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When Sweetener is Needed
What are the best sugar options for baking? While most of us try to reduce added sugar in our food, many baked goods need the sweetener to add flavor and texture.
You might opt to reduce the amount you use and we’ll give options where possible. However, you might choose an alternative to basic sugar.
Some of these add a new dimension to your baked goods. Others actually add a small amount of nutrition. It’s important to know which types can substitute, when possible.
Let’s explore the options for sugar in baking
This is the sugar we normally think of when we talk about sugar. And when a recipe calls for sugar, this is what it means. Plain, white sugar comes from sugar cane or beets. The plant is refined and whitened to create that granulated gem that calls to every sweet tooth. When stored in a tightly covered canister, it will last for years or until you bring it out for baking.
As the name suggests, superfine is granulated sugar that is ground to a super fine consistency. This allows it to dissolve instantly, making it a good choice for meringues and also for cool liquids. (Sugar dissolves best in hot liquids) Store this as you would it’s granulated brother.
Also known as powdered sugar or 10X sugar, confectioners’ sugar is created by mixing cornstarch into finely ground granulated sugar. Bakers opt for this sugar when icing cakes and cookies. You might find it as a dusting on your favorite dessert, too. Stored in its original box, tightly sealed, it has a long shelf life. We like to keep ours in the box and then put the box into a sealed container for extra protection.
Confectioner’s sugar creates beautiful meringue! Get our cookie recipe here.
Brown Sugar, Light or Dark:
Mixing molasses with white sugar produces the soft-textured, yet hearty-tasting brown sugar. Dark brown sugar simply has more molasses than the light variety. However, most recipes work fine with either one. We store ours the same as the confectioners’ sugar: in the original container that is then put into another sealed container.
NOTE: Brown sugar often hardens, even when properly stored. It is still good to use. To soften it, simply put a slice of bread or a slice of apple in the container with it. Leave it overnight or at least several hours. The sugar should soften to a very usable state.
Decorating or Coarse Sugar:
Cookie bakers enjoy the myriad of colors that decorating sugar comes in. Also useful on other baked goods, its granules for coarse sugar are about four times larger than the granulated sugar, making it ideal for decorating. In fact, this sugar adds a crunchy texture as well as sparkle and decor.
Another sugar useful for decorating is sanding sugar which is comprised of granules about half-way between granulated sugar and decorating sugar in size. Consider this one for a dusting element, too.
Turbinado or Demerara Sugar:
While Turbinado Sugar looks a bit like a light brown sugar, it is actually a less-refined sugar with the surface molasses removed. With a slightly larger crystal, the light color is distinctly different than granulated sugar’s snow-white appearance. Known by the English as Demerara Sugar, it originated in the Demerara district of Guyana.
A relative newcomer to the sugar alternatives, allulose is derived from a few types of plants, so is considered a natural, but rare sugar. Use it as you would granulated sugar. However, allulose has benefits for those trying to lose weight or needing to limit sugars. In fact, allulose is not absorbed as sugar is, so it might be a healthier alternative. (healthline) (medicalnewstoday)
Another natural sugar relatively new, stevia comes from the Stevia plant, a bushy plant related to the sunflower. It is considered to be a zero-calorie sweetener. (medicalnewstoday) Some people report a bitter aftertaste in foods containing stevia. However, others do not.
Dry vs Liquid sugar substitutes for baking
Which is the best sugar options for baking?
The above sweeteners generally come in a dry or solid form, usually granulated. However, some sugar substitutes for baking are usually liquid. The four below are commonly found.
Sticky and gooey, molasses is the dark, viscous syrup that remains after sugar is refined. Choose from 3 grades:
- Light: resulting from the first boiling of the sugar syrup
- Dark: results from the second boiling
- Blackstrap: from the third is well-known to be the strongest.
Your options also include sulfured or unsulfured. Unsulfured is extracted from mature sugarcane and is then clarified and concentrated. When the sugarcane is less mature, sulfur dioxide is added to preserve it until it is processed. Molasses from this less mature sugarcane is not as clean a flavor. Choose unsulfured when you have a choice.
Molasses stores well in its original bottle. However, you will need to wipe the bottle after each use to ensure no drips on the cap grooves and the outside of the bottle. Such drips entice pantry pests quickly and also make it more difficult to open the next time.
Available in various color grades, choose light-colored honey provides baked goods a more delicate flavor. Keep pests out by ensuring it is in a tightly sealed container. Honey has a long shelf life when kept in a cool, dry place. Sometimes you will find it has crystallized. Don’t panic. Simply place the jar in a pan of hot water over low heat. In a short time, the process returns honey to it’s original liquid state.
Pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup or maple-flavored sugar syrup) makes an excellent sweetener. Often preferred by vegans, this stores best in your refrigerator after opening.
Choose by grade: Darker, grade A syrup is a dark amber color and offers a robust flavor point. While not quite as strong a flavor, Grade B also works well in baking and cooking.
Similar in flavor to honey, Agave nectar is made from the sap of the same plant that produces tequila. It tastes similar to honey and can be interchanged with it in your baking recipes. Blue-agave syrup is 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sugar and stores well at room temperature.
Like Maple Syrup, Agave Syrup comes in grades:
- Light: offers a mild, neutral flavor. Use this with more delicate tasting dishes and beverages
- Amber: brings a slightly stronger, medium caramel flavor.
- Dark: consists of much stronger caramel flavor, quite distinctive, and used in some desserts as well as meat dishes. The dark version is unfiltered so keeps more of the mineral content from the agave plant.
Both Amber and Dark versions work well as a maple syrup alternative topping for pancakes and waffles.
What is your best sugar options for baking?