Call it what you want, glucose, corn syrup, agave nectar, or any of the other 56 common names, sugar is sugar. It’s an essential input into the respiration process and allows us to carry out our days as normal, or be converted in our liver into glycogen stores ready to be used as needed. All of the different types of sugar behave differently, not only in baking but also in the way they are processed by our body.
This is the most common form of sugar you’ll find in baking. Stripped of all of the natural molasses, it is white in colour and has grains which are relatively large in size meaning it does not dissolve easily into batters. It’s perfect for dissolving into drinks and sprinkling over freshly baked finished cookies.
CASTER OR ‘SUPER FINE’ SUGAR
So called because of the sugar casters once used, this sugar’s grain is somewhere between granulated and icing sugar making it more readily soluble in batters (and drinks). Obtained from sugar cane or sugar beet, this sugar may be left with the molasses in, or be processed and removed. Due to the lack of molasses, it flows freely when pouring and doesn’t cake together in the packet. Perfect for many different confections, especially when the sugar must dissolve completely (e.g. in meringues).
Also called powdered sugar or confectioners sugar, this is the finest type of sugar used in baking. Often combined with a small amount of cornstarch to prevent caking, icing sugar is used in frosting, glazing and to powder things like doughnuts. I also use it in sweet shortcrust pastry to give it the sweeter flavour without the texture of sugar granules.
Used in making jams and marmalades when the chosen fruits are naturally high in pectin (e.g. Redcurrants) The grains are relatively large meaning the time taken for them to dissolve is longer, which reduces the need for stirring and skimming and reduces the risk of the jam catching on the bottom of the pan.
This sugar is used when the chosen fruits are not naturally high in pectin (e.g Strawberries) as there is extra pectin added to ensure a firm set, and to retain the fruit’s natural vibrant colour.
Mostly used for decoration, pearl or ‘nibbed’ sugar is bright white, opaque and very coarse. It does not dissolve or melt readily, and instead should be left ‘as is’ to simply be scattered over buns, cookies and cakes to give another dimension of texture (and a little bit of sparkle).
Who knew there were so many different types of white sugar? And this is only the tip of the iceberg. If you have any ideas of what I should look at next, let me know!