Sugar & Baking

Sugar & Baking

I asked you guys if you would like an educational post, and most of you said yes, so here it is. I thought this would be a good idea as we are always talking about sugar in baking and substitutes for it. In order to explain good sugar substitutes I need to talk about why sugar is important in baking and what exactly does it contribute to other than flavor – or adding sweetness?

The Purpose of Sugar in Baking

Sugar provides flavor, that sweetness we know all too well. In addition to flavor, sugar also adds color. When heat is applied to sugar, it caramelizes. Golden brown cakes, cookies and biscuits? That yellow glow of a sponge cake when it just comes out of the oven? Yep, all sugar. Heating sugar to different temperatures will give you caramel, fudge and toffee.

Sugar tenderizes the gluten strands (which is a protein found in flour, and is only present when manipulated with a liquid). In simpler terms it’s what gives cakes its fine, soft crumb; cookies their ability to snap in crunchy awesomeness and soft pillowy dough that you could lay your head on.

In leavened dough making, sugar provides food for yeast to grow. Of course it also needs that warm cosy environment as well as moisture, but if it didn’t have any food it wouldn’t multiply giving us the chain reaction of fermentation and that “freshly baked bread smell” we all know and love.

I think this next point is one of the most important attributes. Sugar is a preservative. How does it work you ask? Well, sugar attracts water, through osmosis, this does not provide a suitable environment for bacteria to grow which means all those baked goodies, bread, jams and preserves last longer. In jam making it is often difficult to cut out the sugar completely as it provides a natural preservative to the fruit and activates its gelling properties. An acid has to be present for the correct pH level to occur, thus preserving and gelling the jam.

Lastly, sugar acts as a creaming and foaming agent. You know that all too common first step in most baking recipes right? “Cream the butter and sugar”, this is done for two reasons. Firstly, heat from friction caused by the mechanical action of whisking, incorporates air into the mixture and dissolves the sugar granules. The creamier your mixture the lighter your end product because of the moisture from the sugar. Secondly, Sugar adds volume to baked goods. Ever forgotten to add the sugar when you’re baking? Your cake or cupcakes just won’t have height, might be a little bit dense ie. missing that spring back action and bland.

Let me know if you enjoyed this post in the comments, and tell me of what other topics you would like me to talk about!