Sugar. Seems simple enough right? The white grainy stuff that you add to various batters to create sweetness, or combined with the right amount of fat can become a most fabulous frosting or glaze. But sugar is so much more than that! There are many many different kinds of sugar and their individual properties make them better for some purposes over others. Have you ever had recipe that just wasn’t working out, it was too sticky, or it didn’t rise in the way you had hoped. These can all be problems associated with the type of sugar your using and how your incorporating it into your recipes. Go figure right?!
Refined table sugar used to be a valuable commodity, it was traded, and kept like currency. It was once so rare that it was referred to as “white gold”. Before sugar cane was used to produce refined granulated sugar, honey, and fruit sugars were used to sweeten recipes. Beet sugars became very popular as a less expensive, and more readily available alternative. Today the growing and refining process for both cane sugar, and beet sugar make them about equal in flavor and affordability.
Most people believe sugar is just a sweetener, which in some ways may be true, unless your baking. In the baking world sugar is so much more! It is a chemical needed for tenderness, fluff, texture, and color. It even acts as a natural preservative, just think about jelly and jam!
Granulated sugar, whether cane or beet, is what we think of as regular table sugar. It is white and comes in many different textures from superfine to coarse. This is the type of sugar used in most recipes as a medium granule size, and when heated takes on a light brown color, and a flavor similar to caramel or toffee. The reason that we cream butter and sugar together in many recipes is to build up air in the batter, and get a rise out of our baked goods. The granules of sugar rubbing against each other in the butter or fat create tiny little air bubbles, later when a leavener like baking soda or baking powder is added it helps to expand these air bubbles and your cakes and cookies rise like magic.
So what is the difference between superfine granulated sugar, and confectioners sugar? They look the same and have a similar texture, but confectioners sugar contains additives that prevent clumping, and crystallization. Usually cornstarch. Confectioners sugar comes in a few types referred to as 4X, 6X, or 10X this refers to the number of times it has been processed. This type of sugar is great for Meringues, frosting, confections, and icings or glazes.
Raw sugar is another type that can be found although it’s not truly raw, it has been processed to remove any potentially harmful contaminents. A popular brand of raw sugar is called Demerara Sugar, it comes from Guyana and has a coarse texture and an amber color a lot like a light brown sugar. Some of the raw sugar varieties will have a stronger molasses flavor. Many people believe this form of sugar is more natural and will give baked goods a better flavor. But, truthfully all sugars that are purchased in the U.S. today are processed in some fashion or another and made different from the naturally occurring state.
Brown sugar is a moist sugar that in the past was a semi-refined cane sugar with some of the molasses left in it. Today brown sugar is refined white sugar with molasses added to it. The color light or dark depends on the amount of molasses added back in to the sugar, and can affect how strong the flavor of the sugar will be. Using brown sugar in a recipe will cause the flavor profile to change, instead of a light toffee flavor when cooked, brown sugar creates a more butterscotchy type flavor, it also adds moistness, and a darker coloration to baked goods. Brown sugar can make recipes baked at higher temps very sticky. Also, if brown sugar sets for long periods of time it can become very hard. To re-soften it, place in a ziploc bag with a slice of apple for 1-2 days and it will become soft again, remove the apple slice and store in an airtight container. If you needed to use it sooner than a day or two, place in a microwave safe dish and heat slowly until it loosens up.
To make your own Homemade Brown Sugar, combine 2 Tbsp of molasses to 1 cup of granulated sugar. Enjoy!