Sugar is a staple in baking. For many recipes, besides a sugar replacer, you won’t be able to bake without some sugar at hand. We often think of this very common ingredient only as a sweetener. But actually, it does more than sweeten up our baked good.
Sugar has diverse roles in the world of baking. This is why too often, recipes would call for a specific type of sugar, and sometimes, a combination of two or three.
More than a Sweetener
While the primary purpose of adding sugar, in most cases, is to add sweetness in the food, in baking, sugar has a more complex role. More than boosting the taste and flavour of the baked good, sugar also adds volume, colour, texture and tenderness, and acts as a preservative.
Sugar is used to incorporate as much air in the batter (like when making sponge cakes). When a recipe calls for creaming the sugar and fat, you don’t simply mix the two ingredients together, but incorporate air into the mixture by whisking hard to produce a light and fluffy mixture. During the creaming process, the sugar molecules rub against the fat, producing air bubbles.
Sugar also has a role in making your baked good tender and lighter. That is because sugar absorbs moisture in the batter, thus reducing the amount of gluten formed in the flour. This results to a batter which has a tender crumb. And since less gluten is formed, the batter will rise more and a lighter and thicker baked good is produced.
The ability of sugar to hold moisture makes it a great preservative. Liquid sugars have better ability to absorb moisture, like brown sugar.
The sweet stuff also has an effect on the colour of the batter when baked. The browning of the baked good is the result of sugar reacting with the protein present in other ingredients like milk and egg. The more sugar the recipe calls for, the darker the baked good becomes.
Sugar also adds ‘crunch’ in baked products. In the oven, moisture evaporates from the surface of the batter, allowing the dissolved sugar to re-crystalize. This, in turn, creates a crunchy, sweet crust that you have probably enjoyed in brownies, muffins, cakes and more.
The Different Types of Sugar
Does it matter what type of sugar you use in baking? If the recipe calls for white granulated sugar, would it make a difference if you use brown sugar instead?
The answer is YES.
Sugar comes in different types and properties. They vary in colour, from white to brown and dark. They also differ in granule sizes. White sugar has finer granules than brown sugar, while confectioner sugar has powdery texture. The size of crystal affects how quickly the sugar will dissolve in the batter. Superfine sugar, also known as caster sugar, has very small granules and dissolves easily, making them perfect for making meringues.
Granulated White Sugar
Most cake recipes call for this type of sugar. It has fine to medium-sized granules. When heated, it produces a toffee-like colour and flavour. Since we want our cake to be fairly light and dry, white sugar is the best choice.
Brown sugar is a refined type of sugar that varies in colour, from light to dark brown. They are technically the same with white sugar but have some of the natural molasses left or added. The colour depends on the amount of molasses present in the sugar. The darker the colour is, the more molasses it has. Dark brown sugar also has a stronger flavour. Brown sugar makes a baked good that is a little moister with a slight butterscotch flavour. It is perfect for making banana bread, fruit cake, and other baked good that requires a dense and moist texture.
Muscovado or Barbados Sugar
This is a type of British brown sugar which is very dark brown in colour. The sugar crystals are also a little bigger than the regular brown sugar and has a sticker texture. Muscovado sugar is great for making coffee cake, fudge and other baked goods needed to achieve a rich flavour.
Sugars have very good shelf life so long as they are stored in a dry and cool place. Keep them airtight to prevent moisture from entering and causing the sugar to lump.