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Yesterday, for the first time ever, I tried baking some biscuits. I found a suitable recipe for some malted milk biscuits (I love malt), and followed it almost exactly; I endeavour to make everything sugar-free (and when I say 'sugar', I mean fructose), so I substituted the sugar with Xylitol. This is the recipe and method I followed:

  • 125g butter
  • 2.5 cups self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup xylitol
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3 heaped tbsp malt extract

I mixed the butter (room temp.) & xylitol; then added the egg; then added the flour 1 cup at a time, followed by the salt; then the malt, 1 tbsp at a time. I then chilled it for half an hour, cut into shapes, chilled for another 15 minutes (it was pretty warm), and then put in the oven at 160c (fan) for 15 minutes.

They came out fine, but they had definitely risen (they were rolled out to about 0.5cm and rose in the middle to about 1.5cm) and the texture was more like a stiff cake than a snappy biscuit (they should be more like a stiff, crumbly ginger-snap texture).

I suspected it might have been the self-raising flour, so I did a second batch with plain flour, and although they didn't rise, they still came out just as cake-like.

I've read (at least) three different things that apparently affect the texture of a biscuit:

  1. The temperature is usually hotter and baked faster (180c for 10 minutes, for example);
  2. Adding more sugar (although, since xylitol has a 'cooling' mouthfeel (as well as other effects...) I don't want to simply dump more in);
  3. The creaming method.

I've seen the creaming method mentioned a few times, but never with any specifics or directions, and unfortunately, as a biscuit-baking n00b, I don't know how to fix this issue.

tl;dr my biscuits aren't snappy - how do I fix?

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    Indeed, cookies are incredibly sensitive; if you just replace half the sugar with brown sugar you'll likely get a big difference in texture. Replacing all the sugar with xylitol sounds pretty extreme. Maybe you should try looking for recipes that are already fructose-free, rather than trying to repair this one? – Cascabel Nov 2 '15 at 19:04
  • Also, why are they called "malted milk biscuits" but there is no milk in the recipe? Could it be that this is a recipe for something different than what you wanted, for example Southern biscuits (the word has different meanings in different variations in English!) which some enterprising tried unsuccessfully to change to a different type by leaving out the liquid? – rumtscho Nov 2 '15 at 19:17
  • @rumtscho To quote the original recipe: "crisp, light biscuits with a clear malty flavour" - crisp is pretty indicative. And the original (English) author makes repeated reference to malted milk biscuits available here (there's basically only one type) so it's unlikely they mean something other than actual malted milk biscuits. As for the 'milk' - they have a picture of a cow on them ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ – indextwo Nov 2 '15 at 19:20
  • @Jefromi Point taken. As I mentioned, this is my first time ever trying to bake biscuits. I guess cakes are a lot more forgiving when screwing around with sugar replacement. I figured there was something wrong with my method, rather than inherently wrong with my recipe. – indextwo Nov 2 '15 at 19:22
  • Sugar does a lot more than just sweeten, it also has chemical reactions that produce desired affects when used right. If you are set on xylitol the look for a snap biscuit recipe that uses it. This way you are at least starting with the right chemistry before you experiment. – Escoce Nov 3 '15 at 20:14
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The recipe calls for self-raising flour, which has a raising agent in it which causes the dough to rise in the oven. Risen bakes will be soft, so you'd be better off using plain flour. I'm surprised a recipe for this type of cookie would call for self-raising flour. Most recipes call for the butter and sugar to be creamed, that's simply beating the butter and sugar together until it's light and creamy. I'm not sure if you'd get the same result with xylitol, however you could still cream the butter to get it light and fluffy.

  • Thanks for this. I did try a second batch with plain flour, and they didn't rise and were slightly less fluffy, they still definitely weren't snappy. I've found that xylitol is difficult to blend/dissolve at lower temperatures. I'll try creaming the butter first and see if that helps. – indextwo Nov 3 '15 at 10:15
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    Sugar helps to form a crystalline structure, that's what gives you the snap. xylitol is not going to do that for you. – GdD Nov 3 '15 at 10:39
  • Ah - I hadn't thought about that. Maybe I need to rethink my approach to this. I often use rice malt syrup as an alternative sweetener (which is basically pure glucose) but was wary about doing it here because it's another wet ingredient. Perhaps that would be a better substitute? – indextwo Nov 3 '15 at 10:47
  • Syrups are not the way to go, you use them when you want to make things softer. You could try adding a bit more flour, it's possible that your proportions aren't right and you'd get a soft result with sugar. Or you could be under-baking them. – GdD Nov 3 '15 at 11:36
  • Thanks for all the advice - I'll see what I can figure out! – indextwo Nov 3 '15 at 12:50
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Xylitol is frequently called "sugar substitute", which is terribly misleading.

If you have something in which you use sugar as a sweetener (e.g. a cup of coffee), you can generally use an alternative sweetener instead. In this case, the substitution is adequate.

But in baking, sugar is not a sweetener. It makes the body of the product, and together with the other ingredients, it creates a very specific texture. Making the baked goods sweet is an incidental side effect.

As a result, you cannot just pick some random sweetener and use it in place of sugar in baking. Your texture is always going to be different. With cakes, it can happen that the result is within the range which you consider to be acceptable for cake, and be OK with the (now different) recipe. This is however a matter of chance. For other things, it is unlikely that the result matches your expectations.

You can try finding recipes for biscuits made with xylitol. If you find none, that's a good indication that xylitol isn't suitable for making biscuits, and stop experimenting. You can then try finding recipes which use other sweeteners, but your choice will be very limited, as artificial sweeteners will do you no good, they just can't provide any bulk. Powdered dextrose may be worth a try.

Creaming creates the air bubbles which are "blown up" during the rising of a cake. It isn't a good strategy for dense, snappy biscuits.

Bottom line, find a recipe and follow it without making any changes, especially if you don't have sufficient knowledge to look at it and recognize why it works.

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    I have powdered dextrose, so I may try that. But FYI, I'm never going to stop experimenting. – indextwo Nov 3 '15 at 14:44
  • Well, if you insist on experimenting, I recommend reading some food science theory first. Else you'll waste tons of time and ingredients on experiments which are never going to work. – rumtscho Nov 3 '15 at 14:45
  • Thanks for the advice. I actually do know a fair amount about the pure science of sweeteners, polyols, chiral sugars, etc. and how they work in the body. However, I am brand new to baking: hence the original question. – indextwo Nov 3 '15 at 14:58
  • What you know is called nutrition. Food science or food technology is about the way they behave when cooked, not about the way they behave when ingested. You need completely different literature to learn that. – rumtscho Nov 3 '15 at 15:01
  • We're all here to learn together, right? learns – indextwo Nov 3 '15 at 15:35

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