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White sugar vs raw sugar in baking

I have several different types of sugar in my kitchen, including white sugar, brown sugar and a variety of coarse sugars. By coarse sugar, I mean a “sugar in the raw” or natural type of sugar that has a much coarser texture and much larger crystals than plain white sugar has. These natural sugars have a lot of appeal when you’re in the grocery store looking for items that are less processed or have a more unique flavor, but even though they’re still sugar, that doesn’t mean that they are going to perform the same way in a recipe as regular white sugar will.

Coarser sugars are great for toppings and can be used in all kinds of baking applications, but there are some differences between it and regular sugar and that is worth keeping in mind when you reach for the sugar in your pantry. Plain sugar has a fine texture that is easy to cream into butter and beat into meringues and frostings. The small crystals dissolve quite easily in other ingredients and that fact is important to the texture of many baked goods. Coarse sugars have a large crystal that takes a lot more effort to break down and they will take more moisture to dissolve. This means that cookie doughs made with coarse sugar will be drier than those made with regular sugar and you’ll also need to work much harder to get the sugar to dissolve into a meringue or frosting. When using sugar in a recipe that doesn’t require creaming, such as sweetening a pie filling, white sugar and raw sugar can be interchanged without any impact on the finished product.

These raw/coarse sugars do have a good flavor that is not unlike a light brown sugar and they can be a nice addition to a recipe – particularly to a batch of cookies. One tweak you can make when using raw sugar is to add a couple of teaspoons of water to a recipe to get back a little of that lost moisture. Another is to process the sugar in the food processor until the crystals break down and it has a finer consistency. Doing this will allow you to use it just like regular white sugar and get the same results in terms of how your recipes come together.

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  • Nicole
    December 1, 2011

    I used a coarse sugar making spice cake once because that was the only sugar we had. It didn’t dissolve into the batter the way that white sugar does, but in that case the hint of crunch worked quite nicely and didn’t detract from the final product.

    I have also had to use raw sugar in place of icing sugar in a recipe (someone was allergic to the processed white sugar but not raw) and I ground it down to a fine powder in a coffee grinder. It was baked into the cake and worked wonderfully.

  • My Recession Kitchen
    December 2, 2011

    i use unrefined sugar in most of my cookie and cake recipes with success. I do agree that refined sugars do work best in frosting. I’ve even started using coconut sugar in baking. It works best in cakes and soft cookies but will not crisp up for crunchy cookies and toppings.

  • Carol Gieg He
    February 21, 2013

    I had a terrible time trying to use raw sugar and cookies.

    The crystals did not cook well, remaining whole and crunchy.

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