Baking Basic Series 101: Role of Sugar in Baking, It is More Than Just For Sweetness

No doubt sugar makes food better and sometimes even addictive, no wonder a lot of recipe that we love are loaded with sugar. Sugar comes in different forms and different names. Sugar is almost in everything that we eat. We love sugar for the sweet taste it gives to our food, but is it all that? In todays lesson, I want to share with you a little bit about sugar and what roles it play in baking. There’s more to sweetness from sugar, and that is what we will learn in this lesson today.

Today’s Lesson: There’s More to Sugar than Sweetness in Baking

When we talk about sugar, we talk about sweetness. How sweet the cake, the frosting, the cookie. But sugar provides more than just sweetness to our bake products, we may not noticed it immediately because we are focused on the sweetness, but sugar is capable of giving more than that. 

Role of Sugar in Baking

Sweetness

The obvious reason which we already know is sweetness. Sugar provides the sweet taste we loved in bake products. Regardless if you are using granulated sugar, a liquid sweetener or plant based sweetener, the main goal is to add sweetness to the baked product, but is it all that?

Moisture

Sugar helps keep things moist. It also extends the shelf life of food by increasing moisture retention and preventing foods from drying out so quickly. Depending on the type of sugar used, sugar can be too moist and absorbent like in the case of icing sugar. 

Texture

Sugar provides texture to baked products. Think of muffin and scones. Sprinkling sugar on top before baking produces a finished product with a nicely browned top and a bit of a crunch. Another example is when using sugar as coating for cookies. Remember the Peanut Butter Cookies rolled in granulated sugar? How about the Chocolate Crinkles rolled in icing sugar, or my Cream Cheese Stuffed Red Velvet Cookies? Good delicious memories.

Tenderizer

You probably did not expect this, at least I did not. Sugar tenderizes baked goods. When sugar begins to dissolve, and absorb water in a batter, it interferes and delay gluten formation and structure building making a more tender product. When sugar is creamed with butter, sugar cuts through the batter thus forcing air into the mixture which produces a lighter baked products. 

Foundation

Sugar when used in frosting, glazes and icing, plays the role of providing the foundation. Sugar is what holds all the ingredients together. This is why it is important to get the correct balance of sugar and butter when making buttercream frosting. Without enough sugar, the frosting will not hold its shape. 

Stability

Think about Meringue cookies. What makes meringue stiff and what makes it hold its shape is sugar. Sugar stabilize the egg and protects the egg white from overheating which can cause the meringue to collapse. So when you’re meringue starts collapsing and falling apart, you are probably not adding enough sugar to stabilize the egg. 

Color

Imagine the sugar top of Creme Brulee and how beautifully brown and shiny it is. That’s sugar being heated and caramelized. Sugar provides a nice browning to baked goods. Notice the top of the bread or muffins, the nice golden brown top has something to do with the sugar added in it. Baked goods that uses a lot of sugar tends to brown faster and a shiny and glossy top.

Garnishing

Sugar is great for garnishing baked products. Sprinkle of top of muffins or cookies. It can also be used as cake topper when heated and shaped. Think about those fancy and beautiful sugar works decorations.

Reducing Sugar in Recipe

Since sugar plays a role bigger than just adding sweetness to bake products, you have to carefully study the recipe before deciding to reduce the amount of sugar. You probably want to cut the sweetness, and that can be addressed by reducing sugar. But since sugar also provides moisture, you will have to consider what other ingredient in the recipe you need to increase to compensate for the lost of moisture. If it is the reverse and you want to add more sugar, you have to consider what dry ingredients you need to increase to accommodate the additional moisture you are adding in the recipe. When we only think of sweetness as role of the sugar, that’s pretty simple, but sugar is more than that so be careful when adjusting the sugar in the recipe. 

Types of Sugar

Granulated Sugar

This highly refined sugar is the most common sugar use in baking and even in our day to day life. 

Usage: Almost any baked goods, but not for frosting 

Caster Sugar or Fine Sugar

This is almost the same as granulated sugar, with the major difference in texture. This has a finer texture, it melts and incorporate well in the batter. 

Usage: This sugar is great for making meringue or for adding in whipped cream or any other baked products, glazes or syrup that benefit from it being easily dissolved. You can make your own caster sugar by simply processing granulated sugar in food processor until fine.

Icing Sugar or Confectioner’s Sugar

This is just granulated sugar that has been ground into a powder. 

Usage: This sugar is best for frosting, glazes, icing

Sanding Sugar

This is a much coarser granulated sugar with higher melting point.

Usage: Best for sprinkling on top of baked products like muffins and cookies 

Pear Sugar

This is the coarsest white sugar and it does not melt easily when heated

Usage: Great on top of pastry and baked goods 

Types of Brown Sugar

Evaporated Brown Sugar

This type of brown sugar is made from sugarcane like white sugar but it undergoes less filtering. In appearance, it is more closer to granulated white sugar but slightly brownish in color. 

Usage: Can be used as substitute for granulated white sugar but the color of the baked product since it had not been decolonized from its natural state. 

Light Brown Sugar

This type of Brown sugar is a refined white sugar with some of the molasses left or even added back. Because of its sticky moist characteristics, some people think that it actually provides more moisture to the final product, but actually it does not. 

Dark Brown Sugar

This type of Brown sugar is the same as light brown sugar but with more molasses. Molasses is what keeps the brown sugar moist and soft. This is why it is not advisable to exposed brown sugar as exposure could make the moisture evaporate thus resulting to a harden sugar.

Turbinado Sugar

This is the coarser and less sticky version of brown sugar. It has a lighter brown color, with coarse texture. The processing removes most of the molasses. 

Demerara Sugar

This is similar to tubinado sugar but lighter in color. It has a subtle toffee flavor. 

Muscavado Sugar

This is the darkest and richest of brown sugar. It is unrefined cane sugar, where the molasses has not been removed.

How to Store Brown Sugar

Keep it in an airtight container, in a cool dry place. Since brown sugar is more susceptible to drying, I like keeping it in more than 1 container. I keep smaller portion in a small container and that is the one that I use often. I only open the bigger container when I need to refill the small container to minimize the exposure to air.

How to Bring Back Moisture to Hard Brown Sugar

You will be amazed with this simple trick. Simply put a slice of fresh bread in the container and cover. Leave overnight, the following day you’ll be surprised to see that you’re brown sugar is almost as new as opening a new package. So you ask how does it work? Simple. Brown sugar hardens because of frequent exposure to air. Every time you open the jar, you exposed it, and exposure to air makes brown sugar harden. Now the bread gives back that lost moisture. When the bread is trapped in the jar, the brown sugar absorbs the moisture of the bread thus bringing it back to life. That simple, and amazing! Problem solved!

Bottom Line

There is more to sweetness in sugar when using it for baking. Adjusting the amount of sugar in a recipe is not always as straight forward as increasing or decreasing the amount in the recipe. Other ingredients may need to be adjusted too.

Ok guys, that’s it for today. I hope you find this helpful, let’s give sugar more credit than it deserves, after all, it’s more than just sweetness. The next time you think of adjusting the amount of sugar in the recipe, think and analyze the recipe further before proceeding

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