SUGAR IN BAKING – What Every Baker Needs To Know


It’s a known fact that sugar is necessary for baking largely due to the fact that it’s what makes sweetens the taste of products. But an important note also is its unique chemical nature, sugar also performs many other vital functions baked goods.

To be precise here, our reference point here is the kind of sugar mostly used in baking which is the dry, crystalline sugars that are jointly referred to as table sugar. This sugar comes in several forms, such as granulated, brown, and powdered, A good knowledge of how this ingredient performs in recipes, will provide a clearer and better understanding to a baker. This because because many baking ruins can be traced to one little mistake in the use of sugar.
Let’s look at the functions of sugar in baking asides the taste


Sugar stabilizes meringues

Whip egg whites with sugar and what do you get? Meringue. More than just a fluffy, white pie topping, meringue gives lightness and loft to mousses and even some frostings.

Sugar stabilizes meringue in two ways. First, it guards the egg whites from being overbeaten. As you whip air into egg whites, the egg proteins bond and form thin, strong sheets that stretch around the tiny air bubbles, creating foam. Adding sugar slows down this foaming, so you’re less likely to overbeat the egg whites.

Additionally, sugar protects the foam from collapse. The sugar dissolves in the water in the bubbles’ walls, forming syrup that surrounds and supports the bubbles.


Sugar affects texture

When sugar molecules meet water molecules, they form a strong bond. This combination of sugar and water affects the texture of cakes in two significant ways.

First, It keeps cakes (and in fact all baked goods) soft and moist. The bond between sugar and water allows sugar to lock in moisture so that items such as cakes, muffins, brownies, and frostings don’t dry out too quickly.

Secondly, It creates tenderness. Baked goods get their shape and structure from proteins and starches, which firm up during baking and transform soupy batters into supercilious cakes. But because they build structure, proteins and starches can potentially make baked goods tough, too. The sugar in a batter takes water away from proteins and starches, which helps control the amount of structure-building they can do. The result of this is a more tender delicacy.

It is at this point that tampering with a recipe’s sugar can have an intense consequence. For example, when a loaf of pound cake has a nice shape and an alluring texture, the sugar, proteins, and starches are in balance. But if that balance is altered by using more or less sugar than the recipe calls for, the result could be so tender that it lacks the structure to hold its shape, or it could be shapely but too tough.

It’s best to dust moist cakes with confectioners’ sugar right before serving, because over time the sugar will attract even more moisture and become sticky.


Sugar as a Leavening agent

That’s why one can notice that cake and quick bread batters rise during baking. The fact is that sugar helps make this happen. When a cake batter is mixed and sugar beaten into fat, eggs, and other liquid ingredients, the sugar crystals cut into the mixture, generating thousands of tiny air bubbles that reduce the density of the batter. During baking, these bubbles inflate and lift the batter, causing it to rise in the pan.


Sugar deepens color and flavor

Sugar is greatly responsible for the alluring golden-brown color of many baked desserts. As sugar gets hot, it caramelizes. In this process, sugar molecules collapse into smaller and smaller parts and begin to turn into deeper shades of brown and develop more intricate flavors.


Sugar adds crunch

When cakes (or any other baked products) are exposed to the heat of the oven during baking, moisture vaporizes from the surface of batter, allowing dissolved sugars to re-crystallize. This creates the crunchy, sweet crust that is probably enjoyed on such items as brownies, pound cakes, and some kinds of muffins and cookies.


Using The Right Quantity Of Sugar

As a baker, are you tempted to tamper with the amount of sugar in your recipe? Maybe you think more will make cakes sweeter, or you want to reduce the amount of sugar for health reasons, this can have devastating effects on the outcome of your cakes. Since the sugar does have a definite chemical reaction in the baking process, it can cause some problems.



Crumbly cakes that don’t clench together, cakes won’t properly brown (if a yellow cake doesn’t turn golden, for instance, it’s hard to tell when it’s done), and of course, inferior flavor.



Cakes or cookies brown too quickly on the top but are not completely baked on the inside, and finished baked goods are leaden or heavy.


Types Of Sugar: Their Uses And Effects

Depending on the recipe, generally, a baker should assume that a type of sugar was chosen for a recipe for a specific reason. For instance, if you’re running low on confectioners’ sugar and try to substitute granulated sugar in an icing, the taste may be just fine, but the texture will be different, not fine and smooth as the recipe intended.

Texture isn’t the only issue. By swapping sweeteners in a recipe, you may alter the chemistry of a baked item, and you may seriously alter the outcome. For instance, if you swap molasses for sugar in a cookie recipe, you won’t be able to engage in the creaming process, which aerates the batter. The resulting cookie will be a lot heavier than you may have intended.

When it comes to substituting, the general rule is that you can swap, but don’t go out of the green areas. Pair like with like. For instance, swapping dark brown sugar if the recipe intended light brown sugar won’t mess up the baking, but it may alter the final flavor. Using honey instead of maple syrup or corn syrup will work, with the only major change being the flavor alteration. But you can’t stray too far: swapping molasses for granulated sugar in a recipe, for instance, will seriously alter the finished product.


Alternative Sweetners

Many sugar substitutes are not appropriate for baking. There are a few reasons. First, many are far sweeter than natural sugar, and the flavor just doesn’t work. Second, the chemical makeup of these sugar substitutes is different, so the chemical reactions during the baking process won’t necessarily be the same.

If using a sugar substitute for baking, make sure it is labeled as being appropriate for baking.

The first thing that comes to mind when hearing the word sugar is white, granulated sugar. It’s the type that is mostly used for baking and sweetening a cup of coffee; however, the more you bake, the more different types of sugar you may come across. Let’s consider these types stated below:


White Granulated Sugar



White sugar has all of the naturally present molasses refined out. It is the sugar that is most commonly used in baking. The fine crystals in granulated sugar don’t cake together, which makes it perfect for measuring, sprinkling onto food and dissolving into drinks.


Confectioners’ /Icing or Powdered Sugar

Known by a few different names, icing sugar, powdered sugar, and confectioners’ sugar are all the same thing: granulated sugar that has been finely ground and mixed with a small amount of cornstarch to prevent coagulating. This is the sugar that is commonly uses for frostings, glazes, and for that snowy covering on doughnuts that no doubt is all over the face and hands with the first bite.


Coarse sugar or Decorating sugar



As the name entails, coarse sugar has a much larger crystals than regular white sugar. The larger size of the crystals (about the size of pretzel salt) makes the sugar stronger and more resistant to heat. This type of sugar also helps to give baked items a little texture. It is used mainly for decorating and comes multicolored.


Sanding Sugar



Sanding sugar is another large crystal sugar. It is between white granulated and coarse sugar in size. It is another decorating sugar and comes in many colors. It also reflects light and gives of a sparkly shine.



Brown Sugar (light and dark)



Brown sugar is white sugar that has cane molasses added to it. The two types of brown sugar, light and dark, refer to the amount of molasses that is present. Light brown sugar is what is used more often in baking, sauces and, glazes. Dark brown sugar, because of the rich molasses flavor, is used in richer foods, like gingerbread. Both brown sugars can harden if left open to the air, so it is best stored in an airtight container. If your brown sugar has hardened, you can microwave it for a few seconds, or place a piece of bread in the bag and leave it for a day.






Despite its synthetic sounding name, xylitol is made from the bark of birch trees and looks and tastes like sugar. It has less of an impact on blood sugar levels because it is low GI, meaning it gives a sweet taste without the resulting ‘rush’ that regular sugar gives.

“It’s lower in calories and doesn’t cause dental decay. You can use it as a substitute in many recipes [ratio 1:1], but not those which use yeast as a raising agent. Cakes sweetened with xylitol don’t colour very much, not a problem for coffee or chocolates cakes.”
Xylitol can have a laxative effect so go easy when you first try it in case you are sensitive to it, one slice of cake shouldn’t be an issue.



Agave nectar



Agave nectar (or syrup) can be used in place of syrups like golden syrup. It’s available in mild or rich flavours, has a low GI but being about 30% sweeter than sugar, you’ll need less to achieve the same taste. It benefits from cooking at a lower temperature (reduce the cooking temp by about 10C/50F). Agave nectar is high in fructose, which is thought to be one of the most destructive forms of sugar, so always use it in small quantities(if you must) and buy organic, raw agave rather than the cheaper, highly processed version.


Fruit and vegetables



Naturally sweet ingredients like fresh, frozen or dried fruits including apricots, banana, dates, raisins and figs as well as grated sweet vegetables like carrots, all work well in cakes. Using these also adds moisture and density as well as fibre and other valuable nutrients including vitamin C and minerals like potassium and iron.





Honey works well in moist, dense full-flavored bakes. It’s sweeter than sugar so you’ll need to use less and because honey is liquid you’ll need less fluid (approx one fifth less). Honey is still high in calories and causes increases in blood sugar.

Coconom organic Coconut Sugar



This is the most natural alternative to sugar. It is un-refined, low glycemic index and sustainably harvested.
This wonderful product is full of natural goodness.
It can be used as a 1-1 sugar alternative in beverages and also baked goods.


Reference: Sources:

Fine Cooking (Issue 96) By Kimberly Y. Masibay

Sugar: What amount is Right.

My Baking Addition

Natural Alternatives to Sugar.



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