Baking sweets without sugar

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Sweet potato flour is used in place of sugar in this cake recipe and complements the persimmon flavors. Photo by Kristin Teig.

Sugar is the foundation of baking. It can become a liquid, create texture, and, of course, infuse dishes with sweetness. Over the years, many cooks have tried to create bakes using less sugar or sugar substitutes — some artificial, some natural — but with little success. Brian Levy is a pastry enthusiast who was inspired to forge a different path. His cookbook is “Good & Sweet: A New Way to Bake with Sweet Ingredients.”


Makes one 8½ × 3-inch Bundt cake; serves 10
Active Time: 30 minutes Total Time 2 hours 15 minutes

This cake tastes like early winter and conjures visions of logs glowing in the fireplace while snow wafts beyond the window.

What makes it sweet? Ripe persimmon puree, sweet potato flour, dried apples, dates, and dried Zante currants


  • Butter and all-purpose flour for the pan
  • Butter 9 Tbsp (125 g)
  • Persimmon pulp (see Note) 1¼ cups (316 g), from 2 Hachiya persimmons
  • Sweet potato flour 7 Tbsp (40 g)
  • Dried apple (soft type), chopped scant 2 cups (55 g)
  • Dates, pitted and chopped 1 cup (155 g)
  • Large egg 1
  • Egg yolk (see Note, page 000) 1
  • Vanilla extract 1½ tsp
  • Brandy, whiskey, or Cognac 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp (25 g)
  • All-purpose flour 11/3 cups (187 g)
  • Salt ½ tsp
  • Baking soda 1½ tsp
  • Ground cinnamon 1¼ tsp
  • Ground nutmeg ¼ tsp
  • Dried Zante currants 2/3 cup, lightly packed (100 g)
  • Walnuts or pecans, toasted and finely chopped 1¼ cups (125 g) before chopping
  • Heavy cream ½ cup (135 g)
  • Nonfat dry milk powder 2 Tbsp (15 g)
  • Date sugar ½ tsp
  • Cocoa butter, chopped 3½ Tbsp (35 g)
  • Unsalted butter 2 Tbsp (28 g)
  • Vanilla extract ½ tsp


  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and lightly flour an 8½ × 3-inch Bundt pan.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, whip the 9 tablespoons (125 g) butter for 3 minutes.
  3. In a food processor, combine the persimmon pulp, dates, and apples and puree until smooth. Scrape the puree into the butter and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the whole egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and brandy and beat for 5 minutes. 
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add half of the flour mixture to the wet mixture and beat on medium-low speed until the flour is moistened. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat for 20 seconds, increasing the speed to medium. Add the currants and walnuts and beat the batter swiftly just until it is homogeneous. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top (which will be the bottom of the finished cake).
  5. Bake until a sharp paring knife inserted comes out clean, about 50 minutes. 
  6. If glazing with ganache, let the cake cool to warm. If not glazing, let the cake cool completely. Store, wrapped well, at room temperature for up to 1 day or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  7. If making the white chocolate ganache: In a small saucepan, whisk together the heavy cream, milk powder, and date sugar. Warm the liquid over medium heat until it is steaming. Remove it from the heat and gently whisk in the cocoa butter, dairy butter, and vanilla until the butters have completely melted. Set the ganache aside at room temperature until the cake has cooled to warm. Set the cooling rack with the cake on it over a sheet pan and spoon the ganache onto the crown of the still-warm cake and let it drip down the sides.

*Note: Make sure to use very ripe persimmons. For the taller Hichaya persimmon: halve the fruit longitudinally and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Discard the skin. For the smaller, squatter Fuyu persimmon: use the same method as for the Hichaya, OR remove the green part (called the calyx) and puree the whole thing, skin included, in the food processor. (The main thing is: skin of Fuyu is edible, skin of Hichaya isn’t.)

Excerpted  from Good and Sweet Copyright  ©  2022 by Brian Levy. Published  by Avery,  an imprint  of  Penguin  Random  House  LLC.  Reproduced  by  arrangement  with  the  Publisher.  All rights reserved.

Inspired by a sweet mango, Brian Levy began tinkering with recipes to produce desserts using the natural sweetness of ingredients other than cane sugar, honey, or chemical-enhanced sweeteners. Photo by Kristin Teig.

Brian Levy cracked the code of sugar-free desserts in his cookbook, “Good & Sweet: A New Way to Bake with Sweet Ingredients.” Photo courtesy of Avery.