As much as we love sweet treats, sometimes a recipe gives us baked goods that are too sweet.
Unfortunately, reducing sugar in baked goods is not always that simple as it doesn’t only affect flavour, but texture and appearance too. This is also one reason why many of us end up with kitchen disasters when we reduce too much sugar in our recipes.
In this guide, we'll dive into the science of sugar in baked goods. Sugar provides moisture, aeration, and even affects colour.
Find out what else sugar does in your baked goods and how to safely reduce sugar in different kinds of baked goods, from cakes to cookies, cream puffs and more. Click the following links to jump to the respective sections!
How Much Sugar Can You Reduce?
Generally, we can reduce sugar up to a third without too much consequences. However, it’s best to start slow.
Start with a 10 to 15% sugar reduction. If you still find it too sweet, continue reducing until up to 33% (⅓ of the total sugar amount). We don’t recommend going beyond this level, as it might affect the texture and overall appearance of your baked goods.
When Is It Possible to Reduce Sugar?
Whenever sugar is used as merely a sweetener, you can reduce as much sugar as you like.
Sugar is often used to sweeten sour pie fillings such as fresh blueberry pies. Reducing sugar here shouldn’t matter too much—feel free to adjust the sweetness to your liking!
This trick also works for custard-based desserts like crème brûlée. In this case, don’t skimp on the sprinkled sugar!
However, be more careful when you’re cutting sugar in cakes, cookies, and bread.
In many of these baked goods, sugar plays a role in chemical reactions. It can tenderise, moisten, or aerate doughs and batters.
It also determines the browning of your baked goods!
What Does Sugar Do in Baked Goods?
Sugar moistens and softens baked goods. It keeps cakes and cookies from getting stale, and therefore you’ll find that those with reduced sugar turn stale quickly.
Also, if you’re baking with reduced sugar, check for the doneness of your baked goods’ earlier than usual. Baked goods with less moisture are prone to overbaking.
Without enough sugar, your baked goods won’t rise properly.
Creaming butter or eggs with sugar is an important step in many baked goods. It incorporates air into the batter or dough, helping them to puff up. Cutting back on sugar will reduce the amount of air going in!
Meringue-based baked goods like soufflés and chiffon cakes also depend on aeration. There aren’t any leavening agents, and they get their volume solely from whipped egg whites.
Sugar helps egg whites to reach the desired volume and stiffness when they’re whipped. Therefore, reducing too much sugar will hinder you from getting the optimum results.
Sugar plays an important role in the Maillard reaction. It's a chemical reaction that gives your baked goods their pleasant colour and flavour.
The golden-brown crust on your cake and bread results from this reaction. Your cakes and cookies might not look too different, but don’t expect a dark golden-brown crust on your bread.
The more sugar in your baked goods, the more they’ll spread. It also depends on the ratio of ingredients—keeping the amount of other ingredients while reducing sugar will make your baked goods spread less.
For example, cookies made with 2 cups flour and 2 cups sugar will spread more than those with 2 cups flour and 1 cup sugar.
Although bread is typically less sweet than cakes and cookies, sugar is also important in breadmaking.
Yeast feeds on sugar and produces carbon dioxide that makes your bread rise. Making bread with less sugar might affect fermentation, which prevents your bread from reaching maximum volume.
How to Reduce Sugar in Your Baked Goods
Reducing up to 10% of the total amount of sugar used in your cakes will not significantly affect flavour or texture. This applies to any type of cake—sponge cakes, butter cakes, and foam cakes still taste great with a little sugar reduction.
Since cakes are made using different methods, the sugar reduction in each type has different limits. Find out more below!
These cakes are pretty simple; the ingredients are stirred together, poured in a cake pan, then baked. Sugar only sweetens and moistens these cakes, so it’s safe to reduce up to 50% of the total sugar!
Creaming butter and sugar until light and fluffy is an important step in these cakes. It provides volume and lightens up the texture.
Reducing sugar in creamed cakes might make the batter separate slightly, but it’s safe to reduce up to 25% of the total sugar content. The cake will be somewhat drier, but the flavour of the butter will shine through!
Sponge cakes rely on the aeration of eggs for volume. Just like creamed cakes, reducing up to 25% of the sugar makes other flavours more prominent. We recommend not cutting more than this amount of sugar, as the cake will fail to rise and become rubbery.
Foam cakes get their volume from meringue, a thick and voluminous mixture of egg whites beaten with sugar. Since sugar determines volume and texture, don’t reduce more than 10% of the sugar in foam cakes. The sugar also helps to mask any unpleasant eggy flavours!
If there’s as much sugar as flour in the recipe, you can reduce up to 50% of it and get decent results. You’ll enjoy the mild sweetness, but the cookies will be crumblier and drier.
However, start by cutting a quarter of the sugar if there’s less sugar than flour in your recipe. If you find the result enjoyable, try reducing more sugar on your next batch of cookies.
You can cut the sugar in your cut-out cookies down to a quarter of the original amount. Since cut-out cookies typically aren’t high in sugar to begin with, the texture won’t be affected significantly.
The sweetness of cream puffs comes mainly from the pastry cream filling. Since sugar is used largely to sweeten pastry cream without contributing much to the texture and colour, it’s safe to reduce the amount of sugar to your liking.
However, remember that the general rule still applies—only reduce up to a third of the original amount of sugar.
Choux pastry dough itself is low in sugar, so we recommend sticking to the original recipe. Sugar is also needed to give the puffs a beautiful golden sheen.
With or without sugar, your choux pastry will bake up beautifully with the right techniques. Check out our 10 Tips to Making the Best Choux Pastry!
Since sugar balances out the chocolate’s bitterness, we recommend not reducing too much sugar in your brownies.
Try reducing 25% of the sugar in your brownie recipe if you find the original recipe too sweet. You should be able to reduce up to 50% sugar. However, note that less sugar means cakier and crumblier brownies.
If you want your brownies extra-fudgy, stick to the original amount of sugar! Instead of cutting back on sugar, try using chocolate with a higher percentage to make these 45% Dark Chocolate Fudgy Brownies!
Tarts and pies aren’t too fussy about sugar reduction. The crust doesn’t rely on sugar for structure, and most fillings are already low in added sugar.
Reducing sugar in tarts and pies is more about flavour.
Fruit tarts with 50% sugar reduction still taste great, especially if the fruit’s already sweet enough! We recommend not going below this amount, as your tart will be too sour.
As for chocolate tarts or pies, keep in mind that you need enough sugar to balance out the chocolate’s bitterness.
The same thing goes for custard tarts. Apart from imparting sweetness, sugar helps to achieve a silky-smooth custard by preventing the eggs from curdling. Most custard tart fillings are already low in sugar, so it’s best to leave it as it is.
You can also reduce sugar in tart crusts. Take note that tart crusts made with less sugar are generally crispier, but those with more sugar will get a beautiful golden-brown colour.
Modifying the sugar amount in your tart crust shouldn’t be a problem if you apply the right techniques. Learn how to successfully make a crispy, buttery tart crust with our foolproof guide!
Read More: A Basic Introduction To Tart Making If You're Interested But Afraid To Start (Tart Tips, How To Blind Bake And Tools You'll Need)
Most bread recipes have less sugar than most cake and cookie recipes, so it’s rarely necessary to reduce sugar. In fact, some types of bread use no sugar at all!
If you prefer a bread that’s less sweet, it’s better to find a recipe with little to no sugar.
However, it’s also possible to reduce the sugar in sweet breads (like our No-Knead Cinnamon Nutmeg Raisin Bread) down to 10% baker’s percentage. This means that you can reduce the amount of sugar up till at least 10% of the weight of the flour in your recipe. For example, use 20g sugar for 200g of flour.
Do take note though, that reducing sugar might affect the colour of your crust. This is because sugar enhances browning. Therefore, for a bread with reduced sugar, the crust won’t brown as well no matter how long it’s baked!
We all love a sweet treat for breakfast, especially muffins. But sometimes, certain recipes might yield muffins that are a bit too sweet for your taste buds.
Muffins are much like cakes when it comes to sugar reduction. Besides sweetness, the texture and volume will also be affected.
If the original amount of sugar is 50% or more than the flour’s weight, you can reduce up to 50% of the sugar and still get delicious muffins.
An example is our Chocolate Chip Muffins. They require 200 grams of sugar for 255 grams of flour. If you find this formula too sweet, try cutting it down to 100 grams.
However, be careful if your recipe’s low in sugar to begin with (50% or less than the flour’s weight). Reducing sugar in such recipes will make the muffins bland, dry, and tough!
Read more: [RECIPE] Our All-Time Favourite Double Chocolate Chip Muffin Recipe [Video Tutorial Included]
When making any kind of frosting, add the sugar gradually and taste as you go.
If you like your frosting less sweet, reduce the amount of liquid or omit it. That way, you can retain the consistency of the frosting without adding too much sugar.
Although it’s fun to experiment with extracts, flavourings, and colourings, adding too much to your frosting will make it runny. Opt for gel food colouring for frostings—a drop or two is enough to produce vibrant colours!
Ways to Reduce Sugar in Baked Goods
Sugar provides more than just sweetness to your baked goods. Without enough sugar, your baked goods might turn out rubbery, pale, or dry.
Whenever you want something to be less sweet, refer to this guide to find out how much sugar to reduce. Remember that baking is a science! Using the right ingredients and techniques, and understanding the theories behind baking will give you the results you’re looking for.
Try making a less sweet version of our recipes using the guidelines above: