Allen’s favorite summertime dessert was Strawberry Shortcake. I learned early on in our marriage that he loved the biscuit type of shortcake much more than the yellow sponge cake version. Since I agreed wholeheartedly, I decided to develop a not too sweet shortcake that would soak up some strawberry juices without dissolving into a mushy sugar pile.
Lately, I have been trying to replace the small amount of sugar with other sweeteners. I have been researching “best sugar substitutes”, and there are many. Simply put, sugar alternatives change the flavor, texture and appearance of baked goods. Honey, agave nectar, maple syrup and brown rice syrup add moisture, so sometimes dry ingredients have to be adjusted. No- calorie and artificial sweeteners taste sweeter, affect texture, and sometimes have an aftertaste. Stevia, a natural plant-based substitute, (was thought to cause cancer, but now has been declared safe by the USDA) has an aftertaste and can cause intestinal problems. Erythritol (occurs naturally in some fruits and mushrooms) is not as sweet tasting as sugar, so amounts need adjusting and that can affect texture and interaction with other ingredients.
I won’t bore you with any more of the details I discovered. But, it is clear that the best substitute depends on the type of food being baked, and substituting sweeteners is much more complex than I originally thought.
Generally I still use cane sugar for some baking and various other sweeteners (coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup or erythritol) for other baked goods, depending on the structure and moistness of the baked goods. Coconut sugar is not at fine as granulated sugar, so it should be ground before using. Measure the amount called for of coconut sugar, then grind it in a food processor or coffee mill to make it finer. You can see below right how much finer it is when ground.
When I made shortcake for Father’s Day, I decided to use coconut sugar, and son Karl loved it. Unfortunately, so did his dog. While the family slept, the dog sniffed out the leftover shortcake on the counter and ate it—foil and all!
Since Karl’s birthday was 3 days later, I made another shortcake for his birthday cake and used honey instead of coconut sugar. Although the coconut sugar version was good and still moist, it was denser. I actually prefer the honey version and think it is not much different than the original. The recipe only needs 1/4 cup sugar anyway, so I don’t think it is too sweet no matter what you use: sugar, honey, or coconut sugar.
When I added coconut sugar to the strawberries, I didn’t notice much difference in taste, flavor, or texture, but like erythritol, you might need a bit more than regular cane sugar.
The Shortcake itself is quick and easy to make. You don’t need a mixer, just a fork and a bowl. Put the dry ingredients in the bowl and stir to blend. Then mix the wet ingredients in a large measuring cup, pour over top the dry stuff, and stir until combined. When using sugar or coconut sugar, I add those to the dry ingredients. When I substitute honey, I add it to the wet ingredients before combining it all.
Because the male-type people in my family always wanted lots of strawberry juice with the mashed berries, but I liked the nice chunkiness and texture of fresh berries, I started separating the berries as I cleaned them. I use two bowls and as I de-stem the berries, I slice the best looking, reddest berries into one bowl. The berries that are slightly over- or under-ripe are sliced into the second ball. Then I sprinkle a little sweetener over top and “mash the bejesus” out of the berries in the second bowl. After sitting for about 15 minutes (the berries, not me), I mash them again to extract lots of juice. Then I stir my perfect berries into the sloppy mess and have a topping that pleases everyone.
Allen’s father, Grandpa Ray, always loved strawberry shortcake, too. But he thought it was best to split the shortcake piece, slather it with butter and microwave it to warm it up. Then he would pile on the berries and whipped cream!
- 2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
- 1/4 Cup Sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 2/3 Cup Skim Milk
- 1/3 Cup Oil
- 1 Large Egg
- 2 pints fresh strawberries
- Additional sugar or sweetener as needed
- Whipped cream, optional
Stir dry ingredients together in large bowl. Combine milk, oil and egg; stir with fork until blended. Pour into dry mixture and mix just until thoroughly combined. Spread dough into greased 8- or 9- inch cake pan. Bake in preheated 425-degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Meanwhile, wash and de-stem the strawberries, and sprinkle sweetener over top. Stir the berries and let them macerate while the shortcake bakes. Mash the berries as much as desired.
Cut the shortcake into 8 pieces, split each piece. Dollop berries and whipping cream over top of each piece.