I'm interested in making a sugar-free crust. What are your suggestions for a sugar substitution?
Well, before we go replacing the sugar, we've got to understand just what its functions in a pizza dough are. It can be used just to provide a nutrient for the yeast to feed upon. This can be important if you are holding your dough for up to three or four days in the cooler. Then there is its effect upon crust color. Sugar will contribute to the browning characteristics of the dough, allowing the dough to develop a darker baked color. And lastly, sugar can contribute to a sweet tasting finished crust. This is just a matter of taste preference.
Going back to those functions, pick out the one that best describes why you are using sugar in your dough formula.
If you need the sugar to provide a nutrient for the yeast to feed upon, you can eliminate the sugar and replace it with a small quantity of "amylase enzyme." These are special enzymes that convert a portion of the starch in the flour to naturally occurring sugars for the yeast to feed upon. It works great. Just be sure to follow the manufacturer directions for the amount to use. Look to a local bakery supply distributor for this product.
If your reason for adding sugar was to influence the crust color, you can generally get very similar results by adding a high protein material, such as defatted soy flour. By adding 5 to 8 percent of a defatted soy flour to the dough, you can get the same crust color effect as 3 to 5 percent sugar would have given you.
And lastly, if you're adding the sugar for its sweetening effect, to produce a sweet tasting finished crust, you just might have to dig a little deeper into your bag of tricks. There are a number of artificial (non-nutritive) sweeteners available that are designed to work well in a variety of baked food applications. They can effectively impart sweetness to the finished crust.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can add things such as honey, molasses, fruit juice, whey, butter, fructose, or any other similar products. Why? Because they all contain a very significant amount of sugar — the very thing we're trying to take out of our formula.
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