The Building Blocks of Baking – Part 3 Sugar

Here’s a run down of sugar.  The different types and what difference they really make to baking.  Lets start with the white sugars, caster, icing and granulated and then the vast array of brown sugars.  You can also make your own sugar from having one staple ingredient – granulated sugar.  If you have granulated sugar in your cupboard you can create both caster sugar and icing sugar, brown sugar and molasses sugar!  A fantastic space saver and economical as you won’t have to buy lots of different expensive sugars if you don’t want to.

English: A bowl of white granulated sugar. The...

White granulated sugar – the basis of most sugars

Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar is a pure, naturally white, crystalline sugar that contains no additives or preservatives.  It is obtained from sugar cane or sugar beet and is used widely in Europe and the UK.  It is mostly used for sweetening drinks, cereals or fruit.  Although I use caster sugar for strawberries as I find granulated sugar too crunchy.  Granulated sugar is good for recipes in which the liquid content and cooking times are such that the crystals can dissolve completely like jams and marmalade’s.  You can get a light golden granulated sugar that is more lightly processed than white sugar and gives a mellower taste in baking.  I use granulated sugar when making shortbread as I like the texture it gives.  Also in crumble topping.  We only tend to have light golden granulated sugar in our house as my husband is convinced that like bread, it is better for you!  mmmm I’ve never been convinced about that argument.  However brown sugar is slightly lower in calories than white sugar.  Granulated sugar forms the basis of all other sugars.

Caster Sugar

Caster sugar is really just granulated sugar ground down to a superfine consistency.  It is probably the most popular ingredient in the world for baking with.  It dissolves more easily than granulated.  In american recipes it can be referred to as castor sugar or superfine sugar.

Make your own caster sugar:

You don’t have to buy caster sugar, you can make your own.  Put granulated sugar into your food processor  or even a coffee grinder if you have one.  Blitz until fine but not a powder.  Walla – caster sugar fit for a sponge.  Take care when blitzing sugar it may scratch a plastic bender.  Ensure that you measure your sugar after blitzing for accuracy in your recipe.  If you buy golden caster sugar which has had some molasses left in it at the processing stage it will give your recipe a more intense flavour and it will produce a darker colour.  Perfect for cakes and meringues.

Icing Sugar

Icing sugar is a staple ingredient in the home bakers cupboard.  In American recipes it can be referred to as powdered sugar.  Not only do you use it in some cake recipes you can make a variety of different icings to decorate and cover your cakes.  I will be covering icing techniques in the second series.  Icing sugar can be expensive especially if you use it alot.  You can of course make your own.

Christmas tree sugar cookies decorated with ro...

Cookies decorated with icing sugar

Make your own icing sugar:

Make it yourself by blitzing granulated sugar in a food processor.  To make it suitable for icing cakes you need to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of corn flour/corn starch to 1 cup of icing sugar.  This ensures it thickens when icing cakes.

Brown Sugars

Brown sugar has a distinctive brown colour due to the presence of molasses.  Brown sugar can be refine or partially refined to create a soft brown sugar.  It can also have molasses added to create ‘molasses sugar’.  Which is great for creating a rich deep caramel flavour .  Great for yummy cakes and buns.  Or for sprinkling on crumbles or cake toppings.  The nature of the molasses in the sugar makes it soft.

Does it matter which sugar to use?  It is really a matter of taste.  don’t be pressured into buying every single type of sugar if you don’t absolutely want to.  There is a consideration due to moisture content of the sugar in the recipe but it is so small that for home baking it will make no discernible difference.  If you have regular soft brown sugar in your cupboard, dark or light, then use it interchangeable   I do all the time and while it changes the taste to a slightly more caramelly flavour, it is not to its detriment.

Sometimes your brown sugar will have gone hard.  No problem just gently heat it in the microwave for a few seconds.  This melts the molasses in the sugar and it will become soft again.

Light Brown Sugar

Light brown sugar contains 3.5% molasses

Dark Brown Sugar

Dark brown sugar contains up to 6.5% molasses

Brown sugar examples: Muscovado (top), dark br...

Brown sugar examples: Muscovado (top), dark brown (left), golden brown (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Muscovado Sugar

Muscovado sugar is an unrefined brown sugar with an intensely strong molasses flavour.  It can be known as Barbados sugar or molasses sugar.  It is very dark brown, courser and stickier than the other brown sugars.   Again you can happily interchange between brown sugar and molasses sugar.  Just reduce the liquid content of your recipe a touch.  I like to use molasses sugar in fruit cake and also in my rum and chocolate cake.  Rum and dark muscovado sugar complements each other beautifully.

Make your own brown sugar

Yes you can make your own brown sugar.  I thought I would need my own sugar processing factory to master such a fete.  However no you just need some granulated sugar or caster sugar, molasses/treacle.  You mix the two together and you will have lovely fluffy brown sugar.  You can control the intensity of the brown sugar by adding less or more molasses.  Joy the Baker has done this for you with beautiful pictures.  Have a look – it’s really amazing.

Ginger Cake

Ginger Cake made with Dark Brown Sugar

Sugar Storage

In the right conditions sugar can be stored for 30 plus years.  Sugar will absorb strong smells and of course pest love it as much as we do.  It will absorb moisture and become hard.  You can just break it up and it is still OK   If you plan to keep your sugar a long time take it out of the packaging and store in a labeled airtight jar.  Key rules are keep it in a dry, cool and in a dark place.

So you see you can take one recipe and by changing the sugar you will be able to create several different versions depending on the taste you are aiming for.  You can also save a heap of money by not buying lots of different sugars.  Just make your own.


Part 4 will be all about butter.  Why unsalted butter?   Can we not just use spread?  I will have a look and explore the different options.


About Claire Sullivan

Bake - Slice - Eat - Enjoy! An Irish girl living in Norfolk, sharing everything I know about baking and everything I learn along the way. The beautiful County of Norfolk is full of wonderful gems and I can't wait to share them with you.
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