Substituting date sugar for granulated sugar, along with whole-wheat pastry flour and a combination of oil and applesauce instead of butter, make these muffins more healthful. (Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post)

Substituting date sugar for granulated sugar, along with whole-wheat pastry flour and a combination of oil and applesauce instead of butter, make these muffins more healthful. (Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post)

These warm spiced pear muffins have a sweet secret

For more healthful muffins, sweeten them with ersatz “sugar” made from dates.

I’ve been playing around with date sugar in my kitchen lately and have become increasingly sold on it as an alternative sweetener.

Date sugar is not a true sugar; it is a naturally sweet dried fruit — dates — finely ground to resemble white granulated sugar, and can be used to replace it in many recipes. It is a more healthful alternative because it has the fiber, minerals and antioxidants of the whole fruit. This kind of sugar doesn’t work as a replacement in all granulated sugar recipes, though. Because it does not dissolve easily, it is not suitable for stirring into drinks or as a caramelizing agent, and its subtle yet distinct date flavor won’t work with all dishes.

But I can vouch that date sugar is delicious blended into smoothies, in pancakes and waffles, banana bread and oatmeal cookies, and it works wonderfully in these warm spiced pear muffins. (It acts more like a dry ingredient in recipes than granulated sugar does, so I have found it works best to reduce the flour in a typical recipe by ½ cup for each ¾ cup date sugar used.)

For this recipe, the choice of sweetener is only one better-for-you element. The muffins are also made with whole-wheat pastry flour and a combination of oil and applesauce instead of butter. If you don’t want to spring for date sugar, which is a bit pricey, you can use regular dark brown sugar instead and still have a more healthful end product.

Either way, the muffins turn out moist and tender, lightly sweet, fragrant with fall spices, and studded with bits of soft pear and crunchy nuts. They may involve several substitutes from your standard muffin recipe, but they are certainly no compromise.

Pear Spice Muffins

If you substitute regular dark brown sugar for date sugar, increase the flour to 2 cups, reduce the applesauce to ½ cup and whisk in the brown sugar with the liquid ingredients.

⅓ cup canola or other neutral-tasting oil, plus more for the pan

1½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour

¾ cup date sugar or packed dark brown sugar (see headnote)

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

2 large eggs

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup low-fat buttermilk

1 medium firm, ripe pear, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ -inch pieces

½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly brush the wells of a 12-muffin pan with oil.

Whisk together the flour, date sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a medium bowl.

Whisk in the ⅓ cup of oil and the eggs in a mixing bowl until well blended, then whisk in the applesauce and vanilla extract. Stir in half the flour mixture, then half the buttermilk; once those are incorporated, add the remaining flour mixture and the remaining buttermilk, stirring until just incorporated. Gently stir in the pear and the nuts, if using.

Divide the batter evenly among the wells of the muffin pan. Bake (middle rack) for 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.

Let cool (in the pan) on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the muffins to loosen them before serving or storing.

Makes 12 servings.

Nutrition per muffin (using date sugar): 180 calories, 3 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 150 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 10 grams sugar.

Nutrition per muffin (using brown sugar, 2 cups flour, and ½ cup applesauce): 210 calories, 4 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fat, 1 grams saturated fat, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 150 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 15 grams sugar.

Talk to us

More in Life

Herr Jung leads a group through Bacharach, Germany.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Lessons from a schoolmaster on the Rhine

Herr Jung dedicated his life to sharing Germany’s hard history so others can learn from it.

Jennifer Bardsley, author of her newest book Good Catch, at her home on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 in Edmonds, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds author transitions from young adult novels to romance

Jennifer Bardsley’s “Good Catch” is set in an Edmonds-like town. Spoiler alert: There’s a happy ending.

Caption: They might be too old for lunch box notes, but teenagers benefit from TLC too.
Fun ways to show the teens in your life that you care

The teen years can be challenging but they don’t last long. A little bit of extra attention can go a long way.

Jack Rice, left, gives his grandmother Carolyn Rice, a tutorial on her new tablet Saturday afternoon in Edmonds on November 20, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Need to Ring or Zoom? Edmonds teen comes to the rescue

Jack Rice, 17, started a free service to help seniors connect with tech. “He’s a hero around here.”

How to transform past shame into something positive and healthy

Tips on coping with the shame that we carry around in our hearts and on our sleeves.

Lisa Riddle jumps for joy after hitting a bullseye on her last throw on a game of axe throwing at Arrowhead Ranch on Thursday, July 15, 2021 in Camano Island, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Axe throwing hitting a bull’s-eye in Everett and Camano Island

“It’s not scary. It’s a fun night out and a stress reliever,” says an axe-throwing devotee.

Header, garden shovel or spade puts into soil, green meadow in the back, low angle shot
Regenerative gardening helps save the planet one garden at a time

Regenerative gardening is founded on the principle that if we take care of our soils then everything else will work out for the best.

She canceled her Iceland trip in time. Where’s her refund?

When Kim Josund cancels her trip to Iceland, she believes she’s entitled to a full refund. Why are her hotel and dive operator refusing?

Great Plant Pick: Acer tegmentosum “Joe Witt”

This Manchurian snakebark maple boasts beautiful highly striped white bark that brightens the shade garden.

Most Read