Once a year, the world comes full circle in its orbit. That is probably not what our forefathers were thinking when they designated the circle as a symbol of the New Year, but I'm sure they were quite pleased when they found out about this cosmic coincidence.
So to continue celebrating the New Year, I baked a delicious chocolate Bundt cake - without a grain of sugar. Impossible, you might be thinking, or perhaps, you're lying about the delicious part. No, really. No sugar. No honey, no maple syrup. No artificial anything. And Stephen loved it.
I got the recipe from Stevia Sweet, a whole foods cookbook centered around the little-known, seldom understood title ingredient. Stevia is a sweet herb that's been used for thousands of years in South America and has been gaining popularity around the world as a sugar substitute for the last three or four decades.
Cooking with stevia is a tricky business. It isn't as boldly sweet as table sugar, and if used in excess, has a bitter metallic aftertaste. It is only used in tiny amounts (a teaspoon of stevia has about the sweetening power of a cup of sugar), and lacks the structural, textural and preservative qualities of sugar. On top of that, some brands of stevia are sweeter than others, some contain fillers, some are liquid, others powder. In Stevia Sweet, Jeffrey Goettemoeller has gone ahead of all of us, navigated these pitfalls, and developed many reliable recipes like this one:
Chocolate Date Cake
6 oz water
8 oz dried pitted dates, chopped
4 oz buttermilk
10 oz freshly milled soft white wheat flour, sprouted if possible (or 5 oz each whole wheat and white flour)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup carob powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp stevia powder (I used Sweetleaf brand)
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, separated
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a Bundt pan or two 9-inch cake pans.
Boil the water, remove from heat, add dates and cover. Let the date mixture cool to room temperature, then add buttermilk and puree in a food processor. In a small bowl, sift together the flour with the other dry ingredients except the coconut - cocoa, carob powder, baking powder, baking soda, and stevia powder. Add the coconut flakes and pecans.
In a medium bowl, beat butter and egg yolks until fluffy. One at a time, add vanilla, applesauce and date puree, beating well after each addition. Add the buttermilk-flour mixture and stir gently. Add half of the dry ingredients, stirring gently until incorporated, followed by the other half.
In a large, scrupulously clean bowl, beat egg whites to stiff (but not styrofoam) peaks. Fold into rest of batter, which is quite thick.
Pour batter into prepared pan(s). For Bundt pan, bake 60-70 minutes; for 9-inch cake pans, 25-30 minutes.
Enjoy! We had ours with yogurt, but it would be delicious with ice cream, whipped cream or any kind of frosting, ganache, syrup or glaze, especially of the chocolate persuasion. It would also be fantastic with dark chocolate chips mixed into the batter.
There is a magically satisfying texture that comes from the combination of carob powder and whole grain flour. I find this cake tastes sweeter cold, but shouldn't be refrigerated because it is a butter cake. Refrigerated butter cakes turn dry and tough.
From all of my experience with stevia, I think it performs best when combined with one or more sweeteners that actually taste good on their own, like dates, honey, maple syrup, applesauce, and unrefined cane sugar. One gets into trouble when approaching stevia from an all-or-nothing stance. Its slight bitterness seems well-suited to lemon and other tart fruits, but clashes with cinnamon. I would like to play with some regular cookie and cake recipes, substituting stevia for up to half of the sugar, based on the 1 teaspoon per cup substitution. I will let you know how that goes!