The Best Sweeteners for Baking

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The Best Sweeteners for Baking
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The Best Sweeteners for Baking

Find out which natural sweetener you should choose for baking the best chocolate chip cookies.

The Classic Recipe: “Old Faithful”

The Control: Most chocolate chip cookie recipes call for a 50-50 combo of granulated white sugar and light brown sugar: 3/4 cup of each. We felt it was only fair to test the classic recipe before we started trying different sweeteners in place of the sugar. The classic recipe makes a satisfyingly sweet cookie—crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle.

1. Brown Sugar: “Best in Show”
The Sub: Used brown sugar cup for cup in place of granulated white sugar in the classic recipe.

The Verdict: #1. A staff favorite, these cookies flew off the tasting plate. They were chewier, softer and came out of the oven an all-over beautiful golden brown color. Using 100% brown sugar isn’t the best choice if you are looking for a crispy cookie, but if it’s chewiness you’re after this should be your go-to.

2. Turbinado or Raw Sugar: “Most Interesting Chew”
The Sub: Used cup for cup in place of both sugars in the classic recipe.

The Verdict: #2. The coarse crystals in the sugar held their shape, even after a trip to the oven. Some tasters loved the grittier texture of the cookies, but not everyone did. As far as flavor goes, these cookies were most similar to the white-sugar cookies but did have a faint hint of caramel. While not quite as soft and chewy as the original, you could easily make cookies using 100% turbinado sugar—just be prepared for the extra-grainy mouthfeel.

3. Honey: “Happiest Surprise!”
The Sub: Used 3/4 cup in place of each cup of sugar in the classic recipe (see Note about using liquid sweeteners below).

The Verdict: #3. We were in awe of how this cookie turned out. Even though the honey and butter did not get creamy in the mixer like a classic cookie dough, the end result came out of the oven retaining their shape, daintily speckled with golden dots. The cookies were soft in the middle and not quite as spongy as other cookies made with liquid sweeteners. Tasters loved the honey flavor.

*Note: When using a liquid sweetener, in place of granulated white and/or brown sugar, reduce liquids in the recipe by 2 tablespoons for each cup of sugar swapped. (In our testing, we eliminated 1 of the 2 eggs called for in the classic chocolate chip recipe.) And reduce oven temperature by 25°F.

4. Cane Syrup (also called golden, refinery or refiner’s syrup): “Most Unique”
The Sub: Used 3/4 cup in place of each cup of sugar in the classic recipe (see Note about using liquid sweeteners below).

The Verdict: #4. This syrup on its own has a delightfully bright, almost caramel-like flavor. When used in the cookies, it gave them a flavor reminiscent of butterscotch. The cookie was beautiful but a bit spongier than the original. If you use this syrup in your cookies, you can be sure people will ask for your secret ingredient.

*Note: When using a liquid sweetener, in place of granulated white and/or brown sugar, reduce liquids in the recipe by 2 tablespoons for each cup of sugar swapped. (In our testing, we eliminated 1 of the 2 eggs called for in the classic chocolate chip recipe.) And reduce oven temperature by 25°F.

5. Date Sugar: “Best Personality”
The Sub: Used 2/3 cup in place of each cup of sugar in the classic recipe.

The Verdict: #5. The ugly runt of our litter, these cookies retained their prebaking shape completely and came out of the oven looking like little blobs. While they “looked healthy,” they tasted delicious. A bit more doughlike than a traditional cookie, these did not have a strong date flavor but some tasters noticed a figgy sweetness. If you want to try date sugar in place of regular sugar in a batch of cookies, you’ll have to shape the cookie by hand if you want them to look more like a cookie than a blob of dough. This natural sweetener made it to our top 5 list because we loved the flavor, but don’t expect to get a classic-looking result if you try using it in cookies at home.

6. Granulated Sugar: “Dough Best Suited for Another Cookie”
The Sub: Used white granulated sugar cup for cup in place of brown sugar in the classic recipe.

The Verdict: The dough was significantly lighter in color than the original. The cookies turned out crispier, and had almost no chewiness by Day 2. Their color paled in comparison to other batches and tasters noted a more pronounced buttery feel. The cookies were lacking in caramel flavor. If white sugar is all you have on hand and you want to bake up some cookies, we’d recommend sticking with a sugar cookie or shortbread style rather than a chocolate chip.

7. Coconut Sugar (sometimes called coconut palm sugar): “New Kid on the Block”
The Sub: Used cup for cup in place of both sugars in the classic recipe.

The Verdict: This sweetener touts its ability to replace sugar in any recipe. However, the cookies were noticeably different when made with coconut sugar: darker, cakier, drier—to name a few. Some tasters appreciated the more mellow sweetness the coconut sugar provided. Don’t expect your cookies to taste like coconut, though: just a hint of toasty, molasses flavor came through. These weren’t the prettiest cookies in the batch, but if you don’t like overly sweet cookies this sweetener may work for you.

8. Agave: “Most Surprising Result”
The Sub: Used 3/4 cup in place of each cup of sugar in the classic recipe (see Note about using liquid sweeteners below).

The Verdict: Even though we like using agave to sweeten other things like granola bars and iced tea, cookies made with it were not a crowd-pleaser. Many tasters noticed a bitter taste and the elastic texture was off-putting. On the plus side, the cookies turned a deep golden hue and held their shape well. Bottom line: Save your agave for a different recipe.

*Note: When using a liquid sweetener, in place of granulated white and/or brown sugar, reduce liquids in the recipe by 2 tablespoons for each cup of sugar swapped. (In our testing, we eliminated 1 of the 2 eggs called for in the classic chocolate chip recipe.) And reduce oven temperature by 25°F.

9. Maple Syrup: “Most Hidden Flavor”
The Sub: Used 3/4 cup in place of each cup of sugar in the classic recipe (see Note about using liquid sweeteners below).

The Verdict: We thought these cookies would bake up best at a reduced oven temperature, like the other cookies we made with liquid sweeteners, but they were just too soft baked at a cooler temp. When we returned the oven to the standard 375°F, we got a great result. The cookies developed a beautiful deep golden color on the edges and a cakelike texture with a bit of crumbliness. The maple flavor, though, was very subtle.

*Note: When using a liquid sweetener, in place of granulated white and/or brown sugar, reduce liquids in the recipe by 2 tablespoons for each cup of sugar swapped. (In our testing, we eliminated 1 of the 2 eggs called for in the classic chocolate chip recipe.) Although it’s generally better to reduce the oven temperature when using liquid sweeteners, we found that leaving the temperature as called for in the recipe worked best when using maple syrup.

10. Corn Syrup: “Most Likely Not to Repeat”
The Sub: Used 3/4 cup in place of each cup of sugar in the classic recipe (see Note about using liquid sweeteners below).

The Verdict: Corn syrup gave us a beautiful cookie—darker at the edges and a lighter golden in the middle. But while they looked good, these cookies were lacking in sweetness and overall flavor. Tasters picked up salty undertones (possibly due to the lack of sweetness) and some noticed a sour aftertaste. We don’t recommend using 100% corn syrup in place of granulated sugar and/or brown sugar in cookies.

*Note: When using a liquid sweetener, in place of granulated white and/or brown sugar, reduce liquids in the recipe by 2 tablespoons for each cup of sugar swapped. (In our testing, we eliminated 1 of the 2 eggs called for in the classic chocolate chip recipe.) And reduce oven temperature by 25°F.

11. Brown Rice Syrup: “Most Likely to Have a Meltdown!”
The Sub: Used 1 1/4 cups in place of each cup of sugar in the classic recipe (see Note about using liquid sweeteners below).

The Verdict: Because brown rice syrup is less sweet than sugar, the total volume needed overwhelmed the cookies and caused them to spread out into thin, lacy treats. Some tasters loved the candylike texture of the cookie; others hated the “rice-y” flavor. It wouldn’t be our first choice (or second or third), but if you want to bake with brown rice syrup, we highly recommend a nonstick baking mat to prevent your cookies from sticking to the baking sheet.

*Note: When using a liquid sweetener, in place of granulated white and/or brown sugar, reduce liquids in the recipe by 2 tablespoons for each cup of sugar swapped. (In our testing, we eliminated 1 of the 2 eggs called for in the classic chocolate chip recipe.) And reduce oven temperature by 25°F.

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When you bake more than a dozen batches of chocolate chip cookies in 48 hours, chances are you'll eat, sleep and dream cookies. At least, that's what happened when our test kitchen cranked out upwards of 400 cookies in a quest to find out what would happen when we replaced sugar in the recipe with other natural sweeteners. The results surprised even our most expert bakers.

Check out the slideshow above to find out how the cookies panned out (no pun intended)...

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