Science of Baking Class

Introduction: Sugars

Sugar has an important job — to make things sweet! The more you add to a recipe the sweeter it will become.

Sugar comes in a wide variety of flavors and textures, from solids and liquids, to powders and crystals. It is made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. It is a soluble and addictive carbohydrate that makes baked goods so delightful. Granulated sugar, powdered sugar, and brown sugar are among the most popular for baking. Let’s find out about some of the different types of sugar, how they are made, and what they are best used for.

Granulated Sugar

Granulated white sugar is made from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Unless a package is labeled as ‘pure cane sugar’, it is unknown (without contacting the manufacturer) whether the sugar is sourced from sugar cane or sugar beets as there are no US regulations for labeling sugar.

Since only the tops of sugar cane stalks are cut (leaving part of the plant and roots behind to regrow) it is a sustainable crop unlike sugar beets which require planting each year.

Turbinado Sugar – As shown above, turbinado sugar is a larger crystal sugar, slightly tan in color (due to the natural molasses content), and is made from the first pressing of sugar cane. Since it is a larger crystal and does not melt during baking, it is used mostly as a topping for scones, muffins, and cookies. It makes them deliciously pretty!

Sugar Beets – Sugar beets are a root crop grown in temperate climates. To make sugar from sugar beets, the roots are washed, sliced, and soaked in a hot water bath which separates the sugar from the root. The sugary liquid is boiled and concentrated into a thick syrup, brown in color. The brown color is due to high molasses content. The syrup is spun in a similar way as sugar cane to separate the molasses crystals from the white sugar crystals.

Powdered Sugar

Powdered sugar is white sugar that has been ground into a fine powder. It is also referred to as confectioner’s sugar and icing sugar. It is a common ingredient in icings, buttercream, and shortbreads. It is also used to dust the tops of many pastries and desserts to add a touch of sweetness and/or visual appeal.

If you find you need powdered sugar and do not have any you can make your own by grinding white sugar in a very clean coffee grinder until it becomes a powder!

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is simply white sugar mixed with molasses. It is not quite as sweet as white sugar due to the bitterness of molasses. It has a higher moisture content and is sold in light and dark varieties. The only difference between the two is that dark brown sugar has a higher molasses content than light brown sugar. Light brown sugar can be used as a substitute for white sugar, but due to the slightly higher moisture content can change the texture of a baked good.

Brown sugar is commonly used in cookies, muffins, and quick breads where a stronger flavor is warranted. Cinnamon rolls cannot properly exist without brown sugar, in my opinion!

When measuring brown sugar always pack it down firmly into the measuring cup. Not all recipes state that it needs to be packed but it's the proper way to measure brown sugar.

How to Make Brown Sugar

1. Add one cup of white sugar to a food processor. Pour one tablespoon of molasses onto the top of the sugar.

2. Whiz in the food processor until the color is uniform.

For dark brown sugar, follow the same steps as for light brown sugar but add one extra tablespoon of molasses (two tablespoons molasses per cup of white sugar).

How to Save Rock Hard Brown Sugar

Brown sugar contains moisture. If left unused long enough, moisture will eventually evaporate creating rock hard brown sugar crystals. When this happens, there is no need to throw it out. It's just dehydrated and can easily be saved. Place a small piece of bread or a few apple slices in the container and seal tightly. Let sit for one day, remove the bread or apples and give it a good stir.

If you need to use brown sugar straight away you can place it in a bowl with a damp paper towel, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about an hour. Give it a good stir and you'll be good to go!


Molasses crystals that are spun and separated from white sugar crystals during processing are cooked or boiled down in three stages to create a dark colored, viscous liquid called cane syrup (result of the first boiling), molasses (result of the second boiling to make the liquid even thicker), and blackstrap molasses (result of the third boiling, producing the most concentrated liquid and flavor).

Blackstrap molasses contains a significant amount of vitamin B6 and minerals, including; calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese (at about 20% of the daily value), and potassium.

Although it's great all year long, you probably know the flavor of molasses best in the holiday favorites; molasses and gingerbread cookies.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is one of the oldest forms of sweeteners. It is made from the sap of the sugar maple tree and can be collected in late spring or early winter when the temperature is below freezing at night and above freezing during the day, or before buds form on the trees.

Sap is extracted by drilling a hole into the trunk of a maple tree and inserting a tap through which sap can drip from the inside of the tree and out into a bucket. This is a slow process. Once sap is collected it is boiled down into a very sweet syrup.

It is most commonly eaten on pancakes and waffles, however, maple syrup can be substituted for sugar in baked goods. Use ¾ cup maple syrup for every one cup of granulated white sugar.

Maple syrup is divided into grades, which have recently changed names. You will see new labels on most of the bottles like the one below.

Grade A – Golden: This syrup is light in color and flavor, and is the first sap that is tapped in the season. This is the most common type and is typically used to drizzle over pancakes and waffles.

Grade A – Amber: This syrup is slightly darker than the golden variety and has a slightly stronger flavor. It’s made from the sap that is tapped mid-season.

Grade A – Robust: Formerly known as Grade B, this syrup has a brown color and is very rich in flavor. It is absolutely delicious and what I always have on hand!

Grade A – Strong: This has the darkest color and strongest flavor of all the syrups and is formerly known as Grade C. This is made from the sap tapped during the last part of the season. Grade A – Strong can be used in place of any baked good recipe calling for molasses.

In addition to antioxidants, maple syrup contains zinc, manganese, potassium, and calcium.

Imitation Maple Syrup – Although less expensive maple syrup alternatives are available, brands like Aunt Jemima, Hungry Jack, and Mrs. Butterworths do not contain any maple syrup and include extremely unhealthy ingredients like: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Water, Salt, Cellulose Gum, Molasses, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Polysorbate 60, and Sodium Benzoate. If you can avoid imitation maple syrup your taste buds will thank you!

Up Next: Lesson 5 — Eggs

Do you know why eggs are so important in baking; or why some chicken eggs are brown? Prepare to learn amazing facts about eggs.

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