There is more to sugar than just adding sweetness to our baked goods. It adds flavor, texture, color and much more. So, today, we will learn how sugar affects our baking. What is sugar, its uses, and its substitutes in baking?
Did you know there is more to sugar than just adding sweetness to your baking goods? In baking, we mostly use white granulated sugar, brown sugar or dark brown sugar. And, when consumed, different sugar varies in their level of sweetness. Sugar typically comes from sugar cane or sugar beets.
Therefore, understanding how sugar affects our baking, will give us a better understanding of our recipes and will also make us better bakers.
What does sugar do to our baked goods?
1. Sweetness and flavor
First, sugar adds sweetness and flavor to our baked goods. And, while granulated sugar will make things sweet, the molasses in brown sugars also adds depth of flavor along with sweetness.
2. Texture - sugar add texture
Did you know that sugar is a wet not dry ingredients in baking? That's because as soon as it is heated it melts. In fact, the sugar molecules, when combined with the water molecules, create a strong bond that affects the texture in baked goods. As a result, it keeps the baked goods soft, moist and tender.
3. Browning - sugar adds color
Most baked goods get a wonderful brown color and that's mostly from the caramelization of sugar when cooked. This of course, also adds more depth of flavor in our baked goods.
4. It's all about that crunch
In addition, when cooked, moisture from the sugar evaporates giving us a nice crunch such as in biscuits, pie crust, and cookies.
5. Sugar adds leavening
When you cream sugar and butter, it aerates the batter creating a light and fluffy cake. And, this air, trapped in by the sugar, helps leaven baked goods. Furthermore, when you bake, the moisture in the water molecules creates a lift, which causes our baked goods to expand and rise.
6. Sugar stabilizes
If you make a meringue, you will see how egg whites foam up and hold their shape to stiff peaks. In fact, the sugar is what helps the egg whites become light and fluffy. As you whip air into egg whites, the egg proteins bond together. The sugar dissolves between the air bubbles creating a cushion between them. And, this helps stabilize the egg foam.
Types of sugar
1. White sugar
a. Granulated sugar
Often referred to as table sugar. This is refined sugar, which is most commonly used in all our baking. In fact, the two main sources of sugar are cane sugar and beet sugar. And, normally, it doesn't matter which we use in our baking, so chances are you've used both.
In addition, it helps cookies spread, adds crispness, often creates textures on the cookie and even caramelizes. Also, this sugar is perfect when creaming batters as it aerates the batters during the creaming process giving us a light and airy cake.
b. Superfine sugar
You can also buy thick or fine grain. Fine-grain, also called caster sugar, is often recommended in baking because it dissolves easily in batter or during creaming. As a result, it tends to produce light and tender cakes. And, you can also make your own superfine sugar by simply pulsing granulated sugar in the food processor a few times.
c. Powdered sugar
Also known as icing sugar or confectioners sugar. This is granulated sugar that has been ground to a powder a few times until it reaches what is known as 10x powdered sugar. In fact, it is finer than flour and contains cornstarch as an anti-caking agent, which prevents it from clumping.
Therefore, it's perfect to use for dusting on baked goods, preparing buttercreams, and making glazes for cakes and cookies. And, while there are a few recipes that use powdered sugar, it cannot be used as a substitute for granulated sugar.
2. Brown sugar
You can get light brown sugar or dark brown sugar. Brown sugar is basically white granulated sugar with molasses added to it. Less in light brown sugar (about 3.5%) and more molasses in dark brown sugar (about 6.5%).
It adds a caramel-like flavor and color. A baked good with brown sugar is usually more tender and softer than plain granulated sugar because brown sugar has more moisture. It is perfect to make cookies chewy such as in chocolate chip cookies.
This form of sugar is now becoming increasingly popular. First, it is unrefined and made from the sap of the coconut palm tree. And, it is usually considered healthier than refined sugar. In fact, it looks similar to brown sugar, it is a deeper brown like caramel, but has a nutty flavor.
You can use it as a direct replacement for white sugar, which means you could add 1 tbsp coconut sugar for 1 tbsp granulated sugar. And it works for all baked goods cakes, cookies, cupcakes, muffins, pies and tarts.
It comes in syrup form and is thick and dark in color. It's a byproduct of sugar cane. Molasses can be found in light, mild, dark, robust and blackstrap.
Molasses often comes labeled as unsulfured or sulfured. Unsulfured is lighter in color and mild in flavor. It's made from pure cane syrup. While sulfured molasses is dark in color with a slightly bitter taste.
The light or dark molasses is recommended for baking because it is mild in flavor, unlike blackstrap, which can give a strong bitter flavor to baked goods. The most common use of molasses in baking is usually in gingerbread cookies or cakes.
A gift from the honeybees, sweet nectar that also works wonderfully in baked goods. Honey is hygroscopic and contains 20% moisture, which keeps cakes, cupcakes, and muffins moist. While you can use honey in baking there are a few changes you may need to make.
- To substitute honey as sugar reduce the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup for every 1 cup honey.
- Honey is also a great addition when you want some extra browning but in general, you want to reduce the temperature by 25F, or 10 C, to prevent over-browning.
- If you use honey in cakes, cookies, cupcakes or muffins it is necessary that your recipe has baking soda to neutralize the acid in honey for proper leavening. So, add ¼ tsp baking soda for every 1 cup honey.
Another natural sweetener made from the sap of the maple tree. A good quality maple syrup is thick because it's usually boiled down to syrup consistency.
Maple syrup does not have a long shelf life once opened, so it is best kept in the refrigerator for longer storage. Perfect over pancakes and waffles.
To use as a substitute in baking, you may need to make some changes.
- You can use it as a direct replacement for honey, molasses or corn syrup, which means you can replace ½ cup honey with ½ cup maple syrup.
- Reduce liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup for every 1 cup liquid because maple syrup is liquid too.
- Use ¾ cup maple syrup for every cup of granulated sugar.
- Maples syrup also works great for browning, but its best to reduce the oven temperature by 25 F, or 10 C, to prevent over-browning.
While there is so much more to sugar, I have just touched on the basics that we need to know and understand for the purpose of baking.
If you have any tips or important notes you'd like to add please write them in the comments below.
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