Baking Background Series: Sugar

You can watch my YouTube video about sugar here:

What is sugar?

Sugars chemical name is sucrose and it occurs naturally in vegetables, fruits, milk and nuts.  Sugar cane and sugar beets contain the most sucrose out of any plants so they’re most commonly used to make sugar.  There are other kinds of sugar besides sucrose.  Fructose, glucose, lactose and maltose to name a few.  Fructose and glucose are found in veggies, fruits and honey.  Lactose is found in dairy.  Maltose is found in beer and malted drinks.  

What does sugar do in baking?

Sugar keeps baked goods moist.  When sugar bonds with water, the sugar keeps the water in the baked goods. Sugar also adds flavor, color and crunch to baked goods.

Sugar’s most common function is adding sweetness.  Sugar adds flavor and color because when sugar is heated it caramelizes.  Meaning the sugar melts, turns golden brown and enhances its flavor.  If you’ve ever made caramel before you have first hand seen how caramelization occurs. 

Sugar adds moisture because it is hygroscopic meaning it holds onto water well.  Baked goods made with sugar stay softer longer.  Since sugar holds onto water well it also helps to tenderize the baked goods.  Hygroscopic sugar takes water away from flour, forming less gluten.

Types of sugar:

Granulated Sugar a.k.a. Cane Sugar: Most common sugar used in baking, also known as table sugar.  White in color from refining. Made up of fine crystals.  Used in cakes, cookies, brownies.

Brown Sugar (Light & Dark): Brown sugar is commonly seen as 2 types: light and dark brown sugar.  Light has less molasses and dark has more. Brown sugar is brown from the molasses in it.  Brown sugar is refined sugar with molasses added back into it. Brown sugar makes baked goods even softer than granulated sugar because the molasses is even more hygroscopic than granulated sugar.  Used in cookies, specifically chocolate chip cookies.

Powdered Sugar a.k.a. Confectioner’s Sugar: Made by milling sugar very fine. Contains some anti-caking ingredients to keep it from clumping together, most commonly cornstarch.  Sometimes seen as 10x sugar, it refers to how fine it is. Used in frosting, icing or sifted on top of baked goods.

Caster Sugar: Is fine granulated sugar.  It’s coarseness is between granulated and powdered sugar.  Best used when making meringue.

Muscovado Sugar: Is unrefined sugar, still containing natural molasses. It has a moist texture and dark color like brown sugar.  It has a stronger molasses taste than brown sugar.  It is best used in gingerbread or molasses cookies.

Sanding Sugar: Is large crystal sugar that doesn’t melt in the heat of the oven.  Used as a topping that adds “sparkle” such as on top of sugar cookies or muffins.

Turbinado Sugar: Is partially refined, still contains some natural molasses.  It is brown and a larger crystal size similar to sanding sugar size.  Turbinado sugar is best used to top baked goods or add into coffee.

Other Sugars/ Sugar Substitutes:

Molasses: a thick dark syrup that is a byproduct of refining sugar.  Molasses adds moisture to baked goods and is also acidic so it helps to react with leavening agents.  It is most commonly used in gingerbread and molasses cookies.

Stevia: is a sugar substitute from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant.  It is used more in teas and drinks than in baking.

Honey: Is a sweet thick syrup from bees. Honey is sweeter than granulated sugar so if substituting honey for sugar, use less.  

Agave: A succulent plant that produces a sweet liquid.  Agave, like honey is sweeter than granulated sugar. Used in tequila and as a sugar substitute. 

Maple Syrup: Is the sap from the maple tree, boiled down to create maple syrup.  Maple syrup is also more sweet than granulated sugar so make sure to use less when substituting.  Honey, Agave, and Maple Syrup are all examples of invert sugars meaning liquid sugar, another common one is corn syrup.

Coconut Sugar: Is palm sugar from the sap of the coconut flower.  Different from palm sugar. Tastes similar to brown sugar and is used as a “healthy” sugar alternative in recipes. 

Now, there is no “healthy” sugar, it is all converted to glucose and metabolized in the body the same way.  Therefore, whether you make cookies with granulated sugar or coconut sugar you’re still eating sugar.  I hope this helped to clear up some confusion on all the different types of sugars out there and how to use them in baking! 

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