Dates - natural baking alternative to sugarI frequently use dates to sweeten baked goods instead of refined sugar. Since the date is simply picked, washed and possibly pitted, nothing changes the fruit before it reaches you, yielding a natural, unprocessed alternative to refined sugar.  Like brown sugar or molasses, dates provide a richer, deeper sweetness than table sugar, which is nice flavor to have covering your flank when cooking light! Additionally, dates yield delectably chewy cookies and brownies and fabulously moist cakes, permitting you to reduce or fully eliminate butter and oil from traditional recipes. Dates have slightly fewer calories by weight than refined sugar, and a lower glycemic index (GI) as the calories come from fructose as well as fiber. A lower GI score reduces spikes in blood sugar, elevating your general functionality, focus and mood. I typically further reduce the GI of my baked goods by combining dates with Stevia, a calorie-free natural sweetener that does not affect blood sugar. (Stevia has a bitter aftertaste many find unpleasant and seems to be compounded in the oven, thus I rarely use it exclusively to sweeten recipes for baked goods).

TIPS FOR COOKING WITH DATESGuiltless Decadence Chocolate Cupcakes

1. Unless your dates’ package says “Pitted,” they likely contain the pits. (I know, that sounds filthy on several levels)! Use your fingers or a knife to pull dates apart and remove pits. Discard all pits immediately to be 100% sure they do NOT end up in your batter.  Hear a rattle in your food processor, blender or mixer? Go fish! A pit can ruin your machine and your dessert.

2. If dates are not particularly soft, place them in a microwave-safe dish and cover with water. Heat on high for 1 minute. Drain water before adding softened dates to blender, food processor or mixer.