Sugar, in all its wonderous forms, has been the focus of many articles over the past few years. People have expressed curiosity and a desire to try some of these sugars in their baking but are uncertain as to how to use them in place of the familiar refined granulated sugar. I wrote the following article primarily for chefs, in an attempt to demystify the subject. But I think the time has come to share it with the home baker as well.
First a tip regarding a commonly used sugar: Light brown. I store it in a canning jar where it stays soft for years, but if it should harden and lump, I make a little cup of aluminum foil, place it on top of the sugar, wet a paper towel, wringing out excess water, set it in the foil cup, and close the jar. In a matter of hours the sugar will soften as if by magic.
Whenever a recipe calls for light brown sugar I chose light Muscovado from the Island of Mauritius, off the coast of India. It is available in many specialty stores and on line at www.indiatree.com. The flavor is far more complex and delicious than ordinary light brown sugar and elevates the dessert to a higher plane.
Roses Sugar Bible published in Food Arts Magazine April 2000
Sugar, the one flavor that is pleasing to all humans and other mammals on birth, is alluring, addictive, and can be a powerful tool in the hands of the right cook.
Yes, sugar is sweet. But there's a lot more to it than that. Sugar can offer subtle to intense overtones of butterscotch, toffee, caramel, wine, molasses, spice and even bitterness. These qualities derive from both the variety of the sugar source and from the degree and type of refinement. Knowing the different varieties and granulations of sugar and the ways in which they best perform can add considerable depth, drama and sparkle to both cooking and baking.
The dictionary definition of sugar is "any of a class of water soluble crystalline carbohydrates...having a characteristically sweet taste." This would include fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (milk sugar), maltose (malt sugar) and dextrose (corn sugar). The sugar most commonly known and used in baking, however, is sucrose and is most easily obtained from sugar cane or sugar beets.
A molecule of sucrose is composed of one fructose and one glucose molecule joined together to form a simple carbohydrate, easy to digest and full of energy. Other plants are capable of making sugar, but both cane and beet make it in quantities large enough to support refining.
The initial processing of sucrose extracts the sugar juices and crystallizes them. The sugar juices, which would spoil very rapidly, are thereby converted to raw sugar which has an indefinite shelf life. This process of creating crystallized sugar is thought to have begun in India before 3000 b.c.
The second and optional process in sugar production is refining to remove "impurities." This refers to anything that is not purely sucrose such as molasses and minerals. Although there is certainly an important place for pure refined white sugar, such as in meringues, fondants, and syrups, this is not to say that "impure" or less refined sugar is not highly desirable or even preferable and more exciting for many other uses from cakes to stews. Also, in addition to removing impurities and color, the refining and bleaching process produces an undesirable element of slight bitterness not present in partially refined sugar with only a trace of natural molasses. When it comes to light brown and dark brown sugar, however, refining results in flavor differences that are even more significant. Because partially refined brown sugar still contains some of its natural molasses, it has bright, clear color and rich taste with delicious underlying flavor components.
Refined brown sugar, such as beet sugar, which must have its molasses removed as it is not deemed fit for human consumption, however, has had all the molasses removed and then other molasses added back, at the expense of considerable depth of flavor. This is partially because an inferior grade of industrial molasses is often used and the molasses merely coats the outside of the sugar crystal and is no longer part of the crystal itself. In some cases food color, which is flavorless, is used instead of molasses to recreate the original brown appearance. This process is known as painting. A simple test to determine if the molasses has been removed and then added back is to add a spoonful of sugar to a glass of water. After just a few minutes, the water in the "painted" sugar will turn a pale brown and the sugar crystals will be clear. With partially refined sugar that still contains its natural molasses the water will remain clear and the sugar crystals brown. (Note, all sugar and sugar syrups are considered Kosher.)
After harvesting, the plants are shredded and pressed to remove the juices. Insoluble matter is removed and water is added. This syrup is boiled in large steam evaporators. The substance that remains is crystallized in heated vacuum pans and the liquid, now called molasses, is separated from the crystals by spinning it in a centrifuge. At this stage the sugar is known as raw sugar and contains 3 percent impurities. The raw sugar crystals are washed with steam and are called turbinado sugar, which is 99 percent pure sucrose. Although turbinado closely resembles refined white sugar in sweetening ability and composition, it cannot always be substituted in recipes. Its moisture content varies considerably which, coupled with its molasses flavor and coarse granulation, can affect a recipe without careful adjustment.
Refined white sugar is processed from turbinado sugar. The turbinado sugar is heated again to a liquid state, centrifuged, clarified with lime or phosphoric acid, and then percolated through a column of beef-bone char or mixed in a solution of activated carbon. This last process whitens the sugar and removes all calcium and magnesium salts. Finally, the sugar is pumped back into vacuum pans where it is heated until it crystallizes. It is centrifuged to remove syrup (marketed as refiner's syrup). It is not possible to crystallize and extract all the sugar in one operation so this boiling process is repeated several times. The sugar is then dried. The resulting sugar is 99.95 percent sucrose. (Sugar that is less refined may be somewhat gray in color and the protein impurities may cause foaming when the sugar is added to the liquid in a given recipe.) The sugar is then sieved and sorted for the different granulations.
GRANULATION AND VARIETY OF SUGAR (SIZE OF CRYSTAL AND AMOUNT OF MOLASSES)
All 99.95 percent refined sucrose has equal sweetening power despite the degree of granulation. The only difference in content is that powdered sugar has 3 percent cornstarch added to prevent lumping.
Regular granulated or fine granulated: This is the all-purpose sugar found in most sugar bowls and available in all supermarkets. This granulation is suitable for making syrups, but for most other baking a finer granulation is preferable. The term fine granulated is not to be confused with superfine which is much finer.
Extra-fine: Available commercially, this sugar is also known as fruit sugar because it is used in the preservation of fruits. Most professional bakers use this granulation as their all-purpose sugar if they can't find baker's special. When used in cakes, it results in a fine crumb and lighter texture because, with smaller crystals, more surface area is available to trap air. In the creaming process, the sharp or angular surfaces of the sugar crystals catch air. If the surface were smooth, as with powdered sugar, the grains would just clump together and not allow air in between. The more crystals there are, the more air will be incorporated. Cookies made with extra-fine sugar are smoother and have fewer cracks. Finer sugar also dissolves more easily and makes lighter, more delicate meringues.
Baker's special: Available commercially, this sugar is slightly finer than extra-fine and almost as fine as superfine. This is the perfect granulation for all baking. A close approximation can be made in the food processor using a coarser granulation and processing for a few minutes. Using a food processor it is possible to make a more finely granulated sugar, but the crystals will not be as uniform in size as in commercially produced finer grain sugars.
Castor sugar: This is a term that appears in British cookbooks. The sugar, commonplace in England, is slightly finer than baker's special. Its name is derived from the shaker top container in which it often appears. If you are converting a British recipe, substitute baker's special or superfine sugar.
Bar sugar, superfine, or ultrafine: This is the finest granulation of sugar and comes only in 1-pound boxes. It is sometimes called bar sugar because it is used in bars to make drinks that require fast-dissolving sugar. For the same reason, it is ideal for making meringues and fillings.
Powdered, confectioner's, or icing sugar: While it is possible to achieve a very fine granulation in the food processor, it is not possible to make true powdered sugar. This can only be done commercially. At one time, powdered sugar was stone-ground, but now it is ground in a steel magnesium rotary which turns against varying degrees of fine screens, each one determining a different fineness of the grind. The coarser granulation of the initial sugar, the more even will be the final grind. As might be expected, the finer the granulation, the greater the tendency of the sugar to lump, which explains why 3 percent cornstarch is added to absorb any moisture from the air before the sugar can. The cornstarch adds what is perceived as a raw taste and makes powdered sugar less suitable than granulated sugar for use with ingredients that are not to be cooked.
Powdered sugar comes in 4 degrees of fineness: 10XX (India Tree), 10X, the finest (available in supermarkets), 6X, and 4X, both of which are available commercially.
Nonmelting powdered sugar: This sugar is coated with a fat that keeps it from melting when sprinkled on top of cake, or fruit. There is a slight sensation of mouth coating which I find unpleasant.
Loaf or cube sugar: This is merely granulated sugar that has been pressed into molds when moist and then allowed to dry so it maintains the shape. Some recipes, particularly in the confectionery area, specify loaf sugar because at one time it was more refined. Today, this is not the case. In fact, due to modern manufacturing methods, the cubes have traces of oil from the molds, which makes them less desirable for sugar boiling.
Rock sugar and rock candy: This confection of clear transparent or amber crystals, also available on string or swizzle sticks with which to stir coffee, results from further refining by crystallization of refined cane sugar. It is produced by dissolving sugar in water to which string or wooden swizzle sticks are added, causing the sugar to transmute into transparent crystals which cling to the string or stick. Documentation as far back as 1584 refers to rock candy as having medicinal properties. Recipes to cure colds in the early part of the 20th century include "Rock and Rye."
Medium coarse and coarse pearl sugar or sanding sugar: These are the first crystals that form and are therefore the purest. Known as "strong" sugar because it resists color changes and inversion at high temperatures due to the absence of impurities, this type of sugar is ideal for confections and cordials and also for preparing caramel because impurities can cause crystallization. These large granules are sometimes used to sprinkle on cookies and pastries because they catch and reflect light providing sparkle. They are also available in varying colors and finer granulation (See sources--India Tree "sparkling sugar").
GemSugar: A new colored large sugar crystal made from Thai sugar cane. It is all natural because the color comes from infusing the sugar with herbs. This process produces a dazzling jewel like hue. The crystals are flavor neutral except for the amber sugar variety that has a faint butterscotch flavor. GemSugar is made by producing large rock crystal chunks which are then broken apart with hammers. The 3-5 mm size crystals that fragment off are the GemSugar. It is used for decorative settings or presentation.
Vanilla Sugar: This sugar is made by burying 2 or 3 vanilla beans in about one pound of sugar. The sugar is then covered and allowed to stand for at least one week. This is also a good use for used vanilla bean pods after they are dried. Pastry Chef Jean Philippe Maury of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, recommends substituting it for 8 percent of the weight of the sugar used in a recipe.
Brown Sugar: Most brown sugar is ordinary refined sucrose with some of the molasses returned to it (3.5 percent for light brown sugar, 6.5 percent for dark brown). When a recipe calls for brown sugar, it refers to light brown sugar unless otherwise specified.
If replacing light brown Muscovado sugar with more commonly available brown sugar it is best to use dark brown. Domino dark brown, more available on the east coast, has slightly less molasses than C & H which is more available in the Midwest and west coast. Neither has the complexity of Muscovado but for a similar molasses intensity the dark brown of either brand will come closer to the light brown Muscovado.
Equal volume of either type of brown sugar has the same sugar content as refined white sugar, but brown sugar must be measured by packing it firmly into the cup (therefore weighing is much easier). Dark brown sugar weighs the most because of its added molasses. Molasses also adds extra moisture to the sugar (light molasses contains 24 percent water). Dark brown sugar contains 6.5 percent molasses and a total of 2.1 percent water. Light brown sugar contains 3.5 percent molasses and a total of 1.3 percent water. (Plain white sugar contains only 0.5 percent water.)
Dark brown sugar weighs the most because of the additional molasses. Molasses also adds moisture to the sugar.
Meringue and dacquoise are usually made with refined sugar, but they also can be made with turbinado sugar as long as you allow the sugar to sit in the egg white for a minimum of 30 minutes to dissolve fully before beating. Even Italian meringue can be made with turbinado sugar syrup. And if an inter¬fering agent, such as pineapple juice, is used for caramel, turbinado also works beautifully, though it lowers the temperature of the finished stages of the caramel.
Store brown sugar in an airtight container, such as a canning jar, to keep it from losing moisture and solidifying. If the sugar should solidify, make a small shallow cup from a piece of aluminum foil and set it on top of the sugar in the container. Tear a paper towel in half, wet it, and squeeze out most of the wa¬ter. Set the towel on top of the foil, not touching the sugar. Cover the container tightly and, within several hours, the sugar will have drawn the moisture from the paper towel and become soft and loose again
If you run out of brown sugar and have white sugar and molasses on hand, the recommended conversion is: 1 cup packed light brown sugar 217 grams = 1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar + ¼ cup unsulfured molasses. 1 cup packed dark brown sugar/ 239 grams=1 cup granulated sugar + ½ cup unsulfured light molasses
PARTIALLY REFINED SUGAR PRODUCTION
Sugar that still contains some of its molasses and is not clarified and bleached is often referred to as unrefined. Actually, it is partially refined because during the initial processing necessary to obtain crystals (boiling, centrifuging and washing) some of the "impurities" are removed. Unlike refined sugar that is highly consistent in quality, partially refined sugars may vary in color, flavor and intensity, from batch to batch.
Amber crystal and golden caster sugar are the result of the first crystallization, where there is a higher proportion of sucrose to impurities. Raw sugar is from the second crystallization. Light and dark Muscovado and molasses are the results of the third crystallization when the sugar is placed in a tall sugar filtering bin where, by gravity, the molasses filters to the bottom. The light Muscovado is taken from the upper middle and the dark Muscovado is taken from the lower middle of the bin. ("Muscovado" sugars derived their name from Portuguese meaning "from the middle," referring to a traditional method of producing brown sugars before the invention of refined white sugar. )
Partially refined sugar from the tropical island Mauritius in the Indian ocean off the coast of Africa is considered to be the finest quality. The special flavor of the sugar is said to be derived from the sugar cane grown on the volcanic ash. Sugar from Mauritius, is imported from England (see Sources).
Granulations and Varieties of Partially Refined Sugar
Golden castor (fine granulated from the first boiling or crystallization)
I use this sugar for all baking except meringues and fondants where I prefer a pristine white color and sugar syrups where more purity (refinement) helps to avoid crystallization. (However the addition of glucose powder makes it possible to produce a caramel that will not crystallize readily.)
Although the color and therefore amount of molasses varies, I find that the resulting product has a flavor ranging from merely more pure to slightly more flavorful.
Amber crystal (coarse granulated sugar, also from the first crystallization) made by a long period of heating to produce a burnt caramelized sugar liquor and then evaporated and allowed to crystallize over a 4 week period. These crystals are valued in England for their slow dissolving quality in coffee and are sometimes labeled as "coffee sugar."
Demerara: larger granulation of brown sugar, lighter in color because it has less molasses than the Muscovado sugars. It is also available as cubes.
Light Muscovado (light brown), dark Muscovado (dark brown). I value these sugars for their delicious complexity and robustness of flavors they offer to recipes where brown sugar is desired.
Molasses Sugar: dark Muscovado with extra molasses. This very moist sugar, available in the UK, is used in gingerbread to give it extra moist/stickiness and more flavor intensity, fruit cake, mincemeat, and barbecue sauce.
Florida Crystals produces excellent organic and milled cane sugars, similar in granulation to golden caster but consistently paler golden in color. The organic has a slightly milder, more pure aroma but there is no distinguishable difference in flavor. The organic sugar is "certified to be grown, milled and packaged free of any petrochemicals in accordance with earth-friendly methods." This is the (not so) plain vanilla of sugars, offering the pure taste of sweetness with no biterness or hint of molasses. This is my basic baking sugar when I want to sweeten without flavoring.
Sucanat: This is a type of brown sugar in the form of irregularly shaped granules. It is a blend of black strap molasses and cane sugar and is similar in color to light brown or Muscovado sugar but has less moisture. (Non organic Sucanat is also available.)
Wasanbon, a pale beige powder, is a very pure artisanal sugar from a Chinese variety of sugar cane that has been grown organically for the past 200 years only in a very small area on the island of Shikoku in the Tokushima area in Japan. It is very scarce and very expensive. It is sugar that is processed but not refined through lye or any other bleaching. Partial refining is accomplished by hand by rinsing with water, kneading in a linen cloth and compressing it for 3 nights and is then left on trays to drain. Japanese food writer and pastry chef Reiko Akehi reports that it is the kneading process that reduces the sugar to its powdered form. Although the packaging may be identical, there is a variance in grades, some being lighter in color (containing less molasses) and slightly smoother in texture. Chef Akehi says that the very finest quality is in such small supply it is never exported, however, even the "lesser" quality samples tasted were extraordinary. Wasanbon is at its best in recipes that are not cooked as if heated it loses its delicate aroma and flavor. It is said to enhance the flavor of fruit. It melts instantly on the tongue because it is powdered and contains no cornstarch or other anti-caking agent to prevent lumping. It must therefore be stored in an airtight container. Because it dissolves so instantly, it is particularly useful for sprinkling on berries to be consumed immediately because the berries keep all their juice instead of forming a syrup. Wasanbon is used in Japan for making Wagashi candy by combining it with rice flour and compressing it into decorative forms. This is the traditional sweet served during the tea ceremony. Daryl Corti, of Corti Brothers, is importing the famous Okada brand into this country in very limited supplies (see Sources). In addition to using it to accentuate fruit flavor, he also recommends using it on graavlax in place of the usual brown sugar. Wasanban is also available in irregularly shaped cubes for use in coffee, tea, or simply as a candy.
Blocks of highly flavorful unrefined sugar, exported from India are called jaggery. This sugar is produced by boiling down the cane syrup in enormous copper pans. Chemicals are added to solidify the sugar into blocks. The Latin American equivalent of jaggery is called piloncillo and panelacactus
India and Thailand also export the more subtle date palm sugar which is produced from the date palm tree's sap and comes in granular or in cake form. This is not to be confused with date sugar, available in granular form in health food stores, which is made from the actual fruit that is dried and ground.
Maple sugar: This sugar is crystallized by the evaporation of maple sap from the sugar maple tree. It is finely granulated and can be substituted in equal weight (not volume) for all or part of plain granulated sugar even in cake baking without affecting the texture. It consists mostly of sucrose with some invert sugar and ash.
Birch Sugar: This sugar, sold under the name "The Ultimate Sweetener" is extracted from the bark of the birch tree (without destroying the tree). It is 100% birch sugar, also known as xylitol. 1 cup=100 grams which is half the weight of granulated sugar and half the calories. Directions say to use the same amount (volume) as white sugar. The company claims it can be used in place of refined sugar for all baking including cakes and cookies. Though fine granulated, it disappears immediately on the tongue with an oddly cool sensation.
BEET SUGAR VERSUS SUGAR CANE SUGAR
Because both sugars are sucrose and chemically identical, it has been thought that beet and cane sugars perform identically. But some bakers have reported what they suspect to be conflicting results and have concluded that cane sugar is superior. In an article by Miriam Morgan, in the San Francisco Chronicle (March 31, 1999) she hypothesized that the supposed difference may be due to the fact that both sugars are 99.95 percent sucrose. The remaining 0.05 percent is made up of trace differences in minerals and proteins which may account for the difference in performance of the two sugars. Caroline Weil of The Bake Shop in Berkeley reported that her sugar syrups, when made with beet sugar, crystallized into large, chunky granules. Food writer and cookbook author Flo Braker has experienced a similar problem when making sugar syrups in France where beet sugar is prevalent and has found that the small addition of cream of tartar as interfering agent works well when using the beet sugar for syrups. Food writer and cookbook author Marion Cunningham has found that cakes such as angel food and sponge develop a coarse texture with beet sugar. I personally have not noticed any change in my recipes using refined or partially refined fine granulated sugar and would hypothesize that there are many possible causes for variation. More extensive scientific investigation is required to come to a definitive conclusion.
Isomalt: This chemically modified sugar is classified as a polyvol. It is produced by enzymatic rearrangement of sucrose in two stages. It is odorless, white, crystalline, and low hygroscopic. It does not readily crystallize or caramelize, and also offers reduced calories and mild sweetness (about half the sweetness of sugar). It is useful for piped, pulled, and cast sugar decoration show pieces because it holds up so well, remaining dry and resisting collapse.
Because, like cooked sugar, Isomalt is relatively rigid, for pulling, piping, or shaping, it is recommended that a small amount of water and about 10% glucose are added before boiling it to 340 degrees F..
Dextrose: Is crystallized and powdered corn sugar (glucose) obtained by hydrolyzing cornstarch with acid. It's sweetening power is much lower than sucrose and it does not dissolve as readily when sprinkled on whole berries or the surface of a pie, making it ideal to use for stenciling designs. Pastry chef Andrew Shotts uses it to sprinkle on cut strawberries instead of a jelly glaze to keep them fresh. The sugar dissolves to form a thin glossy film which keeps the berries from drying.
Fructose: Commercial fructose is made by the chemical breakdown of sucrose. Sugar obtained from fruit and from most vegetables is fructose. It's sweetening power is almost double that of sucrose when consumed cold or at room temperature. Fructose is known to enhance fruit flavor.
Malt Sugar or Syrup: Barley malt syrup or powdered malt is used in breads because, unlike sucrose, it does not interfere with gluten develop and because the diastatic variety contains enzymes to convert flour to yeast food. It contributes both flavor and color, however, these enzymes require at least 8 hours to work effectively in the fermenting dough.
Sorbital: A sugar substitute derived from an alcohol found in the skin of ripe berries. cherries, plums. It comes in powder, flakes or granules. It is an anticrystalization agent and is used as a thickener in candies, and as a stabilizer and sweetener in frozen desserts.
GENERAL USES OF SUGAR
Sugar has a wide range of applications in and beyond food preparation including cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. In food its uses are manifold. It contributes to sweetness, viscosity and body and enhances flavor, appearance and texture. It brings out and softens the flavor of starch-containing vegetables such as peas and carrots, and gives them sheen. It also tempers acidity in foods such as tomatoes. It aids in color development (baked goods) and promotes the caramelization of the natural sugar present in onions.) It increases moisture retention (baked goods),increases the boiling point (custards), and lowers the freezing point (ice creams). It assists in emulsification (chocolate, baked goods and ice creams) and fermentation (bread, wine and brewing). It provides stability (egg whites). It delays staling (baked goods), discoloration (fresh fruit) and coagulation (egg cookery). It helps to inhibit mould growth in preserves. It forms varying sizes of crystals in candy making. It tenderizes baked goods such as bread, cookies, pie crust, pastry and cakes by competing with the starch to absorb the liquid by combining with the 2 gluten-forming proteins in the flour to prevent them from forming gluten. Even if the gluten is already formed, when the sugar is added it will still combine with the proteins and break up the gluten.
How sugar affects texture in baking is especially apparent in cakes. In addition to facilitating the incorporation of air during the creaming of the sugar and the fat, and minimizing the formation of gluten, it also creates tenderness because sugar elevates the temperature at which egg protein coagulates and the starch granules gelatinize, enabling the gas cells to expand more before the batter sets. This creates a more open texture, weakening the cake's structure and making it melt faster in the mouth. (Though a cake high in sugar is more tender, i.e. will fall apart more easily, it will not have as soft a mouth feel.) In a baked cake, sugar also serves to retain moisture.
Refiner's Syrup: Containing 15 to 18 percent water, this is a delicious by-product of sugar refining. When syrup, after many boilings, ceases to yield crystals it is filtered and concentrated into this golden-colored syrup. The sugars consist of 1 part sucrose to two parts invert which can lead to slightly higher hygroscopicity and also to slightly more rapid coloring when heated. The syrup has an ash content of 1.3% which has a very significant crystallization inhibiting effect. In most instances it can be used interchangeably with light corn syrup, offering a more mellow and intriguing flavor. In industry it is used to flavor dark corn syrup. Tate and Lyle, a British company, packages it as Lyle's Golden Syrup.
Molasses: Containing 24 percent water, unsulfured molasses has the best flavor because it is refined from the concentrated juice of sugar cane. The sulfured variety is usually a byproduct of sugar making and tastes of the residues of sulfur dioxide introduced during the sugar making process. A cup of molasses is the equivalent of about 3/4 cup of sugar in sweetness. Blackstrap Molasses is the most concentrated form of molasses produced during the third and final centrifuging of the raw sugar crystals. It is therefore the darkest and most bitter. The dark color is partially due to the caramelization of the remaining sugars during repeated reboilings of the syrup.
Black Treacle: Containing 18 percent water, this dark, thick liquid is obtained from the residual molasses which is drained from the molds used in the sugar refining process. The flavor of molasses varies considerably depending on the source and origin of the raw sugar. It is generally considered too bitter or pronounced for culinary use but by blending with other intermediate refinery liquors and then evaporated and filtered it is valued in the U.K. for baking and the confectionery where a rich flavor, dark color, and moist texture are required such as in gingerbread and fruit cakes, and liquorice, which contains 20% or more treacle for flavor, moisture and sheen. As it contains only about 65% sugars and 4 to 9 percent minerals, it is far less sweet than sugar. It is considered to be of a higher quality than molasses. (It is a good source of iron, containing more than spinach and also calcium, containing more than milk. it is also high in potassium.)
Corn Syrup: Containing 24 percent water, corn syrup is obtained by partial hydrolysis of cornstarch by acid, alkaline or enzymatic catalysts. Fructose is added to prevent crystallization. It is susceptible to fermentation if contaminated, so care should be taken not to return any unused portion to the bottle. Fermented corn syrup has a sour taste and should be discarded. If used in low concentration, corn syrup has, by volume, half the sweetening power of sucrose but in high concentration is about equal. It can be used interchangeably with refiner's syrup but is more flavor neutral.
Glucose: Containing 15 to 19.7 percent water, is an invert sugar found in many plants and in great abundance in corn. It is also susceptible to fermentation if contaminated. Glucose browns at a lower temperature than other sugars. Glucose contains a high amount of dextrins(which break down starch). Glucose is highly effective in preventing crystallization and is also useful to increase the pliability of molten sugar mixtures for pulling and shaping without cracking and breaking. Glucose is also available as a powder, containing 95% solids and only 50% sweetness and is effective to prevent crystallization in ice cream while reducing sweetness by replacing some of the sugar. It is also useful for preventing crystallization in caramel syrups by adding about 4% the weight of the sugar.(Source: Patisfrance)
Grape Syrup: This new import from Italy is pure fructose in liquid form. It works well to sweeten fruit, particularly for fruit salad. Source (Albert Uster)
Trimoline: Containing about 25 percent water. Invented in Alsace, it is produced from beets, and is made up of 22% invert and 78% solids. It is used in sponges, ganache, ice cream, and anything high in fat because it emulsifies the fat by breaking it down into smaller particles. It has a sweetening power of 128%.
Sorghum Syrup: Containing 23 percent water, is obtained by the concentration of the juice of the sugar sorghum.
Maple Syrup: Containing 23 percent water is obtained by the concentration of the sap of the maple tree.
Agave Syrup: Containing 23 to 25 percent water is a golden or a neutral syrup, produced from organically grown blue agave cactus. The golden variety has a slight taste of mescal. Because it is fructose, it's sweetening power is higher than sucrose when not heated above 120°F at which point it also begins to color. Unlike fructose sweeteners that are produced chemically, the fructose is separated by an enzymatic process and then evaporated to the desired consistency. It is used to make beverages such as tequila and in soft drinks, and is noted as being more tolerable for some diabetics.
Stevia: a syrup produced from an herb in Mexico is available both in powder and liquid form and is approximately double the sweetness of sucrose. It is also tolerated by some diabetics and available in Health Food Stores.
Honey: Containing 17.2 percent water, is the nectar of plants gathered, modified, stored, and concentrated by honey bees. It is made up of levulose (fructose) and dextrose (glucose). Honey has many sources, such as borage, buckwheat, avocado, thyme, clover and its flavor varies accordingly.
PERCENTAGE OF WATER CONTAINED IN SUGAR AND SUGAR SYRUPS
white sugar: 0.5 %
maple sugar: 8%
brown sugar: 2.1%
malt, dried: 5.2%
agave syrup: 24%
corn syrup: 24%
glucose: 15 to 19.7%
maple syrup: 23%
refiner's syrup: 15 to 18%
black treacle: 18%
MAKING SUGAR SYRUPS
When making a sugar syrup for Italian meringue or classic buttercream, for example, the sugar is concentrated to produce a supersaturated solution from a saturated one. A saturated sugar solution contains the maximum amount of sugar possible at room temperature without precipitating out into crystals. A supersaturated sugar solution contains more sugar than the water can dissolve at room temperature. Heating the solution enables the sugar to dissolve. Cold water is capable of holding double its weight in sugar, but by heating it more sugar can dissolve in the same amount of water. A sugar solution begins with sugar, partially dissolved in at least one-third its weight of cold water. It is stirred continuously until boiling, at which time all the sugar is dissolved. If sugar crystals remain on the sides of the pan they should be washed down with a wet pastry brush. The solution is now considered supersaturated and, to avoid crystallization, must no longer be stirred.
As the water evaporates, the temperature of the solution rises and the density increases. Concentration of the syrup is dependent on the amount of water left after evaporation. The temperature of the syrup indicates the concentration. As long as there is a lot of water in the syrup, the temperature does not rise much above the boiling point of the water. But when most of the water has boiled away, the temperature can now rise dramatically, passing through various stages (see below) and eventually rising to the temperature of melted sugar (320°F.) when all the water is gone.
Concentration can also be measured by density using a saccharometer or Baumé sugar weight-scale. A Baumé scale is graduated from 0 to 44° and corresponds in a direct relationship to the degrees Fahrenheit or Centigrade. The degree of evaporation can also be measured by consistency by dropping a small amount of the syrup into ice water.
Supersaturated solutions are highly unstable and recrystallization can occur from agitation or even just by standing unless the solution was properly heated in the first place. The use of an "interfering agent" such as invert sugar (a little more than one-fourth the weight of the granulated sugar), butter, cream of tartar, or citric acid helps keep the solution stable by interfering with the crystalline structure formation. This is useful when the solution will be used in a way that will involve repeatedly dipping into it, such as for making spun sugar.
As melted sugar reaches higher temperatures, many chemical changes begin to occur. The sugar cannot start to caramelize until all the water is evaporated. As it starts to caramelize, its sweetening power decreases. At this point, when all the water has evaporated, stirring will not cause the sugar to crystallize. The addition of a significant amount of an ingredient, such as nuts, can lower the temperature considerably and this will cause crystallization to occur instantly if no interfering agent was used.
Caramel is extremely difficult to make in humid weather because sugar is highly hygroscopic (attracts water). The moisture in the air will make the caramel sticky.
A ½ cup sugar makes ¼ cup of caramel (plus the residue that clings to the pot). If pulverized, it returns to its original volume
When sugar syrup has been prepared in advance, it is sometimes necessary to check the exact quantity of sugar and water it contains. It is important to know that the Baumé reading in a cold solution measures slightly higher than the same solution when hot.
Another variant that affects density reading is altitude. Because water boils at a lower temperature as altitude increases (there is less air pressure weighing on top of the water to prevent it from changing from liquid into vapor), there will be a different temperature for the same concentration of sugar syrup at different altitudes. For each increase of 500 feet in elevation, syrup should be cooked to a temperature 1°F. lower than the temperature called for at sea level. If readings are taken in Celsius, for each 900 feet of elevation cook the syrup to a temperature 1°C. lower than called for at sea level. These adjustments should be made up to 320°F., the melting point of sugar. Altitude does not change this.
TEMPERATURES AND TESTS FOR SUGAR SYRUP
215°F. Thread: The sugar may be pulled into brittle threads between the fingers. This is used for candy, fruit liqueur making, and some icings.
220 to 222°F. Pearl: The thread formed by pulling the liquid sugar may be stretched. When a cool metal spoon is dipped into the syrup and then raised, the syrup runs off in drops which merge to form a sheet. This is used for making jelly.
234 to 240°F. Soft ball: Syrup dropped into ice water may be formed into a ball which flattens on removal from the water. This is used for extra light Italian meringue, fondant, fudge, peppermint creams, and classic buttercream.
244 to 250°F. Firm ball: Syrup dropped into ice water may be formed into a firm ball which does not flatten on removal from the water. This is used for light Italian meringue, caramels, nougats, and soft toffees.
250 to 266°F. Hard ball: Syrup dropped into ice water may be formed into a hard ball which holds its shape on removal but is still plastic. This is used for toffee, divinity, marshmallows, and popcorn balls.
270 to 290°F. Soft crack: Syrup dropped into ice water separates into thread which are hard but not brittle. This is used for Italian meringue for piping elaborate designs, butterscotch and taffy.
300 to 310°F. Hard crack: Syrup dropped into ice water separates into hard, brittle threads. This is used for brittle and for glacéed fruits.
320°F. Clear liquid: The sugar liquefies (all moisture is removed) and can start browning. This is used for making barley sugar (a candy).
338°F. Brown liquid: The liquefied sugar turns brown. This is used for light caramel.
356°F. Medium brown liquid: The liquefied sugar darkens. This is used for praline, spun sugar, caramel cages, and nougatine.
374°F. Dark brown liquid: The liquefied sugar darkens further. This is used for intensely flavored caramel cream sauce and as a coloring agent for sauces.
410°F. Black Jack: The liquefied sugar turns black and then decomposes.
Different temperatures, ranging from 350°F. to 380°F. are suitable for different types of caramel. When making spun sugar, for example, too light a color would produce a ghostly effect and too dark a color would produce a brassy color when spun. When making a caramel sauce, however, 380°F. will offer a deeper more intense flavor. Over 380°F. and the caramel becomes unpleasantly bitter.
Recommended Temperatures for Caramel:
Pale amber 350°F to 360°F for a caramel cage.
Medium amber 360°F. to 370°F. for spun sugar.
Deep amber 370°F. to 380°F. for praline powder, caramels or caramel sauce. If using partially refined sugar, 360°F.
Life on the Sugar Trail
When I agreed to write this story for Food Arts, I thought it would be easy and delightful to compile and share my knowledge of sugar resulting from years of work and investigation in pastry and from my work as president of the former sugar committee for the International Association of Culinary Professionals. But I soon discovered that what I knew was merely the tip of a giant sugar cube. Not a day went by without some fascinating new fact or discovery of some new and unlikely sugar source that compelled me to call my editor Jim Poris just to share the excitement. I am grateful to him for his enthusiastic encouragement, not to mention the generous time and space he felt this story deserved. For months it has become my primary fascination and focus.
I saved interviewing the chefs (the most fun part) for the end only to discover, however, that by virtue of their experience, knowledge and creativity, the end was no where in sight! There is far more information in this piece than I had ever anticipated, but for me it is more than ever a beginning. I now realize that using only refined and partially refined sugars was like being color blind. Sugar, the one ingredient that defines dessert, was being treated like just a pretty face, over-looking its mind and character. I have been missing out on an extraordinary spectrum of flavors. A new world has opened to me and will affect my future baking and cooking profoundly. It will take years to test and investigate all the possibilities. I hope that you also will be inspired to try some of these different sugars and that the information offered will make better bakers and cooks of us all.
Over the past several years, I have been using partially refined sugars in baking, replacing refined light and dark brown sugars with their less refined counterparts, and replacing refined granulated sugar with the partially refined castor sugar. The only time I find refined sugar preferable is for meringues or fondant where I want the pure white color or caramel where I want to prevent crystallization caused by "impurities."
Chris Broberg, pastry chef at Lespinasse, New York City, associates the more flavorful unrefined and partially refined sugars with the more intense desserts of Fall and Winter. He uses light muscovado in shortbread, and dark muscovado for pear tart. In Summer, Broberg infuses nepotela (an herb in the marjoram family) in a sugar syrup which enables it to retain its flavor, and roasts chopped strawberries drizzled with the syrup. He serves them topped with a strawberry tuile, filled with strawberry sorbet and topped with a sprig of nepotela. On the side is sliced strawberries topped with a piece of pistachio shortbread topped with a piece of crème brulée.
Mary Chech: Professor at the CIA Greystone prefers granular to superfine sugar for decorative work such as for rolling truffles or making candied rose petals, because it has less of a tendency to melt and is more visual. Chech has used brown rice syrup (converted starch from rice made from ground rice, cooked to a slurry) in place of honey, molasses or other syrups because it is less sweet with a mild flavor. It's an invert sugar so it makes desserts somewhat denser and keeps them moister.
Claudia Fleming: Pastry chef, Grammercy Tavern, New York City, uses mostly refined sugar for baking but enjoys the earthy, rich and complex flavors of Muscovado sugar for Fall and Winter desserts such as her Gingerbread Ice Cream. She finds that the molasses in the sugar produces a creamier texture because it lowers the freezing point.
Linda Forrestal: journalist for the Washington Times and author of a book on Sucanat, uses half Sucanat and half granulated date sugar (made from dried dates) for her pumpkin pie.
Andreas Galliker: Executive Chef for Albert Uster uses glucose for sugar boiling and show pieces because it is stronger. Galliker says it doesn't have a tendency to crystallize so he doesn't have to pull it as much to get the shine. He also says it is cleaner so there is less residue to skim off. He prefers their brand which is 100% potato starch and 45% dextrose. Glucose made from potatoes tends to prevent foaming and boiling over.
Michele Gayer: Former pastry chef at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, finds molasses and partially refined sugars have more character, depth and full body than refined sugar. She likes to make a molasses spice cake for Fall because the colder weather and warmer flavors go well together.
Pierre Hermé: Pastry chef in Paris and New York City, loves working with different sugars especially Muscovado and palm sugar.
Raji Jallepalli: Chef/Owner of Restaurant Raji in Memphis, Tennessee feels that jaggery is to refined sugar what red wine is to white. She values jaggery for its more interesting flavor dimension which she describes as dirty/murky like rum. Among her many uses of jaggery are a salmon glaze, and a blue cheese crème brulée also flavored with rose water.
Steve Klc, of firstname.lastname@example.org, Washington, D.C. treats sugar as a spice equal in weight to vanilla in importance. He likes the "dirty, murky" flavors of unrefined sugars, equating them to rum. Klc also uses raw sugar cane juice for granité intermezzos but cautions that it ferments quickly giving it a short shelf life. He is substituting unrefined sugar in Indian desserts based on French preparation. He uses it in dessert soups finding it adds more depth of flavor. He also makes a gelee of tamarind and jaggery, cuts it into cubes and places it in cool soups such as tomato and coconut cream soup. He enjoys the nice surprise of flavor intensity and sweetness. He also reports that if drying out jaggery or brown sugar for about 10 minutes at 350°F. or until the texture of granulated sugar, it caramelizes beautifully. He then grinds it in a spice mill, sprinkles it on custard and brulées it under the salamander. He employs this technique for his signature dessert a milk chocolate chai crème brulée. Klc likes the tan color and granule size of date sugar for coating pate de fruit, especially mango, apricot and passion fruit.
Jay McCarthy, formerly chef at Cazwellas in Telluride, Colorado, likes to use agave syrup in sauces that are not heated so as to maintain its subtle floral quality. He also uses piloncillo to great advantage as a flavor accent in his Morita Sauce.
Andrew McLaughlin, pastry chef at Coyote Café, Santa Fe, New Mexico: feels that sugar alone is not very delicious so it is critical that it is used as a counterpoint with acid. He believes that sugar is one element of the flavor profile, not the whole one. McLaughlin uses 50/50 dark brown sugar and refined for caramel. He takes the caramel to different degrees (shades) for different flavor effects, for example, for apricot tart tatin he uses a lighter caramel to complement better the acidity of the apricots. In the Fall, he likes to use maple sugar for a maple créme brulee made in a baby pumpkin shell, using dried brown sugar for the caramel. He substitutes molasses for egg in short dough for tart which makes it tender and crumbly, adding pinon for a butternut filling for the Indian Market day menus. He also makes a molasses sorbet. McLaughlin uses glucose in ice creams with high water content such as strawberry or peach to prevent crystallization without excessive sweetening. (He cooks the fruit with the glucose).
McLaughlin's tangy/caramel-sweet Cajeta, which he uses both as ice cream and a dessert sauce, is made with half goat's milk & half cow's milk, a little caramelized sugar and cornstarch. This gets reduced 8 hours, caramelizing the milk sugars. For ice cream, he uses half ice cream base and half cajeta, sometimes adding a little sugar and cream to round out and balance the flavors.
Mark Miller, chef/owner of Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico: favors piloncillo for desserts, sweet tomalleys, dry rubs, marinades, and fruited mole. He states that it has more affinity for stronger flavors, offering more flavor dimensions rather than just more sweetness. If fruit is not ripe enough and you add more sugar to accentuate the fruit flavor, with refined sugar it separates out from the main flavor and the sugar is tasted first. The cruder types of sugar give more flavor compression and better integration. Miller also appreciates agave, explaining that at high altitude it is valuable for its ability to hold moisture in baked goods such as muffins, breads, brownies and cookies. He also uses agave in cocktails. He suggests the more flavorful golden variety for use with corn.
Wayne Nish, chef/owner of March in New York City: never uses refined sugar except for baking. He uses palm sugar and other partially refined sugars in chutneys and savories because he feels that refined sugar is in your face sweetness whereas unrefined has a roundness of flavor to balance acidic or astringent elements. This makes it possible to add less than when using refined sugar.
Nish is known for his layers of flavors, He uses the "tarq" method in which oil and dry spices are heated until smoking. The spices are removed and oil placed in a clean pan with palm sugar. Meat is then sautéed to brown it and then vegetables added to build up the stew and layers of flavor.
François Payard, chef/owner of Payard Patisserie and Bistrot in New York City, uses refined sugar, both granulated and confectioners for most of his baking and Isolmalt for pulled sugar and display pieces because it is so resistant to humidity. He uses a coarser granulation of sugar for his fruit jellies because it does not melt as easily. He also uses trimoline for fondant, truffles, and praline filling, because it keeps them very moist without adding ingredients containing excess sugar or richness such as cocoa butter.
Jacquy Pfeiffer, chef/owner of The French Pastry School in Chicago: Uses many types of sugar. He values turbinado for bruleeing because it has more flavor and larger crystals and Isomalt for display pieces. He uses Trimoline, glucose and sorbital to prevent crystallization (see Caramel in recipe section). Pfeiffer uses a small amount of sorbital in caramel mou (soft caramel) to help thicken it, lecithin to emulsify it, baking soda to help mix all the ingredients, and salt to bring out flavor and cut down the sweetness. He uses glucose powder to prevent crystallization and cut sweetness in ice cream (6% of the total weight) and cuts the sugar.
Julie Sahni, cookbook author, never uses refined sugar because "nothing on this planet comes close to jaggery." She explains that jaggery can be sugar cane jaggery or date palm jaggery. Jaggery means natural solidified sugar juice. In India it is used as fragrant flavor and not just a sweetener. Its flavor is subtle and floral with a delicate lingering taste akin to a very high quality vanilla. It becomes almost fudge-like when cooked with milk. Sahni's rice pudding relies only on jaggery and a hint of cardamom for flavor.