Bread is almost impossible to mess up. Everyone, including myself, enjoys it, and most people keep a steady supply in their homes. Our favorite sandwiches, burger buns, cinnamon rolls, and pizzas begin with bread. Some of our favorite foods would not even exist without bread dough!
I’ve been making bread for some time, but I’ve recently taken it upon myself to get to know bread better by making an absurd amount of bread and examining each ingredient added to the dough and why it is added. I never thought much about the sugar I was incorporating into my dough. Every bread recipe I’ve ever attempted required the addition of sugar. I used anywhere from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of sugar, depending on the size of the loaf I was preparing.
However, I never questioned why I added sugar. I followed the recipe because I had faith in it. Do you add sugar to your dough without asking yourself why? Have you ever wondered why most bread recipes have sugar in the dough? And is bread possible without sugar? When I began researching it, I realized that sugar plays a significant role in bread. Let’s examine why sugar is added to bread, the benefits of adding it, and whether bread can be made without sugar.
Why Does Bread Dough Need Sugar?
Sugar is a vital ingredient in baking. Whether baking a cake, muffins, or brownies, sugar is crucial to achieving moist and tender baked goods. It also contributes to our desserts’ texture and flavor, making them sweeter. Why would we add sugar to something so savory as bread if we use it to make desserts sweeter?
Four essential ingredients are required to make bread: flour, water, salt, and yeast. Flour and water are crucial ingredients, as you won’t have bread without them! Yeast is the leavening agent that causes bread to rise, while salt imparts flavor and controls the dough’s structure. Remember that you can also make bread without salt!
Sugar is an optional ingredient, but most bread recipes include it for a good reason. Sugar can perform a variety of functions when added to the dough.
Food for Yeast
Adding sugar to your dough can accelerate yeast activation, and the dough rises in time. The yeast will naturally break down the sugars in the flour, allowing the bread to rise even without sugar.
But if you add sugar, the yeast will feed on it, giving the dough an extra boost and accelerating its rise. This is wonderful because it can reduce the time required for the dough to rise. You must be careful not to add too much sugar, as this can “overdose” the yeast, causing the dough to rise very slowly.
One of the primary reasons I like to add sugar to my bread is because it gives it a beautiful golden hue and crisp texture. As the bread bakes, the sugar crystallizes, imparting a distinctive golden-brown hue to the crust. Don’t believe me? Look at the photograph below! The loaf on the left contains no added sugar, while the loaf on the right contains sugar.
Additionally, sugar is excellent for adding moisture to your loaf. It draws in and retains moisture while baking in the oven. In the absence of sugar, moisture will evaporate in the oven, resulting in a denser, drier loaf.
The loaf will retain moisture with sugar, resulting in a soft and airy texture. Additionally, added moisture will prolong the bread’s softness and freshness.
Sugar is not as essential to the flavor of bread as salt, but it can help improve the flavor without making it too sweet. Sugar does not add significant flavor to your loaf, and it is up to you to include it, except when making an enriched dough.
The amount of sugar added to dough is so negligible that there will be no discernible difference. As sugar adds moisture, you may notice a slight dryness in bread without sugar, but it’s not enough to see any significant differences. If you do not wish to include refined sugars in your bread recipe, honey can be used as a substitute.
A dough enriched with sugar, fat, and dairy contains more significant quantities of these ingredients than a standard dough. Brioche, panettone, cinnamon rolls, and donuts are examples of enriched dough.
They all contain milk, butter or oil, eggs, and an abundance of sugar. Numerous recipes call for at least a half cup of sugar, if not more, in enriched doughs, so their sweetness is unmistakable. That’s an excessive amount of sugar for dough!
Sugar, or any other sweetener, is an indispensable component of enriched dough. It adds excellent moisture to the dough, making it exceptionally moist.
Panettone and brioche bread has a soft, pillow-like texture due to the addition of eggs and butter. Without sugar, you cannot obtain enriched dough because the dough will not be sweet.
6 Sweet Sugar Alternatives for Baking
Sugar-free baking can be tricky. Therefore, we have gathered six convenient sugar substitutes and calculated their equivalents. With these sweet baking hacks, everyone can enjoy a sweet and delicious dessert!
How to Replace Sugar in Baked Goods Recipes
If you want to replace the sugar in a recipe with something more flavorful or just plain fun, it can be challenging to get the measurements right. This is because the substitute ingredient may have a different texture or moisture level than cane sugar, altering the composition of your batter or dough. But fear not — we’ve solved the problem for you!
Here are our six favorite sugar substitutes for baking:
1. Coconut sugar
Coconut sugar is derived from the coconut plant, specifically the sap of the coconut palm. Because it is crystalline, it can be substituted 1:1 for white and brown sugar in recipes calling for both. And it is equally flavorful!
This sugar substitute’s flavor profile varies depending on the flowers from which the honeybees gather nectar. Therefore, locally sourced honey imparts a robust sweetness to any dish. For each cup of white sugar in a recipe, substitute 3/4 cup of honey.
3. Agave nectar or agave syrup
Substitute 2/3 cup of agave for every cup of sugar in a recipe. You will also need to reduce the liquids by four tablespoons and the oven temperature by 25 percent. Because agave nectar is sticky, it may also be helpful to use parchment paper, and you should combine your liquid ingredients before incorporating the dry ones.
4. Fruit concentrates
Unlike fruit juice, which contains added sugar, fruit concentrate is a fruit with water extracted. And it can be used to incorporate the natural sweetness of fruit (any fruit!) into your desserts. Reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons and replace each cup of sugar with 3/4 cup of concentrate. This replacement is ideal for recipes that require a fruity flavor.
5. Maple syrup
The sugar substitute maple syrup is derived from tree sap that has been boiled. Due to its liquid state, you must reduce the liquid in your recipe by 3 tablespoons. Try 3/4 cup of syrup for every cup of sugar. However, be sure to read the label: Authentic maple syrup is distinct from pancake syrup, which contains added sugar.
Molasses is a byproduct of the production of refined sugar and is renowned for its delicious, complex flavor. Due to its sticky consistency, you should use 1-1/3 cups molasses for each sugar cup. In addition, you will need to reduce the liquids in the recipe by 5 tablespoons.
If you or a member of your household is sugar-free, it can be challenging to follow dessert recipes. You can bake cakes, cupcakes, and more with these sugar substitutes. Utilize any of these helpful tips in your next baking endeavor.
Can You Make Bread Without Using Sugar?
So, the answer to the question, “Can you make bread without sugar?” is yes! It is not the end of the world if your bread dough does not contain sugar unless you intend to make cinnamon rolls.
As previously stated, the amount of sugar added to bread is so negligible that it will not make a significant difference if you include it in your bread dough or not. Remember that your dough will take longer to rise without sugar, and the crust will be lighter.
Without sugar, moisture evaporates from bread during baking, creating a drier loaf. The more sugar you cut from a sweet yeast bread recipe, the more you’ll notice this effect. But omit the 2 tablespoons of sugar in your sandwich bread recipe, and the change in moisture level is subtle at most.
Bread can still be made without adding sugar. However, removing sugar from the recipe will alter its texture, taste, freshness, and speed of the rise. Without sugar, yeast can still multiply by feeding on the naturally occurring sugar and starches in flour.
You do not need sugar to activate the yeast. This is a half-true old wives tale leftover from when yeast wasn’t preserved as well as it is now. A pinch of sugar will make yeast bubble up, thus proving that the yeast is still active and hasn’t expired.
Sugar (glucose) provides “food” for yeast, which converts it to carbon dioxide and alcohol; sugar enhances bread flavor; gives the crust a golden color; improves the crumb texture; and helps retain moisture in bread.
Sugar added to the dough acts as food for yeast. Yeast will consume sugar and produce CO2 through anaerobic respiration process. This CO2 will help in rising the dough.
The sugar content in the average slice of processed bread varies but can be as high 3g.
White or brown sugar can be used in bread making and will not affect the liquid ratio of your recipe. If added in moderation (1-2 Tablespoons) to your 1-2 lb. loaf will feed the yeast but will not make your loaf sweet. So if your watching your sugar intake this is a good ratio if you just want to feed the yeast.
Dates and date molasses would be other alternatives. Then there’s maple syrup, and tree tapping generally (Palmyra palms are supposed to be excellent for that, too). Also, sorghum syrup. I’m not sure if anyone made cakes with any of these things, before refined sugar existed, but they certainly could have.
Baking with less sugar. Cakes are meant to be sweet and the only way to make a cake without any type of sugar is to use artificial sweeteners, which many people feel uncomfortable with. You can make lots of cakes without table sugar if you are happy to add other ingredients that contribute sweetness.
While sugar and other sweeteners provide “food” for yeast, too much sugar can damage yeast, drawing liquid from the yeast and hampering its growth. Too much sugar also slows down gluten development. Add extra yeast to the recipe or find a similar recipe with less sugar.
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