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Ingredient Guide: Sugar


Sugar is a staple for any baker looking to rustle up some sweet goodies. Stirred into cake mixtures or dusted over the final baked creations, sugar gives cakes their sweet flavour and golden colour.

How is sugar made?

Sugar is made from sugarcane and sugar beets. White sugar is made by the process of refining raw sugar to filter out molasses and impurities. Brown sugar is less refined with higher levels of molasses and a higher water content.

Why do we add sugar when baking?

We all know that sugar makes cakes taste sweet and delicious, but aside from flavour it has several roles to play in terms of structure and texture.

Sugar forms a main ingredient of many cake recipes so when added to the mixing bowl it will combine with the flour, egg and other wet ingredients to create the crumb – the basis of a good sponge.

It also interacts with protein to create the structure that will hold the sponge up and acts as a stabiliser. As it is a dry ingredient it also absorbs some of the moisture from the wet ingredients prior to baking.

Last but not least, when the cake begins to bake in the oven the sugar will begin to caramelise the outside of the cake so that it forms a golden crust.

Can I substitute granulated sugar for caster sugar?

Your cakes will still hold up if you use granulated sugar as both the flavour and water content are the same.

Caster sugar, however, is much finer and dissolves much easier than granulated sugar which is coarser in texture. It’s best to follow the recipe when baking, as it’s a delicate science where ingredients and textures are involved.

At The Hummingbird Bakery, we always use caster sugar to make our tasty treats.

What’s the difference between brown sugar and white sugar?

Brown sugar contains molasses, whereas white sugar has been processed and refined. The molasses in brown sugar gives it a richer caramel flavour and colour and a slightly higher water content than white sugar.

White sugar tends to have slightly bigger sugar crystals, with brown sugar grains typically resembling caster sugar in size.

Can I substitute dark brown sugar for light brown sugar?

Light brown sugar and dark brown sugar can be used in the same quantities as the levels of sweetness are similar.

They won’t achieve the same flavour or colour, however. Dark brown sugar gives a much deeper flavour of molasses than light brown sugar and may also give a darker caramel colour to your baking.

We recommend following the recipe for best results, but the difference between these two types of sugar won’t make or break your cake.

Can I use Muscovado sugar instead of light brown sugar?

Muscovado sugar is an unrefined sugar which retains the strong treacle flavour of molasses. It’s very dark and sticky, retaining much more moisture than its light brown and dark brown sugar counterparts.

As its flavour is more intense than other brown sugars and its water content higher, we don’t recommend using it in recipes that don’t specifically call for it.

Can I use sugar substitutes when baking?

Recipes from The Hummingbird Bakery aren’t designed to use substitutes so any alterations in the ingredients or quantities will be an experiment. Some home bakers have reported that reducing the amount of sugar and replacing it with a powdered sugar substitute can work when baking, but we haven’t tested this in our own kitchens.

Substituting sugar for an alternative may alter the flavour, texture, colour and volume depending on how much is substituted. If you have special dietary requirements and wish to bake with sugar substitutes we recommend the use of specially designed recipes.    

Top tips:

Always store your sugar in an airtight container, ideally in its original bag. Moisture from the air, particularly in a hot kitchen, can cause your sugar to form hard clumps.

Substituting sugar or any other ingredient may give different results to those intended by the recipe, so try to follow it to the letter for the best balance of flavour and texture.

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