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Enhancing The Taste Of Sugar (And The Science Behind It)

Enhancing the taste of sugar is easier than you'd think, once you know the science behind adding flavor to the otherwise flavorless!
Spoons with different versions of sugar in them.

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Hi Bold Bakers!

NOTE FROM GEMMALet’s welcome back Dee, one of our Bold Baking Network experts and founder of One Sarcastic Baker!  — Dee has a lovely recently-released Baking Science cookbook (buy it here) and is here to teach us the science behind Baking Powder VS. Baking Soda when they’re on their own, and the combination of both, when it comes to baking cookies. Here she is in her own words!

It’s funny how the most simple things in life are also the most groundbreaking and they are literally in front of us. All we need to do is pay attention, and I think this is what I love the most about baking science. It provides us with different lenses to explore the wonderful process of baking that we all love so much.

I Can’t think of a better example than Sugar. Simple, granulated white sugar, or table sugar. 

I can talk about it on and on and on, but today I would like to talk about (one of) its most important properties, flavor.

You can learn and explore more about sugar, in my book Baking Science.”

Sugar And Flavor

White sugar does not provide any flavor to our baked goods, it only makes our baked goods sweet. This is why it is important to add flavors to our recipes and there are many ways to do that: extract, fruits, juices, chocolate, and even other types of sugar such as light brown sugar or even honey.

BUT there is one way that sugar can provide flavor. We all know it as caramel, a rich and complex flavor that is highly noticeable and quite popular. 

The Caramelization Process

Caramelization refers to the chemical reaction that occurs when white sugar is heated and the simple, flavor-less sugar molecules begin to break apart and restructure hundreds of different structures. The higher the temperature, the darker and more bitter the caramel is and the fewer sugar molecules are present.

And this is where things start to get really interesting, because:

  • Sugar caramelizes at a temperature of 320ºF (160°C).
  • Sugar melts at a temperature of 366°F (185.5°C).

That means that we can caramelize our sugar without actually melting it or losing its molecular structure. 

Degrees of caramelized sugar

Caramelized Sugar Granules

Let’s start with caramelizing our sugar and giving it a beautiful golden color, and a VERY mild caramel flavor.

  • Preheat your oven to 330°F (165°F) and line a large baking sheet with a silicone mat. 
  • Bake for 25-35 minutes on the middle rack stirring with a wooden spoon every 7-10 minutes. 
  • Once the sugar has changed its color from white to a light golden brown, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool in a dry cool spot.

The good thing about caramelized sugar granules is that they do not lose their molecular structure BUT the caramel flavor has yet to truly develop. So it’s nice to add mild (if at all) flavor and golden hue to your baked goods.

Lightly caramelized sugar on a baking tray

Isn’t That Just Toasted Sugar?

Not really. It’s with a good reason that we might refer to this process and end result as “Toasted Sugar.” However, toasting refers to the process of applying heat directly to our object, like when we use the stove.

This is not the case, the best way to describe this process is “Caramelized Sugar Granules.”

Storing

The same way you store granulated sugar, in a dry cool spot in an airtight container.

Caramelized Sugar

What’s the point in caramelizing sugar granules without the intense and amazing flavor of caramel? If you’re wondering this, let’s develop more of that flavor you’re craving.

  • To enjoy both the two worlds, preheat the oven to 360°F (182°C) and line a large baking sheet with a silicone mat. 
  • Bake for 15-25 minutes turning the pan around halfway through. 
  • Remove from the oven when the sugar has dissolved, but did not melt completely. 
  • Remember once it is completely melted, we are losing sugar molecules and it will get darker and very bitter pretty fast. (Partly melting is ok.)

In the image below we can see that the sugar is completely melted in some parts (mostly around the edges), some parts did not melt at all, and some parts dissolved but did not melt all the way. We can even see the sugar granules.

Allow the sugar to cool and recrystallize, then break it with your fingers (the best part, and the best snack) and process in the food processor until fine.  

Caramelized sugar on a tray

Storing

Since we lost some of the sugar molecules in favor of flavor and color (YUM!), the sugar tends to clump and stick together. It is not a big deal, but we do need to take that into consideration, so place it in a plastic airtight container and freeze it until ready to use.

What Can I Do with Caramelized Sugar?

Bake. Bake anything you want with it.

Use the caramelized sugar granules in the same way you would use granulated sugar. When using caramelized sugar, I would use it in a ratio of 1:2, 1:3, or even 1:4 (once you feel more comfortable) granulated sugar to caramelize the sugar. 

Important To Know

The caramelized sugar will redissolve, melt and develop the dark bitter flavor once it is heated again, so take that under consideration when baking cookies or using a high oven temperature.

Caramelized sugar ready to be blended

Troubleshooting

    • My sugar granules have some lumps in them. Do not worry about it, it is probably some sugar that has started to dissolve at the edges of the pan, mix it with the rest of the sugar, it will add some flavor.
    • My caramel sugar is too dark. Check your oven temperature, if it runs high the sugar will melt and turn dark very quickly.
  • My caramel barks are sticky. First, place the over caramel in a DRY and cool spot, to avoid it from attracting any humidity. If it is sticky, process it with 1 teaspoon of cornstarch or potato starch.

FAQ

I do not have a silicone mat, can I use parchment paper?

Yes, it might need less time in the oven so pay attention to the colors as they change.

Can I do the same with light or dark brown sugar?

Nope. They are coated with molasses and syrup. But you can use the caramelized sugar granules to make your very own Brown Sugar.

My caramel is completely dark, can I save it?

Nope. Start over.

Buy Dee’s Cookbook

Baking Science Book Cover

If you’re into baking science, look no further than Dee’s brand new cookbook that’s all about the why’s and how’s of baking — it’s literally called Baking Science. You can buy it right here.

Connect With Dee Everywhere

You can find Dee in all kinds of places on the internet. Give her a visit, a follow, and some online love!

The Bold Baking Network

Bigger Bolder Baking is thrilled to introduce you to the Bold Baking Network, a team of talented chefs, creators, and experts looking to teach, entertain and help you on your baking journey. Here are more articles from our amazing collaborators.

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About Us

Meet Gemma

About Us

Meet Gemma

Hi Bold Bakers! I’m Gemma Stafford, a professional chef originally from Ireland, a cookbook author, and the creator of Bigger Bolder Baking. I want to help you bake with confidence anytime, anywhere with my trusted and tested recipes and baking tips. You may have seen one of my 500+ videos on YouTube & TikTok or as a guest judge on Nailed It! on Netflix or the Best Baker in America on Food Network. No matter your skills, my Bold Baking Team & I want to be your #1 go-to baking authority.

 

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