I don't really subscribe to the school of thought that refers to baked goods made without cane or beet sugar as 'sugar-free'. To me there are usually just as many calories in what are sometimes referred to as 'natural' sweeteners - honey, maple syrup, fruit molasses etc - and they are really just other forms of sugar. There are too many chemicals in the old fashioned sugar substitutes to want to use them to replace sugar(sucrose) regularly. Newer sugar substitutes such as agave and stevia may be lower in calories, but they are expensive to use. In addition to all this, the health benefits of changing to sucrose substitutes aren't really proven!
Dried fruit, however, does reduce calories, increase fibre content and go a long way towards sweetening things such as bread, cakes and baked desserts if used to replace some of the sugar. It was with this in mind that I decided to combine two of this month's challenges. The We Should Cocoa challenge is to bake something free of beet or cane sugar, and the AlphaBakes challenge is to bake something either containing a main ingredient beginning with the letter D, or with a name containing a word beginning with the same letter. In this instance, D is for Dates, of course. I'll suspend my scepticism about sugar-free baking for the duration!
I looked at many recipes for brownies containing dates before deciding on this recipe from Australian chef Bill Granger. It had lots of good reviews and didn't contain a huge amount of sugar, so I didn't expect substituting what sugar was there to have a huge effect on the recipe. It also used cocoa, so I didn't have to adjust the sweetness of a recipe using chocolate containing sugar, to allow for using 100% cocoa solids chocolate instead.
These were light, cakey brownies, rather than the dense fudgy sort made with a high sugar content, but they were still quite moist and very tasty. The flavour of the maple syrup wasn't strong, but that might have just been a characteristic of my maple syrup; having tasted them now, I think it would be worth trying pomegranate molasses another time, for a stronger flavour. I deliberately chopped the dates very finely in a food processor, as I didn't want to see too many lumps of fruit in the brownie. Dates have quite a neutral flavour when used in baked goods this way - even people who don't like eating the fruit on it's own usually like things such as sticky toffee pudding made with dates. I think they'd like these brownies too!
The We Should Cocoa challenge (rules here) is hosted this month by Choclette, of Chocolate Log Blog, who shares her hosting duties with Chele from Chocolate Teapot, and various guest hosts. The AlphaBakes challenge is hosted alternately by Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline from Caroline Makes..., and the rules can be found here.