Short answer? Yes! Sugar is essential for baking; not only does it makes things taste delicious, but it goes through many amazing chemical reactions to give us fluffy cakes, chewy biscuits or light-as-air crisp meringue! It’s a stabilizer, adds moisture and softness, can make your bakes rise, given them colour and flavour or add crunch – depending on how you use them and which sugar is used. It’s pretty tough to find another sweetener that is as versatile in baking than sugar is.
It’s true that sugar has recently received quite a bad rep, but I’m talking about unrefined sugar. It can be so much more than just add sweetness, proper, unrefined sugar adds flavour. You’ve probably spotted the different types of sugar on the supermarket shelves and wondered what makes them so special. Well, I’m about to tell you! But in order to do that, we first need to dive into how sugar is made.
Sugar cane is crushed to squeeze out a clear sugar cane juice. This juice is then boiled to evaporate the water, leaving behind a thick, dark syrup. The syrup is then crystallized to give us sugar granules.
The difference between refined and unrefined sugar? Flavour. Flavour. Flavour.
For hundreds of years, white sugar has been a sign of wealth. The richer you were, the whiter the sugar you could afford. But to get it white, molasses (which was considered an impurity back then) was removed. Molasses is actually the good stuff! So, the darker the sugar, the less refined it is and the more flavour it has.
Molasses sugar has the strongest flavour of all the types of sugars. It is a soft, sticky sugar that adds a deep molasses flavour to chocolate cakes. Due to its sticky texture, it makes brownies and fruit cake extra moist and stops them from drying out.
Muscovado sugar has a soft crumbly texture that adds a depth of molasses flavour to cookies, cakes, biscuits, and desserts. It’s soft sugar crystals mean it is perfect for recipes that call for the creaming method as it can dissolve easily.
Demerara sugar has a rich butterscotch aroma that makes it delicious for making caramel or stirring into coffee. The large sugar crystals give it a crunchy texture making it perfect to add sugary crusts to cookies. It’s important to note that this is not to be confused with ‘Demerara-style’ sugar which is made simply by taking white sugar and mixing it with syrup – not the real deal!
Soft brown sugar is a soft moist sugar with a buttery flavour that is perfect for making caramel. It makes delectable fudge, cinnamon rolls, and toffee. It’s the perfect all-round sugar to use in baking as it gives everything you use it in a lovely golden brown colour.
Castor sugar (or caster sugar) is a ground sugar with fine crystals. Golden castor sugar is made from brown sugar, while white castor sugar is made from, you guessed it, white sugar. Castor sugar’s fine texture makes light sponge cakes (it traps air into its fine texture which rises in the oven), shortcrust pastry that melts in your mouth (no grittiness) and stabilizes meringues.
Icing sugar is the most refined – it is a finely ground sugar blended with a small amount of cornflour to avoid it clumping. Its fine texture means that it makes melt-in-the-mouth frostings, buttercream and is perfect for making macarons. Check out this recipe for milk tart macarons!
You know what the best part of baking is? (Besides the eating, of course). The most incredible thing about baking is that unlike cooking, you begin with ingredients that don’t at all resemble what you end up with. You’re always making something entirely new. It’s just so magical!