Look what I’ve got for you today? Don’t these dairy and gluten-free Cherry Almond Muffins look amazing? Scroll down to the bottom if you want the recipe straight away.
Sugar is getting a lot of bad press at the moment, isn’t it? A few weeks ago, a collaboration with Splenda took me to ‘Sweet School’ (Isn’t that the best kind of schools?) to learn more about about sugar, ‘free sugars’ and sweeteners. Before I delve into the content of the session I took part in, let me me 100% honest: it never ever crossed my mind to swap sugar for ‘fake’ sugar. Instead of using artificial sweeteners, my philosophy has always been: if you don’t want to use sugar, just don’t. If you don’t want sugar but want to sweeten your tea or natural yoghurt, why not just use honey?
I personally just stick to sugar in moderation. I can always tell if I’m drinking a ‘diet’ soft drink or having coffee in which someone dropped some sweetener instead of a sprinkle of sugar. I have my own views and misconceptions about sweeteners, and I definitely would never have anything that contains aspartame. Why did I accept to go to an event with Splenda, then? Well, I am curious by nature, and I always try things before I judge. Since the event was focused on bakes rather than drinks, I decided to go in with an open mind and see what the fuss was all about.
Expert nutritionist Helen Bond gave us a really thorough and fascinating introduction to sugar. I learnt so much on the day! It was all about ‘free sugars’ and busting some myths. Helen also focused on common confusions portrayed in the media around ‘healthy’ sugar swaps like honey or agave nectar.
Basically, ‘free sugar’ is another phrase for added sugar, and it is is hidden in a lot of processed food. ‘Free’ sugar affects your body in exactly the same way as refined sugar does. It’s important to try and cut down ‘free’ sugars in our diet. Good old plain refined sugar is a ‘free’ sugar, and so are ‘natural’ sweeteners like honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup and agave. I was actually surprised about unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies being classed as ‘free’ sugars as well. Lactose, the sugar that naturally occurs in milk, does not count as a ‘free’ sugar.
Are you ready for 10 facts about sugar?
1- We are all born with a sweet tooth.
2- ‘Free’ sugar can damage teeth and boost calorie intake. It could even lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
3- A teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories.
4- Low calorie sweeteners were discovered in1879!
5- The government has set 7 teaspoons of sugar (including ‘free sugars’) as the acceptable amount for people over 11 to have per day. That’s 30g.
6- The average British person currently eats and drinks an average of 60g of ‘free sugar’ per day. That’s double the acceptable amount!
7- Most of the ‘free’ sugar in our diet comes from table sugar, sugary drinks, sweets, chocolate and alcohol.
8- ‘Free’ sugar is not always that easy to spot on labels. Look out for words ending in -ose as well as agave, molasses…
9- Here is how to recognise food and drinks that are high in sugar: anything over 22% per 100g (food) or 11% per 100ml (drinks).
10- As long as you avoid xylitol and aspartame, low calorie sweeteners are a safe substitute for sugar. They help cut down on ‘free sugars’ but still satisfy your sweet tooth. They help reduce the risk of dental problems and are low in calories. Sucralose, the sweetening agent in Splenda, is completely safe for consumption.
After the information-packed session, we tried lots of delicious bakes made with Splenda: Peanut Butter Jammy Dodgers, Dark Chocolate and Stem Ginger Cheesecake and Cherry Almond Crumble Muffins. As I left the building where the event was held, I knew I was going to reproduce one of the recipes (those muffins were to die for).
A couple of things to consider about Splenda when using for baking:
- It bakes really well (up to 232ºC).
- It’s slightly more absorbent than regular sugar so you might need more liquid.
- It doesn’t brown in the same way as sugar would (hence the almond topping on my muffins).
When I got home, I set the children a challenge: I would make muffins using Splenda, and they’d make the same recipe using sugar. I’d misplaced the recipe for the Cherry Almond Crumble Muffins so my starting point was loosely based on the Raspberry Almond Cakes from the Splenda website, and I adapted it to create those Dairy & Gluten-free cherry Muffins.
My little man was the first one to join me in the kitchen.
His sister came along and they mostly argued about would be doing the next thing!
I don’t think Jumpy got her own way!
Wriggly was just happy to plop cherries over the mixture, bless her!
We then organised a blind taste testing session to see whether we could tell the difference between my cakes and theirs. We couldn’t! The ones with Splenda didn’t raise as much as the other ones, but they honestly tasted just as good.
How yummy do they look?
Cherry Almond Muffins (Dairy and Gluten-free)
- 4 eggs free range
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 200 g ground almonds
- 50 g self-raising gluten-free flour ‘The Free From Fairy’ always gives the best results
- 8 tablespoons SPLENDA® granulated or 120g sugar
- 100 g dairy-free spread at room temperature I use Pure Sunflower
- 200 g ripe cherries cut in half and stoned
- A handful almonds about 30
- A tablespoon ground almonds
- a teaspoon Splenda Granulated
- Preheat your oven to 190°C (gas mark 5 / 375ºF).
- Line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases.
- Separate the eggs. Place the egg whites in a bowl along with the vanilla and whisk until you get soft peaks.
- In a separate bowl stir together the almonds, flour and Splenda Granulated or caster sugar. Mix in the dairy-free butter and the egg yolks.
- Lastly, gently fold the whites in to the cake dough until fully combined.
- Spoon the mixture in to the tin then scatter over the cherry halves.
- Place the almond in a freezer bag and bash with a rolling pin. Mix the crumbled almonds with the tablespoon of ground almonds and teaspoon of Splenda Granulated. Sprinkle over the muffins dough.
- Bake for 18-22 minutes, until the muffins spring back when you press them lightly. To check they are fully cooked, you can insert a knife through the middle of one muffin. If it comes out dry, the muffins are ready. If not, just give them another few minutes.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, but all opinions and photos are my own.