I’ve never been very good at improvising. Despite my established status as a crafty-arty person, I am, I’m afraid, heartbreakingly literal in some ways- especially when it comes to food.
Just ask Katrina. She’s the friend who made me realize it was, perhaps, just a teensy bit rigid of me to time the pasta cooking to the second, just to make a pot of Annie’s Mac and Cheese. Have I made this mom-staple three thousand times? Yes. No matter: it takes an extreme force of will to get me to dump the pasta out a few seconds early, and it would plainly never occur to me to dump the milk in unmeasured. Gasp!
I’ve been known not to make a recipe at all for lack of a single, tangential ingredient, such as ½ tsp of tarragon. After all, I reason, that might make the dish! And why go through all the effort to make something not as good as it is supposed to be?
Over time, I have learned to loosen up somewhat- but it is on the No Sugar Project that my improvising wings have been forced to take flight, for better or worse. It started with me bravely leaving out a teaspoon of sugar here, a tablespoon of honey there. And so far everything had been- fine! I baked baguettes without ¾ of a teaspoon of sugar, cheddar cheese soup without Worcestershire sauce (couldn’t find a no-sugar version), and sweet potato biscuits without 2 tablespoons sugar.
But I’ve been feeling… empty lately: hungry not just for food per-se but for richness and variety in our diet. My older daughter mentioned that she could not eat another hard-boiled egg for breakfast and I know just what she means. So, following a certain degree of success with the somewhat unconventional apple-raisin cookie recipe I found online, I’ve decided to branch out and experiment in the name of enlarging our no-sugar dessert possibilities. After all we’ve given up sugar, not sweet.
So last night I tried making an apricot bar recipe that we have loved in the past, but omitting the ¾ cup of brown sugar called for in the butter and flour crust. Now ¾ cup is a lot more than a tablespoon, and I realized some sort of replacement would be necessary to round out the crust, and provide it with the correct density and stick-together-i-ness.
I ended up deciding to try ¾ cup mushed banana. I felt very adventurous, and half-sure we’d end up with an inedible mess.
Good news! The apricot bars weren’t just edible, they were actually good! I mean, the kids ate them up, which is really the true test. Turns out the banana pulp provided just the right amount of stickiness to form a proper crust and emitted a delicious sweet smell while baking. Of course, the bars weren’t nearly as sweet as before, but they were sweet, primarily due to the cooked apricot filling; despite the smell, the banana taste wasn’t very detectible in the end product. I cooked them a little longer in an attempt to get them to brown on the top in an appetizing way, but in the end I thought maybe adding an egg to the crust next time would do more to help in this regard.
Isn’t that nice? I’m ridiculously proud of myself, and am happy to have sent that empty feeling packing for the moment. I’ll have to remember this moment for times in the future when I’m hacking failed experiments into the trash with an ice pick.
For those of you who’d like to play along at home, here’s the recipe as modified from the original “Lemon Date Bars” found in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home:
Eve’s No Sugar Apricot Bars
- 2 cups chopped dried apricots
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 3/4 cup mushed up ripe banana
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup rolled oats
Preheat oven to 350
In a saucepan, combine the apricots, lemon juice and water. Cook, covered, on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a bowl, cream together butter and banana. Stir in flour, salt and baking soda. Add oats and mix well, using your hands. The dough should be crumbly, but hold together when squeezed. Press two-thirds of the dough into a buttered 8 or 9 inch square pan. Stir the apricot mixture and spread it over the dough. Crumble the remaining dough on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Cool in the pan. Cut into bars.