Spring is knocking at the door and often with the warmer weather we start thinking about our diets. If winter is a time for comfort food then summer has to be the healthy season. Going sugar free is not as painful as it sounds, or really quite as crazy. Four years ago I put myself to the test to see if I could live without added sugar. The truth is when we look at the list of ingredients of nearly everything that is store bought there is some form of sugar included. Our taste buds have become conditioned to need things sweetened and I find it rather scary.
Four and a half years later and I still have not had a grain of added sugar, at least not intentionally, and that includes maple syrup, stevia etc., and all forms of artificial sweeteners which I truly detest. I am sure there have been the occasional sauces in restaurants with sugar added, even the odd meal, but I take after my Father who hated all sauces and I am not a sauce person either, I don’t eat dressings and so the possibilities are very slight. But it is purely a choice and not a medical necessity. I still eat honey, albeit very occasionally, I eat lots of fresh fruit and I drink champagne and red wine, of course!
Our French friends think I am quite mad, they all eat healthily but they don’t do fad diets and they do eat sugar, a little coffee is always taken with sugar, a little dessert after dinner, bien sûr, they don’t do large portions but they do have a little something sweet to finish a meal, but our friends have got used to it and no one even questions my choices anymore. But we really do not need sugar, and I regard it as a poison. I had no reason to do this other than a desire to lead the healthiest lifestyle possible. I also interestingly had no withdrawal symptons!
I cannot deny I still watch the children eat a KitKat, especially when they break it with a satisfying crack right under my nose (yes I used to love the odd KitKat)! or an After Eight mint, or a piece of chocolate or a sweet biscuit and I think I’d quite like a mouthful. But it’s not a huge desire, just a mere passing fantasy, a brief moment when I think that would be nice. Likewise I admire the pastries in the boulangerie, I buy croissants for guests and family breakfasts at the weekend but I don’t eat them and I don’t feel as if I am missing out. At the same time I also don’t feel the need to make anybody else follow my lead, just because it is what I want to do. So I don’t consider myself a sugar free bore!!
I still bake, because I absolutely love baking. I adore making chocolate cakes and classic sponge cakes, meringues and desserts. In fact I am always the dessert chef in the family and someone else taste tests for me. I’m strict I won’t even try a tiny little bit! But making a cake or brownies for the children is a hobby, so I am rather glad they still enjoy them at the weekend!
However every now and then I do like a sweet fix. I’ve learnt to cook all sorts of things without sugar and here are a couple of recipes plus a firm favourite, focaccia, because every time I post a photo of it on Instagram I get several messages asking how to make it.
Now the first is a fairly new idea I’ve come up with. I used to love crumbles. Rhubarb in the spring, blackberry and apple in the autumn and I missed those childhood desserts, just like my granny used to make. So I played around until I found a good crumble topping that worked. We were all guinea pigs with my efforts, some better than others, but this one has become a firm winner, even with all our sugar eating kids!
8 apples peeled and cored and chopped
1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
Place the apples and spices in a saucepan and add enough water just to cover the bottom and gently simmer for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile make the crumble mixture and heat the oven to 180C/350F
100g (3.5 oz) rolled oats
200g (7 oz) Flour
200g (7 oz) salted butter at room temperature
1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
2 large teaspoons honey
Combine the oats and flour and spices in a large bowl and gently crumble in the butter with your fingers so that it resembles a coarse mixture. Then add the honey and mix well with a wooden spoon.
Place the prepared apples in a heat proof dish and spoon over the crumble mixture.
Place in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes.
Delicious served with cream whilst still warm from the oven.
Another simple go to recipe when I want something a little sweet to go with a cup of tea in the afternoon has to be Banana Bread. It’s easy and delicious.
125g (4.5 oz) wholemeal spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon allspice
50g (2 oz) butter, softened (I use salted butter)
100g (3.5 oz) raisins
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
3 large bananas mashed
1 tablespoon milk
4 dates (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line a loaf tin with baking paper. Put all the dry ingredients into the mixer and turn on to low.
Add all the remaining ingredients excluding the dates and mix further.
Place the mixture in the prepared cake tin, pressing four dates along the top (optional) and bake for about 40 minutes. Test with a sharp knife; if it doesn’t come out clean, cover with some tin foil to stop the top burning and bake for a further 10 minutes.
Turn out onto a cooling rack and try not to eat it all at once!
Finally, my go to favourite bread recipe, fantastic with soups in the winter, with salads in the summer and whenever you have friends over and want something just a little more than a baguette.
SEA SALT AND ROSEMARY FOCACCIA
500g (1lb 2oz) strong white bread flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp herbes de Provence
2 sachets dried easy blend yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
400ml (14fl oz) cold water
olive oil for drizzling
Sea salt and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary for cooking