Notes on Sugar

*Sugar is much maligned.  In Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules, he has pages of discussion about what to avoid including sugar if it appears among the first 3 ingredients and corn syrup.  I agree that corn syrup is everywhere and in places where it doesn’t belong.  However, as long as you don’t eat too much (true of everything), then sugar isn’t necessarily evil.  (You can read more about the benefits for the brain and also information on sugar myths.)  Sugar and other sweeteners are part of our diets and definitely part of pastry making.  So, it’s better just to try to understand it.

*I’ve been curious about the different types of sugar and liquid sweeteners for a long time.  The best way to understand something is to play with it (bake).  Where to start?  I thought it would be easiest to start with dry sugars and bake cookies.

*Rose Levy Bernbaum wrote a really great article on sugar/sweeteners.  This article outlines how sugar is processed and its affects on baking.  If you go to your local grocery store, maybe you have to visit the natural food aisles, you can find sugars outside of granulated white and brown.

*I picked C&H granulated white (control – far right, bottom), organic granulated (middle, bottom), C&H standard light brown sugar (left, bottom), demerara (turbindo), and muscavado. In general, I use cane sugars where possible. (See C&H website for more information on cane versus beet. I can taste the difference but some people can’t.)

*Demerara, turbindo, and muscavado are all considered natural brown sugar.  Rather than adding back the molasses, the processing leaves some of the natural molasses in the sugar.  Most other brown sugar is produced by adding molasses to granulated white.

*Light demerara and turbindo (sugars on the left) are considered the same.  (Read more about them here.)  My samples had the same texture and close to the same color and so I used the demerara.  (Note that dark demerara is available and is likely to have more natural molasses.) The muscavado (also muscovado in some places) is definitely lighter and was hard when I opened the package. So, I rehydrated a little in the microwave and used the food processor.

* I considered using palm sugar.  It was extremely difficult to get into the same texture as the other sugars and became liquidy when I put it into the microwave.  So, I tabled using it to another time.

*Referring to the picture with all 6 ramekins above, you can see the color differences from the picture.  The organic granulated looked fine and so I didn’t do any further processing.  The grain size for all 3 natural brown sugars is much larger than regular granulated white and so I ran all of them through the food processor – both for the base cookie and the cinnamon sugar topping.

*I chose Snickerdoodles because the recipes have few ingredients, there are no added flavors other than cinnamon, and they’re easy to make.  You can find many recipes for Snickerdoodles on the web.  I compared many recipes and combined parts to get the recipe at the end of this page.  Note that I weighed all the ingredients, even though I gave measurements in standard household form.

*In place of the usual margarine (or all butter), I used Earth Balance.  Earth Balance is designed to replace butter.  Earth Balance isn’t technically a margarine because they have less fat than margarine.  It also combines healthy fats and no hydrogenated ones.

*Top left = granulated white

*Bottom left = organic white

*Top right (middle) = processed light brown sugar

*Bottom right (middle) = demerara

*Far right = Muscavado

*Visual results:  1.  You can see the darkness difference between the granulated white/organic and the various brown sugars.   2.  The organic had a much rougher texture than the granulated white (or even the light brown).  Even though the granules look similar to the granulated white, there seems to be some level of impurity and maybe even some level of chemical difference.

*Taste results:  1.  Those who like Snickerdoodles could identify them and liked this version.  One person was so set that she didn’t bother to rate (or maybe didn’t like but didn’t say so) the other cookies.  2.  The organic received a lot of positive reviews – even though the texture and taste were identified as slightly different. Oddly, some people thought there was more salt or cinnamon or baking soda but these ingredients were controlled across conditions. 3. The results of the three brown sugars (refined and natural) were all over the place.  The molasses content must vary significantly and this causes both a change in texture and flavor.  4.  The most interesting results were for muscavado.   People either really liked it or didn’t.  The cookie was more cake-like and the batter felt between the granulated white and the brown.

*So, what do I think of these different sugars?  1.  I can see why people use granulated white and processed brown sugar because they definitely produce the most consistent and pretty results.  2. Because they are more natural, organic, demerara, turbindo, and muscavado brown sugars produce more interesting, if inconsistent, results.  3.  Rehydrating the muscavado might have changed the consistency of the sugar to result in such inconsistent reviews.

*The bottom line: I think that you can substitute the brown sugars for white sugar but you might have to adjust both the texture (use food processor) and the holding time (time in the fridge/freezer).

Snickerdoodle recipe (used for this experiment)

½ stick of butter

½ stick of Earth Balance

¾ C sugar

1 egg

1 ½ C flour

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

topping:  1 T sugar + ¼ tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven 375.  Cream sugar with fats.  Add egg.  Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Add to egg mixture.  Wrap in plastic wrap and place into the fridge for 1 hour or the freezer for 30 minutes.  (If the dough is not hard enough, then allow to cool for a bit longer.)  Roll into 1” balls and then roll balls in topping.  Place onto cookie sheets and bake for 14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Sugar & Brown sugars « Etudes in Food  |  January 16, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    […] granulated/dry sugars.  The details for the experiment (including recipe) can be found on my sugar page with this post as my […]

    Reply

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