For that sweet tooth – Sugars !!!

In one of my previous blog, we had discussed about different types of wheat flours and how to choose the correct one for your dish. This blog is all about different types of sugar used in baking.  We cannot imagine our lives without sugar.  Statistically, I do not know how the world is divided between people who have a sweet tooth and people who don’t. But going by the statistics in my family, I can safely say that the haves exceed the have nots by a whopping margin 🙂

Sugar is often associated with craving. Sweet is one of the important tastes amongst the five different tastes that our tongue can identify. Long before, honey was used as the natural sweetener before the discovery of sugar. It is said that, Indians can take the credit of discovering how to crystallise sugar during the reign of Gupta dynasty way back in 352 BC. Pastry industry was revolutionised once the sugar entered European markets. So why is sugar important in baking? What are the different types that can be used in baking? How do we decide which sugar to use in a particular recipe? Well these are some of the questions I will address in this blog.

Firstly we need to understand the role played by sugar in a particular recipe. The most obvious answer to this is, it gives sweetness and flavour to the product. Not only does it give that nice brown colour to the crust which is sign of doneness in baking, but also gives tenderness to the product. It also improves the shelf life. It helps to beat butter light and fluffy when you are making a cake. In bread making it provides food for the yeast to feed on. More about this in one of my later blogs. So apart from taste, sugar plays so many roles in baking.

We can classify sugars into 2 types – White sugars and brown sugars. White sugars are typically refined sugars and are available in the following forms :

  1. Granulated sugar – is the most commonly used sugar not just in baking but also in cooking. The size of the granules varies and one has to be careful with use. Generally granulated sugar is used to make sugar syrups, in jams, to make caramel etc. It can be powdered and then used to beat butter when making baked stuff like cakes and cookies. In general, smaller the size of the granules, better does it mix in batters.
  2. Caster Sugar – This is a finer and uniform variety of granular sugar. This can be used directly when making cakes and cookies. Some of the local known brands are Mawana, Bluebird, Royal
  3. Confectioner’s sugar – This is also called the icing sugar because it is used to make variety of icings for cakes and cookies. Its is also used for dusting and glazing. It is powdered sugar of very fine variety. It also has little starch added to prevent lumping.
1. Granulated  2. Demerara  3. Caster  4. Golden Brown  5. Icing

Brown Sugar is cane sugar that has not been fully refined. Alternatively, it is also made by adding caramel and molasses to regular sugar.  It is typically used in cakes where darker colour and intense flavour is desired, for example the fruit cake . It however, cannot be used in white cakes. Also brown sugar has extra acidity which reacts with soda causing good leavening in cookies. Remember, darker the sugar, it has deeper, intense and earthy flavour.   Depending on the size of the grain and amount of impurities, there different types of brown sugars such as :

  1. Golden brown sugar – Has delicate molasses flavour and not too dark colour. The crystal size is also uniform and fine and can be used directly in baking i.e it is not required to be powdered.
  2. Demerara Sugar – Has large crystals and is quite sticky and moist. It is golden brown in colour and has subtle molasses flavour. It is typically used to sweeten tea and coffee. If used for baking, remember to take tightly packed cup measure of this sugar as it is slightly less sweet. Why the name Demerara? That is because, it was produced from the sugarcane fields in the Dutch colony of Demerara and which is now a part of Guyana.
  3. Muscovado sugar – This is also called Barbados sugar is  from Britain and is the darkest of all the brown sugars. It is unrefined sugar with strong molasses taste and is very sticky in nature. Due to its strong flavour, one needs to be very careful when using it for baking. It is typically used in Ginger snaps, Gingerbread, rich fruit cake recipes where the strong flavour along with dark colour is desirable. Its is also good in savoury dishes like barbecue sauces and marinades. It is called Khandsari or Khand in India.

There is such a plethora of sugars available to choose from! So if you decide to bake something sweet this week, you will know which type of sugar to choose from!  Look out for the next blog in this series which will be about sweet syrups used in baking.