Today is an easy day for me as I am adding another one of my ingredients which I originally had on my website. I am going to talk about sugar, caster sugar in particular, which is an important constituent of baking sweet things. I am sharing my thoughts and ideas from what I can remember from my university days in the hope that it encourages others to think about sugar and how to use it in baking.
Baking with sugar is really a necessity as without it the texture, taste and structure and storage of the final product are not the same. Adding too much or too little sugar can have disastrous results so when trying out recipes and altering the amount of sugar be prepared for some baking nightmares. After all that is how new recipes are developed by trial and error.
There are many forms of sugar used in baking and I think I have used all of them over the years for many different reasons. The most popular for baking with is caster sugar as it is a very fine grained sugar and the crystals combine easily with the other ingredients ensuring that the texture of the final bake is not grainy. However if creamed or melted in correctly the sugar grains are not detectable.
The sugar molecules combine with the water molecules in the mixture to form strong enough bonds that give the softness to the sponge. These molecules combining helps to retain the water in the product and this stops the final bake being dry. This is the main function of the sugar in cake making as it stops the gluten in the flour from using all the water in the mixture to form strong structures and helps to give a springiness to the surface of the cake which is not seen in bread.
The sugar in a cake recipe helps with the colour of the final bake as it caramelises in the heat of the oven. This caramelisation also alters the flavour of the final bake.
The sugar crystals help in the creation of air bubbles in the cake mix as whilst creaming the crystals cut through the liquid ingredients in the recipe and these bubbles then rise in the heat of the oven and help the cake to rise.
This is important when making meringue as the bubbles created by whipping the egg whites are the surrounded by the dissolved sugar crystals which protect the air that has been incorporated which on baking helps the meringue to rise.
When making cookies the sugar adds a crunchiness to the texture of the cookie as the moisture in the cookies evaporates on baking and the sugar crystals then recrystallise to give a sweet, crunch to the final bake.
Adding sugar to the baking means that the final baked product will keep better as sugar is a natural preservative.
On a final note as the sugar steals moisture when decorating a cake with icing sugar or caster sugar leave this till just before serving as the sugar will draw moisture and become sticky and disappear into the sponge cake over time.