Toasted Sugar or Not!

BY HELEN S. FLETCHER, ON
COPYRIGHT, HELEN S. FLETCHER, 2017. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ALL PHOTOS BY PASTRIES LIKE A PRO UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

Items made with Toasted SugarI was recently toodling around the internet and came across a recipe for Toasted Sugar on Serious Eats by Stella Parker.

For all the chemistry involved please go to the article. I just wanted to know if it actually worked and what it tasted like.

I didn’t own a glass baking dish, so off to Walmart I went to get one. Easy enough. While there I picked up a four pound package of granulated sugar as called for.

A glass or ceramic baking dish is called for because they are poor conductors of heat and allow the sugar to darken without melting.

Here how it went.

Toasted Sugar
4 pounds granulated sugar (1816 grams)

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Pour the granulated sugar into a 9×13 glass or ceramic baking dish. Even it out, making sure the corners are equally covered.Granulated sugar in pan for Toasted Sugar or Not!

After the first hour, stir the sugar. Return it to the oven.

Continue until the sugar turns deep brown, stirring every 30 minutes. Mine took 6 hours. As I started late, thinking it would only take 4 hours from reading the article, I was hard pressed to stay up until midnight waiting as I had a long and busy day.Toasted sugar in pan for Toasted Sugar or Not!

I set it on the counter and let it cool until morning.

When I checked in the morning, it was still dark and pretty hard in the dish. I found it difficult to break up all at once, so I broke it up in two layers. The top layer had smaller “crumbs”Small clumps of sugar for Toasted Sugar or Not! which were put in a processor to granulate them.Processed sugar for Toasted Sugar or Not!

The second layer broke into huge slabs that I then broke into more pieces and granulated thoseLarge sugar clumps for Toasted Sugar or Not!

Although the original article talks about water evaporating from the sugar, I still had 4 pounds of sugar when it was done.

Day 2 found me making shortbread cookies with granulated sugar and with the toasted sugar. I chose those because they had the least amount of ingredients and a considerable amount of sugar as I wanted to taste the difference.

Shortbread Cookies – I made two batches, using granulated sugar in one batch and toasted sugar in another. The round cookie on the left is made with toasted sugar, the one on the right with plain granulated sugar.
1/2 cup butter softened (114 grams or 4 ounces)
1/4 cups sugar (50 grams or 1 3/4 ounces)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour (175 grams or 6 1/2 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Cream the butter and sugar until very light.

Add the flour and mix until it appears to be crumbly. Crumbly shortbread dough for Toasted Sugar or Not!Scrape down, including the bottom of the bowl and mix again until it almost comes together.Large clumps of dough for Toasted Sugar or Not!

Remove from the bowl and knead a few times to bring it together.Kneaded dough for Toasted Sugar or Not!

Here are the two doughs side by side.  The one on the left is made with the Toasted sugar.  As you can see there is not a huge color difference.Both doughs for Toasted Sugar or No!

Roll it between two pieces of waxed paper to a thickness of about 1/4″. Cut out as desired.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until lightly browned.

Yields: About 18 cookies. This recipe easily doubles, triples or quadruples. My original recipe called for 4 times the ingredients.

Shortbread Cookie with Granulated SugarCookie with Granulated Sugar for Toasted Sugar or Not!Shortbread Cookie with Toasted SugarCookie with toasted sugar for Toasted Sugar or Not!

I then moved on to my Angel Food Cake using the toasted sugar.Angel Food Cake for toasted Sugar or NOt! Angel Food cake has an abundance of sugar and very little flour. I simply substituted the toasted sugar for the regular sugar.

Observations

The following comments are my observations.  This is not to say that Toasted Sugar is good or bad. Stella put a lot of work and time, not to mention sugar, into this project and is to be commended for that.  But my personal opinion is that it’s just not worth the effort.

Stella describes the sugar as tasting of caramel.  To me, caramel is rich in butter and cream. Torching sugar or heating it until it colors on top of the stove is not what I consider caramel, but that may just be my differentiation.

The first thing I can say is that six hours is a long time to have anything in the oven, especially when stirring every 30 minutes. So be sure to plan ahead so you have enough time.

It’s especially a long time when I could find little to no discernible difference in taste between the granulated sugar vs. the toasted sugar. It looks darker and I certainly thought it would taste like caramelized sugar since that is what the article said, but it didn’t.

If anything, the toasted sugar was less sweet than the granulated. There is an explanation in the article to that effect. For me, that is counter productive. If I wanted a recipe to be less sweet I would adjust the sugar and remaining ingredients to obtain that objective.

Recipes consist of many ingredients and I don’t think the flavor of the toasted sugar is strong enough to come through as does brown sugar that is treated with molasses to make it brown.

I tasted the toasted sugar by itself and in the cookies and angel food cake.

The shortbread cookies were almost identical in taste and texture. The round ones with the toasted sugar were darker but that is about all.

The Angel Food cake is the color of the toasted sugar.  I did notice a difference here as there is so much sugar and not much else.  But it wasn’t caramel I tasted but burnt sugar as in creme brulee.

So, in conclusion, if you have a 9×13 glass baking dish, four pounds of sugar and a lot of time, go for it and see what you think.

I’d love to hear from anyone who tries this.

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Pastry has not only been my profession, but my passion. If there is anything in particular you would like to see or any questions about baking or pastry, please let me know. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss a post.

24 thoughts on “Toasted Sugar or Not!

  1. Wayne

    I’ve made toasted sugar before using the quick method. About a pound and a half in stainless skillet toasts in about thirty minutes and does not need stirring. Easy to do while assembling something else.

    It’s certainly less sweet. I can say that it makes a noticeable difference in frosting, but that’s the extent of my experimentation so far. It makes sense that as the products complexity increases the taste difference decreases.

    I, however, like the taste of the sugar. To me, it’s more complex and less sweet than brown sugar. No, it does not taste like caramel sauce because it’s just the caramel compounds.

    It probably won’t become one of my go to techniques, but it is an alternative to completely reworking a recipe.

  2. Carolyn

    Like many other commenters, I really appreciate you testing this for us. It’s really good to know that it’s not worth the effort. I would like to say, though, that Stella’s new cookbook Brave Tart is outstanding and a really great addition to any baking library.

  3. Gabrielle DeMichele

    Hi Helen, I had just read about this on Food 52 and was so, so curious! I thank you for saving me the time, I trust your palate so now I can move on to something else! Thanks again
    Gay D

  4. Janet Woodward

    I really cant see the point of this one at all. Sorry.

    On the odd occasion….I have used a mix of soft brown sugar plus some caster…it does give a softer caramel taste. …without all the faffing about.

    The one thing I will mention….as some of you know…I like to travel…and one very fond memory..is the Cruise terminal at Barbados….is close to a sugar production plant…and its just so deeply generous with the aroma….
    Love to you all….stay safe….

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Janet – As a curious person whose passion is baking and pastry, I thought something new had been found. As you know, there is very little new in cooking and baking, we just move things around a lot. This intrigued me so I did it. But it definitely wasn’t worth. it.

  5. sallybr

    Awesome post! I wish our graduate students in the lab had your diligence to approach a problem

    I thimk it is indeed a huge effort for not enough reward in taste

        1. hfletcher Post author

          As to my mother, she was a fantastic baker making croissant when no one even heard of them this side of the Atlantic. When my father went back to school for pharmacy, she fed 16 people for supper 5 nights a week and lunch on Sunday. She was the hardest working person I ever knew and I miss not being able to share my love of baking with her. But all in all, I was lucky enough to inherit the best of both of them,

  6. gardencatt

    As Stella Parks suggests, I now use sugar as the weights to blind bake my pie crusts. Three or four times and the sugar becomes toasted without any extra oven time or work. I store it in a container between pies. I like the taste and the “less sweet” with no change in the chemistry. Decreasing the sugar in a baking recipe often alters other things that affect the structure.

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Reducing the sugar might or might not alter the remaining ingredients. In a recent article on baking in a professional magazine, it was noted that reducing sugar up to 25% did not make it necessary to readjust the remaining ingredients. Having said that, I did mention the need to adjust the remaining ingredients which I can do but I realize everyone cannot. Bakers adjust on a percentage of ingredients basis that allows for easy and accurate changes. As I said in the article, I commend Stella, I just don’t agree.

  7. Dolores

    I’m not going to go through all the bother of making this- but I wonder what would happen if one added a bit of leftover caramelized sugar( re-melted) to cookies?

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Dolores – my first reaction is that it would melt the shortening in the cookie changing the structure completely. But it is an interesting thought.

  8. Patty Miller

    I appreciate that you took the time to research and test this for the rest of us. That’s a lot of effort for not much difference. Thank you!

  9. Catharina

    Thank you, Helen, for this article, I thought it was me… I have to agree wholeheartedly with your observations as my experiment turned out exactly like yours. I think it is not worth the effort, because taste wise it makes next to no difference, the oven is on for a long time but you can’t really walk away because of the required stirring, and it is just a lot of faff for very little impact. I had hoped for a different outcome, but like you said: there are better ways to up the flavour!!

  10. Jen

    Ok, noted, I had pinned that recipe, but it seems as if that is a lot of time invested for little payoff. I know that is just your opinion, but I think I will go with that! Thank you!

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