Sweet & Natural Baking

sweet natural baking  
Sugar-free, Flavorful Recipes
from Mani's Bakery

Meet Mani Niall, baker to the stars and owner of the acclaimed Mani's bakeries in Los Angeles. Niall specializes in healthful, great-tasting treats—from breakfast muffins and pancakes, cookies and cakes, to tarts and turnovers—all made with natural ingredients and no refined sugar. He does this without compromising the flavor. "My goal as a chef has always been," says Niall, "to make great tasting food from healthy ingredients."

In Sweet & Natural Baking, Niall achieves that and more: the fabulous recipes here are also a boon to those with dietary restrictions or who suffer from food allergies. In Sweet & Natural Baking there are fat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, sugar-free and wheat-free recipes for such mouth watering treats as Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes, Fresh Strawberry Scones, Raspberry Linzer Cookies, Peach Foldover Pie, and Vanilla Bean Ice Milk.

Niall's combination of traditional baking techniques with unrefined, natural, and organic ingredients results in fantastic pastries and baked goods. How does he make such delights as creamy cheese-cake, chewy brownies, magnificent muffins, tangy fruit tarts, and even rich truffles, all made using familiar baking methods and no refined sugars? Niall relies on natural sweeteners such as liquid fruit juice concentrate and granulated maple syrup (commonly sold as maple sugar). Small amounts of honey are used in only a few recipes as a flavoring agent. While Niall stresses that his is not a diet cookbook, he does cut the fat from some of the recipes, noting that, "Cutting out fat entirely," he says, "is like telling an artist he or she can paint only with a third of the palette."

Mani Niall says he learned his lessons, through success and failure at the bakery, "[the] customers vote with their wallets." The recipes in this book include some of his favorites and many of the most successful from the bakery. Fresh, seasonal fruits further enhance the taste of these wonderful treats.

Nothing lifts the spirits like a homemade pastry—and if it's made with pure and natural ingredients, it tastes all the sweeter.

Mani Niall's bakeries and baked goods have been featured in such publications as Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the Los Angeles Times, Longevity, Elle and Self: He has cooked for the Gibb brothers (the Bee Gees), George Harrison, Danny DeVito, and for Michael Jackson in 1984 during his Victory Tour.

Banana-Nut Pancakes

Pancakes are a familiar sight on the breakfast table, but my favorites are these banana-and-nut-packed flap jacks. Serve them hot with genuine maple syrup—supermarket pancake syrup is nothing more than artificially flavored sugar syrup. While I have devised this as a dairy-free recipe, it works equally well with regular milk, so please try this recipe no matter what your lactose tolerance level.

Dairy Free
Whole Grain
Makes 12 to 14 pancakes

Canola oil, for griddle 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt 1-1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons soy milk 3/4 cup mashed bananas (about 2 large very ripe bananas) 3 tablespoons canola oil 1/2 cup (2 ounces) chopped pecans


Preheat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat until a sprinkle of water splashed on the surface immediately forms dancing droplets. Or preheat an electric frying pan to 350 degrees F. Using a folded paper towel, lightly brush the griddle with oil. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined and make a well in the center.

In another medium bowl, whisk all the soy milk, the bananas, eggs, and oil until well combined. Pour into the well and stir until smooth; there can be a few little lumps remaining. Stir in the pecans. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Using 1/4 cup batter for each pancake, pour the batter onto the griddle. Cook until the edges of the pancake appear dry and the underside is golden brown, about 3 minutes. This pancake batter behaves differently from others: The top may not become covered with tiny bubbles, which usually indicate the pancake is ready to turn. Check the edges and use a pancake turner to peek at the under-side. Flip the pancakes and cook until the other side is golden, about 2 minutes. Keep warm in the oven while preparing the rest of the pancakes. If the batter thickens too much upon standing, thin with additional soy milk. Serve warm.

Mani's Sugar-Free Truffles

At Mani's Bakery, we make these outrageous indulgences in two Versions: dairy-free with soy milk and dairy with heavy cream. It is impossible to say which is better. See the variation following the recipe for dairy-free truffles. Don't worry your dipped truffles have a rough surface; any flaws will be disguised by rolling in a coating of your choice. Dutch-process cocoa powder has been harmlessly alkalized, reducing the acidity of the cocoa and giving it a mellower taste; it's a better choice than regular cocoa for rolling truffles. This is a fun project to do with a friend—it always reminds me of the time Lucy and Ethel worked in the chocolate factory, eating almost as many chocolates as they dipped!

Egg Free

Makes about 24 truffles

  • 2/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 2-1/3 cups (14 ounces) malt-sweetened semisweet chocolate chips
Dipping and Rolling
  • 1-1/2 cups (9 ounces) malt-sweetened semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process


To make the filling: In a medium saucepan, heat the cream over low heat until small bubbles appear around the edges. Remove the saucepan from the heat.

Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Pour in the hot cream and let stand for 1 minute. Whisk gently until the chips are completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Transfer to a 7 x 11-inch baking pan and let stand at cool room temperature until firm, at least 4 hours. The filling mixture can also be refrigerated, but don't refrigerate it until it is rock hard, just until firm enough to roll into balls.

To roll and dip the truffles: Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Using a melon baller or a dessert spoon, scoop up the chocolate filling, roll between your palms to form 1-inch balls, and place on the baking sheet. Freeze the balls until ready to dip.

In the top part of a double boiler set over very hot, but not simmering, water, melt the chocolate chips and oil, stirring occasionally, until smooth.

It is best to have a friend help you coat the truffles, as one person's hands will be covered in chocolate from the dipping. Line another baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. Place the cocoa powder in a small, shallow dish. Place the ingredients in a line in front of you in the following order: the baking sheet with the chocolate balls, the melted chocolate, the dish of cocoa powder, and the clean baking sheet.

Pick up a chocolate ball and place it in the palm of your hand. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of melted chocolate over the ball. Roll the ball between your palms, lightly but completely coating the ball in chocolate. (This will give you a thinner shell than dipping the ball the chocolate and fishing it out, and to my mind it's much simpler.) Transfer the dipped truffle to the cocoa and roll to coat completely, then transfer to the clean baking sheet. If the truffle seems too soft to place on the baking sheet, refrigerate the truffle in the dish of cocoa until it firms up.

Refrigerate the coated truffles until the chocolate coating is hard, about 10 minutes. Transfer the truffles to an airtight container. (Store, refrigerated, for up to 5 days.) Serve the truffles slightly chilled.

Dairy-Free Soy Milk Truffles: Substitute 2/3 cup sweetened soy milk for the heavy cream. Do not let the soy milk reach the simmering point; cook just until very hot. Substitute 2 cups (12 ounces) chocolate chips and 2 ounces finely chopped unsweetened chocolate for the 2-1/3 cups chocolate chips in the recipe. The unsweetened chocolate helps balance the sweet flavor of the soy milk.

Almond Truffles: In a preheated 350 degrees F. oven, bake 1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) sliced almonds, stirring often, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool completely. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade or using a large sharp knife, chop the almonds until very fine. Roll the dipped truffles in the almonds instead of cocoa powder. Pecans or walnuts may also be used.

Coconut Truffles: In a preheated 350 degrees F oven, bake 1 cup unsweetened dessicated coconut, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Roll the dipped truffles in the toasted coconut instead of the cocoa powder.


Recipes from

Sweet & Natural Baking
Sugar-free, Flavorful Recipes from Mani's Bakery
by Mani Niall
Photographs by Mark McLane
$17.95 (Paper)
Chronicle Books
Released October 1996
ISBN: 0-8118-1049-6

This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.

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This page modified September 2007

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