with a whisk), whip the mousse on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it holds stiff peaks—that is, when you lift the whisk out of the mousse, the mousse stands tall and hold its shape. Scrape the whipped mousse on top of the cooled truffle filing and spread evenly with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon.

11. Using the back of a paring knife or a vegetable peeler, scrape the chocolate block to make chocolate shavings and scatter them evenly on top of the pie. Slice the pie with a thin knife dipped in hot water and serve immediately. The pie can be stored, in an airtight container or covered loosely with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Baking with Less Sugar, by Joanne Chang, Raincoast Books
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