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It’s one thing to cut refined sugar from drinks. But how about when you’re baking a cake?

Twelve banana cupcakes sat sadly in the bin. Our first low sugar baking test hadn’t gone to plan. A mushy stodge was a good description of our first bake. Mary Berry would be ever so disappointed. Starting a business teaches you many things including perseverance, and we needed plenty as we cracked on with our next recipe.

There’s a lot in the press about the scourges of refined sugar – particularly in the drinks industry – but baking seems to have escaped. When was the last time you saw Paul or Mary condemn sugar as they sample the Bake Off’s finest? 

For good reason. Sugar is the baker’s friend. When sugar gets wet it locks in moisture and keeps baking moist. Sugar helps cakes rise. Sugar deepens the colour of baking and adds crunch when needed.

So is it possible to bake without refined sugar without compromising on taste? We invited a few Elderbrook drinkers to find out.

Maxime, Sarah and Emma (along with the Elderbrook team) tried three bakes; Peanut Butter Granola Bites, a Carrot Cake and Super Seed Chocolate Chip Cookies. We served our bakes at the end of our low alcohol wine tasting so there’s a low chance our results were ever so slightly influenced by four bottles of wine.

 The Winner: Peanut Butter Granola Bites

They disappeared first and had a wonderfully indulgent and sticky texture with the occasional bite of peanut and rice crispy. Because they were not cooked (simply mixed and chilled), we didn’t miss refined sugar’s ability to help bakes rise in the oven. The mix and chill approach also kept them super moist. Top notch.

Close second: Carrot cake

We thought it was going to be tricky to create a nice light cake without refined sugar and to our slight surprise, we got a great result. It didn’t have the crumb typical of a refined sugar cake but it was springy, had bags of flavour and still sweet enough to feel like a delicious treat. The recipe we used suggested adding a frosting (icing for us Brits) but we felt it wasn’t needed.

In third place: Super Seed Chocolate Chip Cookies

The only thing that was missing compared to typical sugar-sweetened brownies was more of a crunch. They were a bit too soft when we’re used to more of a Kit Kat biscuit snap. They were sweet, chunks of chocolate felt indulgent and being packed full of nuts made them feel a tad healthier.

At the end of the night, our low sugar baking got the thumbs up. Our drinkers left without missing refined sugar and we were left with nothing but crumbs. If you’d like to give our recipes a go, here are the details and how we adapted them from the original recipes.

The recipes

Carrot cake

We used a recipe from Purely Elizabeth. The original also suggests adding a cashew cream frosting but we found that was a little over the top because the cake was sweet enough without it.


  • 90g brown rice flour
  • 80g almond flour
  • 30g chickpea flour
  • 30g tapioca
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 3 eggs
  • 100ml coconut nectar
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 60ml maple syrup
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 300g cups carrots, grated
  • 80g raisins
  • 60g walnuts 

In a large bowl, combine the flours, tapioca, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and coconut nectar. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, maple syrup and oil. Combine and then add the carrots, raisins and walnuts. Stir until you have a cake batter. Pour into medium sized cake tin (roughly 6 inches square). Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Super Seed Chocolate Chip Cookies

We found a great recipe by Brittany Mullins and simplified it slightly by taking out a first step of involving flax seeds. They didn’t add anything to the cookies so it was an easy call to drop.

Ingredients to make roughly 20 biscuits

  • 110ml tahini
  • 60g peanut butter
  • 100ml maple syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. chia seeds
  • ½ tsp. poppy seeds
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 50g unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 60g dark chocolate chips
  • flaked sea salt and sesame seeds, for topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a tray with baking paper. Heat a small frying pan and add the coconut flakes stirring constantly until they turn a golden colour (about 1-3 minutes). Remove the flakes and allow to cool.

In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the tahini, maple syrup, flax seed mixture, chia seeds, poppy seeds, cinnamon, sea salt, baking soda and vanilla. Stir together and add the toasted coconut flakes and dark chocolate. Using a tablespoon, scoop out the batter and place on making roughly 20 cookies, each about 1 ½ inches wide. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.

Remove and sprinkle a few sea salt flakes and sesame seeds on top of each cookie. Cool for about 15 minutes and enjoy. 

Peanut Butter Granola Bites

From Minimalist Baker

We used a 7 x 11 inch dish. Try to use something close, they will be thinner bars in a 9 x 13 or super thick in an 8 x 8.


  • 100g oats
  • 200g crisp rice cereal e.g. Rice Crispies
  • 50g almonds
  • 2 tbsp. chia, buckwheat, flax seed or a mix of these (we used a blend)
  • 250g pitted dates (about 14 large Medjool dates)
  • 110ml maple syrup or brown rice syrup (we used maple)
  • 120g natural peanut butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 120g dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 180°C. Toast the oats on a baking sheet for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the crisp rice, almonds, seeds, cooled oats and stir to mix. Chop up the dates well to make a chunky paste. Think toothpaste sort of texture. Mix the maple, peanut butter, and cinnamon, salt together. Add in all remaining ingredients including the toasted oaks, and mix everything together, breaking up the date clumps with your hands.

Line a 7 x 11 inch tin with baking paper. Press the mixture down in an even and flat layer. Chill for at least an hour and then slice into 1 inch squares. You can freeze and keep for up to one month.