Food Guy, home baker and sugar-slasher Jon Jackson muses about why, when it comes to baking, so many recipes call for so much of the sweet stuff. "I wonder if there wasn't a little bit of mission creep when sugar began to get very inexpensive, after World War Two." Food Guy Greg Patent recommends reducing the sugar in any given recipe by 1/4. If the taste and texture don't suffer, then next time, reduce it by another 1/4.
As an example, Greg cites the flaws in a recently-published newspaper pound cake recipe. Classic pound cake gets its name from its proportions: it should contain one pound each of butter, flour, sugar and eggs, with leavening provided by the eggs. This recipe for "Grandma's Pound Cake" called for just 1/2 pound of eggs and 3/4 of a pound of flour, but 3 cups of sugar - which, since 1 pound of granulated sugar = 2 1/4 cups, is 3/4 cup over the top. To add insult to injury, says Greg, the recipe made up for its lack of eggs with "the unpardonable sin" of including baking powder, a leavening that he insists should be verboten from pound cake.
A favorite torte recipe of Greg's that he now gives the sugar-austerity treatment is a one-layer butter cake topped with Italian plums. The recipe calls for 1 stick of butter, 1 cup (4.5 ounces) of flour, 2 eggs and 1 cup of sugar - with more sugar sprinkled atop the fruit. Greg tried cutting the sugar by half. The result tasted "just fine," but wasn't quite as tall, light or fluffy as the 1-cup-of-sugar version. That change in texture is chemistry in action: when you cream butter and sugar, you create air bubbles that expand in the oven, making the cake light and fluffy. Next time, Greg compensated for the reduced sugar by beating the eggs for slightly longer.