What more appropriate topic to talk about on this Food Friday, Christmas Eve, than a Southern favorite — sugar?
Once in a young lifetime one should be allowed to have as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold.
We’ll discuss three “types” of sugar — granulated (that is, white), brown sugar, powdered/confectioners’ and sugar substitutes (though I’m not sure why you’d want to use these when you’ve got the real thing, still… I know many consider them a viable option). Clearly, I’ve got a sweet tooth, and hey, one of the main ingredients in Sweet Tea is sugar, so let’s dive right in!
Sugar was once rare, and therefore expensive, so only the wealthiest could afford it. Because of this, it’s often earned the term “white gold.” Our neighbors to the deeper south, Brazil, are the highest producers of sugar. Other words, such as fructose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose also mean “sugar” so watch carefully if you’re checking ingredient lists to feed your family. Of course, syrups, molasses, and honeys are forms of sugar too.
White (Granulated) Sugar
- Most commonly available in supermarkets are fine or superfine varieties. Superfine dissolves best in beverages. Wink. Of course, you can also purchase coarse sugar, sugar cubes, or colored decorating sugars. You can make your own colored sugar by adding 10 or so drops of food coloring per cup of sugar. Toss with forks until the color is distributed, and then allow to sit on a baking sheet in a fine, even layer until dry. This allows you to control the color. Beautiful on Christmas cookies, of course, but what about fruit as well?
- Superfine sugar is also perfect for meringues, as it dissolves almost immediately. If you’re without, and only have fine sugar in the pantry, make your own by pulsing it in the food processor until powdery.
- This is fact I actually didn’t know: sugar can be stored, so long as it’s airtight, indefinitely. That’s right. Sugar never goes bad, so long as it’s stored properly. (Then again, in my house, I’ve never been able to test that theory.) So this means if you find it on sale, stock up!
- Flavor your sugars with vanilla or citrus. Combine sugar with a couple whole vanilla beans per pound, and store for a couple weeks, stirring once a week or so. Remove the beans and reuse them for six months or so, then refresh with new beans. This would be delicious on a cake, in your cereals, or even in coffee. For citrus sugar, remove long strips of zest from an orange, a couple of lemons, or some limes. Stir and let stand for about a week before serving.
- If you’re in a pinch, and really want to use brown sugar, did you know that it’s only “regular” sugar, coated in molasses. You can make it yourself! I didn’t know this until recently. Don’t really know where I thought it did come from, but I’m glad to know now.
- Brown sugar comes in light and dark forms.
- Light brown sugar has a delicate flavor; dark is richer, more pronounced molasses.
- Store in a plastic airtight bag or canister in a cool, dry place. If you prefer to purchase it in the box, transfer it to a bag.
- Brown sugar hardens when it loses its moisture from the molasses. You can moisten brown sugar by placing a wedge of an apple or two inside the bag with the sugar, or place the sugar in a dish covered with a damp paper towel and then covered with plastic wrap or a lid. Then warm just slightly in the microwave or oven (watch that it doesn’t melt!). If it’s just clumpy, but not hard, you can break it up by processing in the blender for a moment.
- Unless your recipe states otherwise, measure your brown sugar by packing firmly into your measuring cup.
- I love brown sugar substitutions in pies and such. The old-fashioned richness gives it a more moist, almost butterscotch flavor.
Confectioners’ or Powdered Sugar
- Powdered sugar is just granulated sugar that has been crushed until it reaches a fine powder, then a small amount of cornstarch is added to prevent clumping.
- When purchasing, notice the “X” factor — this designation tells you the fineness of the particles. The larger the number, the finer the sugar. You’ll find 10X in most grocery markets, but any number can be used interchangeably.
- Some recipes call for sifting the confectioners’ before using. You can either sift, spoon the sugar through a sieve, or toss it into a food processor and then spoon it into your measuring cup.
- Don’t sprinkle powdered sugar over a cake or other moist dish until just before serving as it will liquefy and turn color.
- Use the same method as above for vanilla flavored sugar to flavor your confectioners’ sugar as well.
- Buy an extra salt shaker to fill with powdered sugar, for dusting a dish as a pretty garnish.
If a recipe calls for one type of sugar, and you only have the other, here are a few substitution tricks you can try.
- 1 cup regular granulated sugar = 1 cup superfine sugar
- 1 cup regular granulated sugar = 1 cup firm packed brown sugar
- 1 cup regular granulated sugar = 1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 cup light brown sugar = 1/2 cup dark brown sugar + 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- There are so many substitutions available currently — Equal, Sweet ‘N’ Low, Splenda, Truvia. It seems that there are always debates in the news these days as to whether substitutes are disease causing, but I say, as with everything, moderation is key. Be informed, and choose what’s best for you and your family.
- Sugar adds color and tenderness to baked goods, and volume to egg whites, as well as acting as a preservative in some foods, so when baking, don’t substitute artificial sweeteners in these cases.