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Recently I made some cupcakes that turned out mostly great. However, even other people than me – I have an aversion towards overly "sugary" desserts – said they were fairly sweet, and for me it seemed to obscure the other flavors.

(The other flavours being vanilla or rose in the batter. You could certainly smell them so I don't think it was just that they evaporated while baking, and I use a fairly heavy hand with those ingredients for baked goods.)

Is there any rule-of-thumb on what the "correct" ratio of sugar to other ingredients in a cake recipe is so I could tell if the recipe was using too much? (The recipe was: cream butter and sugar, add flour and baking powder, add eggs, add milk, stir until just combined, bake.) Or how far I could reduce sugar from the standard recipe without negatively affecting texture / moisture? And is it necessary to adjust any of the other ingredient amounts along with the sugar?

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I have On Food and Cooking at home, so I'll check when I get back tonight. –  Tatiana Racheva Nov 28 '13 at 0:00

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

According to Shirley Corriher, as reported in Fine Cooking, the sugar should weigh slightly more than the flour:

The sugar should weigh the same as, or slightly more than, the flour. Remember that this is weight, not volume. A cup of sugar weighs about 7 ounces, and a cup of all-purpose flour weighs about 4-1/2 ounces. So, if we're building a recipe with 1 cup sugar, we'll need about 1-1/2 cups flour (about 6-3/4 ounces).

Sugar plays a very important role in creating the structure and bite of cakes, and also helps to retain moisture and inhibit spoiling, so you cannot simply reduce the quantity without limit to control the sweetness.

That being said, most recipes have a certain amount of tolerance. You can probably reduce the sugar by about 20 to 25% without completely altering the nature of the recipe, although the crumb may suffer a little.


Vanilla and rose are delicate flavors. If you are making a yellow cake with butter, and egg yolks, they may be competing and masking the flavor.

Using a white cake base may allow these flavors to show through more clearly.

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Hm, the weight seems to fit, and I did use a cups-to-grams converter and a scale. I suppose I could have stumbled on more people who dislike sugary sweetness. I guess another option could be that the amount of liquid or baking powder was off and the crumb ended up being too dense. –  millimoose Nov 27 '13 at 2:00
    
Right, so if I read the linked article right, the equivalency between "structure" and "tenderness" is the "eggs = butter" relationship. This implies that what you can increase the ratio of butter to sugar, add egg, reduce flour and adjust liquid accordingly, and still have things come out right-ish. (I might be misinterpreting things but it's too late to do the actual maths right now.) Anyway, turns out the whole of the linked article is the approach I was asking for so I'll accept this. –  millimoose Nov 27 '13 at 2:27
    
(Bah: the above is a no-go or at least nontrivial. It would require actually using negative liquid in the recipe. I suppose a plain reduction, while weighing out everything else, is the only simple solution here.) –  millimoose Nov 27 '13 at 2:38

I do not see the general advice about substituting a quarter of the sugar in baking recipes with powdered milk. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup / 200 g of sugar, use ¾ cup / 150 g of sugar and ¼ cup / 50 g powdered milk instead. This reduces the overall amount of sugar (even though milk contains lactose) but should not affect the consistency.

However, I regularly reduce sugar, especially in American recipes which I often find far too sweet for my taste. Without seeing the recipe that was discussed, I regularly reduce 40% to 50% of sugar in recipes without substituting it with anything. I see @SAJ14SAJ says 20-25% which would be the reduction I'd make when baking for the grandchildren.

If consistency becomes a problem, I'd use a tried and tested alternative recipe and adapt that. In this case that would be adding the flavours of vanilla and rose water, which in themselves impart a sweet taste. The older the recipe book, the less sugar and fat in my experience, but generally I am personally happy working with the basic 1 : 1 : 1 : 1 ratio: 1 part sugar to 1 fat, 1 flour and one egg in cakes. The "part" being the weight of the egg. But being European I am working by weight, not volume.

Shirley Corriher, does say, "...for the more popular, sweeter, high-ratio cakes: the sugar should weigh the same as, or slightly more than, the flour". The sweeter the cake, the "more popular" it is, ergo sugar reduction is bucking the trend, although the health concerns are increasing exponentially with sugar consumption.

Finally I always add a pinch of salt per egg in a cake as a flavour enhancer. Salt in a cake batter will trick the taste buds into thinking the cake is sweeter than it really is, as well as enhancing all the other flavours.

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Hello Piglet, I edited a sentence out of your answer which linked to information about the possible health consequences of eating salt. We are a site for cooking experts, not nutrition experts, and we see all nutrition/health information as off topic here, because none of us can judge well what is true and what is the next crackpot theory. Please just leave out information containing medical or nutrition advice. The rest of your answer is well written and welcome here. –  rumtscho Oct 28 at 11:28
    
Fair enough @rumtscho although I will no doubt have to ponder where nutrition stops and food safety starts or vice versa in the future. BTW it was the UK Government's National Health Service website, not "some crackpot theory". The NHS has not been privatised completely yet, so it still promotes sound scientific facts rather than corporate agendas. –  Piglet Oct 28 at 12:01

You can replace sugar completely with fruit puree, syrups (ie: honey, maple, rice) spices, even veggies. If a recipe calls for 1 Cup of sugar, use half a cup. My brother in law can't stand sweets, so I've taken out sugar and replaced it so many differant ways and times... especially since my mom's a diabetic. i hope its helpful.

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This seems unlikely considering the chemical and physical properties of sucrose called for. A less sweet-tasting sugar would be an option, but I'm not sure what that would be. Honey and HFCS are more or less equally sweet, fructose is actually sweeter. Maybe pure sorbitol but that one digests badly. –  millimoose Nov 27 '13 at 13:56
    
This may work in some recipes (I am doubtful that many of those are cakes), but will definitely NOT work in all recipes. A cake that requires a creaming step, for instance, will not work with fruit puree or syrup. Spices and veggies will not replace sugar in a cake either. –  sourd'oh Aug 4 at 14:34
    
@Fenrah Greenleaf I hear what you are saying, but replacing sugar with fructose, lactose, dextrose, glucose and other simple carbohydrates is not going to reduce the sweetness, which is what is required here. The added moisture inherent in your suggested alternatives may also be an issue in a cake batter. Nutrition is off topic, but PLEASE do some serious research before seeing these as feasible sugar alternatives for you Mom and/or others. –  Piglet Oct 28 at 12:11
    
I've had remarkable luck following protocols similar to those described by F Greenleaf. If not making Wedding, Angelfood or the like, the sugar can take a pretty big hit before disaster ensues. –  Wayfaring Stranger Oct 28 at 14:25

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