I’ll be the first one to turn my nose up at anything sugar free. To my mind, partaking of anything devoid of sugar is sacrilegious to my devotion to dessert. It’s like missing the point entirely.
But I think that I may have been converted. Almost.
In what may be a landmark move, the first and perhaps the world’s only sugar free bakery-cafÃ© has been set up in Manila, just last June 16 at The Podium. Aptly called sugarnot! – yes, lowercase letters all and an accompanying exclamation point – it’s like a candy store for the diabetic (uh, bad pun) and those similarly sugar-deprived.
My jaw promptly drops open as I gape at the wide array of cakes, pastries, cookies, donuts, and breads. I’m handed a menu and there I see that I can even have a full meal here – my choice of pasta, salads, soups, sandwiches. Hey, I can even have a sundae, (made with ice cream from BTIC). All sugar free too. (!)
While I don’t know if vibrant shades of chocolate and yellow induce appetite, the interiors of sugarnot! are having a strange effect on me. I feel myself getting hungry, my stomach is actually growling for that… can it be, a sugar free chocolate chip cookie?
Owned by several partners, sugarnot! was started by Eli Beltran Sr. and his wife, Edna. When Eli was diagnosed as a diabetic, his disappointment at the lack of sugar free food available locally propelled him and his wife to create a line of sugar free food and desserts. Their experience as bakers for MalacaÃ±ang back in 1980-1986 benefited them greatly, so after two years of research and development, they opened their commissary and first outlet along South Super Highway.
At sugarnot! sugar is verboten. It’s replaced by isomalt, a sugar replacement derived from beets. Crystalline and white in appearance, isomalt doesn’t spike blood sugar levels (hello, glycemic index!) and contains only half the calories of sugar. Unlike Splenda, isomalt can replace sugar in a 1:1 ratio, a great boon for bakers. Even employees aren’t allowed to bring table sugar into the workplace because of the real threat of replacing it with the isomalt. With the wide selection available however, it’s hard to miss the sugar here. (I can’t believe I just said that.)
Armed with a fork and plenty of trepidation, I close in on my sugar free adventure. The cheesecake (P118/slice) is a cross between dense and fluffy, almost spongy, with a good balance of sweet. I’m starting to smile. I feel myself gaining courage. The strawberry shortcake (P78) is mousse-like in texture, alternating with a thin sponge and then what appears to be a topping of strawberry gelatin. Not bad. The Snow Queen, a lemon sponge cake with almonds, tastes remarkably of dust with a mighty kick of almond extract. Ouch, I scamper back to my sugar-full desires. But there’s more to be tasted, and appropriately enough, it’s called the Last Temptation (P128), a chocolate cake swathed in ganache encasing a truffle filling. It’s deep, dark, and attractive, just my type of cake; chewy and dense, with even sweetness and a light crumb, I’d go back for this.
the first and last word in sugar free desserts: the Last Temptation
One thing to keep in mind about sugar free food is that it won’t have the same texture as its sugar-full counterparts. Sugar has many functions: it tenderizes, retains a food’s moistness, improves shelf life, contributes caramelization (aka golden brown color), assists in leavening (puff power, aka lightness of crumb), and promotes a crisp crust to certain baked goods, among a host of other functions. Because of its chemical properties, products made with isomalt don’t brown easily nor do they possess that melt-in-your-mouth texture. This isn’t bad, it’s just different. I myself am quite the “texture person,” deriving most of my eating joy from the mouth-feel of food, so you can see why I love my sugar.
sugarnot! makes its own breads, which are soft and great for toasting: oat, wheat, focaccia, ciabatta (try the tuna on this), and grissini, ultra-long bread sticks that are crispy and garlicky. There’s also a pesto pandesal that I like very much. Fragrant and soft, all it needs is a slap of ham and a dab of cream cheese. Er, but that would miss the whole low-fat point, no?
Their profiteroles taste like the real deal, oozing with custard, its top sporting a jaunty coat of chocolate. There are cookies (P48/piece) – oatmeal and chocolate chip, muffins — banana almond and apple walnut (P48/piece), and the cutest little donuts with filled middles. There are truffles and pralines too, as well as chocolate-covered cherries, and two-hued chocolate shells.
tuna sandwich and pasta arrabbiata. Love them potato chips.
sugarnot! prides itself on its sugar free, low carb, and low fat philosophy. Frying is forbidden — here, it’s only boiled or baked or tossed (salad). Whole-wheat pastas are used and sauces are either olive oil or tomato-based. The bakery-cafÃ© makes its own tomato puree, and only vinaigrette dressings are available for the salads. Other always-coming-back-for items are the teriyaki chicken sandwich (P148), and the mango salad (P138), which I’m told has a winner mango dressing.
I must tell you that at sugarnot! they serve me the best latte I’ve had in a long time. Smooth with velvety undertones, it doesn’t have that bitter taste to intimidate me, the milky-coffee drinker. Coffee used here is Mauro from Italy, and there are lots of specialty coffee drinks to savor including frapps (P82-P128) and hot cocoa.
Okay, so while I still pay homage to the temple of Sugar, I must admit I’m thrilled with this bakery-cafÃ©. I won’t be crossing over to sugar free anytime soon nor will I be changing the name of my blog to Sugar Free Dessert Comes First, (!) but hey, at least now I can decide to have sugar or why not sugarnot!
THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
ADB Avenue, Ortigas
5462 South Super Highway corner Malvar,
(going towards Magallanes if you’re coming from Quirino, turn right after Pasay Road).
Many thanks to Angeli Lambsdorff and Cheryl Lua!
Sugar Free Desserts To Make A Convert Out of Me