I love sugar as much as anyone; it's the backbone of most everything I do, since it provides desserts with volume, structure, body, flavor, and, oh yeah, sweetness (its least important job, so far as I'm concerned). Sugar's at the top of the food pyramid for a reason, a sweet cap to an otherwise balanced diet, something to be consumed in moderation.
For the most part, I accomplish that with portion control: thinner slices of cake, smaller scoops of ice cream, one cookie instead of two. But a number of my favorite recipes have a relatively low amount of added sugar, around 8g or less per serving. For those who love baking, but feel like cutting back for one reason or another, these recipes should fit the bill.
Homemade Fig Newtons
Like the original, my homemade Fig Newtons feel pretty virtuous. The cakey cookie is lightly sweetened with honey and brown sugar, while the filling itself is made from nothing more than dried figs, plain applesauce, and a squeeze of fresh orange juice. It's a chewy, fruity snack that's not too sweet or rich, and easy to customize with the variations in my cookbook (including apricot-strawberry, blueberry-lime, cherry-banana, and...bacon!).
Vanilla Pear Galette
This simple galette is primarily sweetened by the pears, with just a few spoonfuls of added sugar to draw out their juices. Cardamom, Chinese five spice, and vanilla bean work to amplify the natural flavor of the pear, which stands in creamy contrast to the crispy crust below. It's the ideal dessert to conclude a night of tapas or wine and cheese, but to be honest I'm all about having it for brunch.
Lemon Blueberry Scones
The bulk of sugar in this recipe for lemony scones comes from a sprinkle of turbinado on top, an entirely optional (though delightfully crunchy) addition. The dough itself leans on fresh blueberries for sweetness, with just two teaspoons of sugar to help with flavor and browning.
My buttermilk granola has less added sugar than its commercial counterparts, just enough to help it brown and crisp in the oven. With toasted sugar, that sweetness is even milder, tempered by a hint of caramel complexity. Serve it for breakfast with Greek yogurt, or grab a handful whenever you need a light and crunchy snack.
In most recipes, sugar serves some key structural role, but in these grainy English muffins I use honey in an entirely optional way—to serve as a sweet counterpoint to the graham-y flavor of whole wheat. You can dial it back to taste, but I'd leave at least an ounce so the yeast will have a snack during their long, overnight rise.
Few things are as satisfying as homemade bagels that turn out just as blistered, chewy, and flavorful as if they'd come from an old-school bakery. There's just a pinch of sugar to help fuel the dough's slow, overnight rise, and a bit of malt syrup in the boiling water for a glossy brown and aromatic crust, but the total amount is still well below our 8g threshold—even if you opt to make cinnamon raisin bagels instead.
Brown Butter Yeast Raised Waffles
Look, it's not my fault if you wind up drowning these in maple syrup, but the waffles themselves have only a pinch of sugar in the batter. Instead of doing an overnight rise, I often make these brown butter waffles first thing in the morning, then let them rise all day so I can griddle them up to serve along with soups and stews, or (my fave) fried chicken.
Light and Fluffy Biscuits
I learned to make biscuits when I was about two years old, less a reflection of my skill as a toddler than a testament to the truly foolproof technique—smushing butter into flour with reckless abandon. Biscuits are a fast and simple breakfast, or the foundation of a breakfast sandwhich, but they're also an easy side for just about any meal (well, any Southern meal).
As with my lemon blueberry scones, the dough here is just barely sweetened, with most of the sugar coming from the chocolate itself. So instead of a sweet milk chocolate, choose something bitter and dark for a bold take on chocolate scones.
Chocolate Digestive Biscuits
Thanks to whole wheat flour, digestive biscuits have an amazing, graham cracker-like flavor and crunch. Paired with a shiny coat of dark chocolate, these crisp but tender digestives are immensely satisfying with a cup of tea (and when sugar is of no concern, they're the perfect size to sandwich around a toasted marshmallow for s'mores).
Mexican Wedding Cookies
They may be showered in powdered sugar, but that's only because Mexican wedding cookies (aka Russian tea cakes, aka Snowballs, aka Danish wedding cookies) start with an almost savory dough. And, of the sugar that's sprinkled on top, a good deal is lost along the way, scattered across your baking sheet and (real talk) down the front of your shirt.
Homemade Wheat Thins
Though lightly glazed in barley malt syrup, homemade Wheat Thins don't require much added sugar, so you can grab a handful of crispy crackers without overdoing it (whatever that means to you). Plus, there's a little more glaze than strictly necessary, so a good deal of the sugar that's present on paper won't ever make it to the crackers themselves. With a sprinkling of coarse salt and the grainy crunch of wheat germ, these savory-sweet crackers are as hearty as they are crisp.
Whole Wheat Crackers
Unlike the epic crunch of homemade Wheat Thins, these whole wheat crackers are thick and tender with a gentle snap (like the ones you buy from Carr's). They're fun and easy to make (the dough comes together super fast in a food processor), and will keep up to a month in an airtight container. Pull them out as a homemade addition to cheese plates, or smear one with peanut butter for a simple snack.
Out of everything on this list, these are my all-time favorite for snacking; they're unambiguously salty, cheesy, and crisp. Like any other cracker, these have a great shelf life, so I like to make a big batch to enjoy over the weeks to come. Plus, when I'm feeling creative, homemade Cheez-Its are easy to customize with additional herbs and spices, or alternative types of cheese.
Ham and Cheese Scones
With a cheesy crust, chunks of salty ham, slivers of scallion, and shredded Gruyère scattered throughout the dough, savory scones make a hearty breakfast, or they can be cut small to serve alongside bowls of creamy tomato soup.
Garlic Cheddar Biscuits
With fresh parsley, a dash of onion powder, garlic, paprika, and cayenne, these cheddar biscuits have a bold flavor that can stand up to even the heartiest bowl of chili or chowder. So grab a spoon, dollop the dough onto a half-sheet pan and start baking!
Irish Soda Bread
It breaks my heart to see Irish soda bread relegated to a bit of St. Patrick's Day kitsch, especially when recipes treat it like some sort of fruity scone. In reality, Irish soda bread is a beautifully crusty loaf that's chewy and satisfying enough to pair with any meal, or even just a charcuterie plate. It has an almost pretzel-like flavor that pairs nicely with any sort of stew or braise.
Crisp and Fluffy Dinner Rolls
Like bagels, my favorite dinner rolls are briefly boiled before baking, producing a crackly crust that's glossy and eggshell thin. Inside, they're fluffy and light—perfect for mopping up sauces and stews. Thanks to a long, overnight rise these rolls can be a make-ahead element for family dinners and holiday gatherings, letting you knock out the work of making and shaping the rolls a day in advance.
Chicken Pot Pie
I've always thought of chicken pot pie as a secret pastry since the best part is the crust, whether you opt for drop biscuits or a flaky pastry lid (I'm partial to hearty whole wheat). But even if the crust is the star, the filling has to do its part, which means the chicken has to be juicy and the sauce has to be thick and full of flavor.