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Sugar in desserts, pastries and baking.

What is sugar? If you are a pastry chef or a serious professional chef you need to know this about sugar.

White sugar is refined from raw sugar, which is usually extracted from sugar cane juice and sometimes sugar beets. Refined sugar is sucrose.

Raw sugar is a light brown color, and can be refined in one step using a process called carbonization.---What is Sugar in the Raw? It's a brand name of raw sugar, a.k.a turbinado sugar made by Cumberland Packing Corp. And it's a nicely packaged table sugar for coffee, tea and beverages.

Carbonization involves dissolving the sugar into a liquid solution and then adding calcium hydroxide mixed with water. Calcium carbonate forms and attracts the colorants and contaminants in the solution, and it locks them away as it falls to the bottom of the carbonization chamber. By the end of the process, all that is left in the sugar solution is water and sucrose. This solution is then boiled to remove the excess water, and the sucrose is crystallized.

Brown sugar is made by adding molasses to white sugar and is naturally moist because of the of molasses hygroscopic quality. Brown sugar is either light or dark, light brown contains 3.5% molasses and dark brown sugar 6.5% molasses.  For Creme Brulee it doesn't matter. You can substitute brown sugar for granulated sugar anytime but the flavor of the product will be altered by a slight taste of molasses.

Demerara sugar is raw unrefined sugar with a large grain.

Castor sugar is the name of a very fine sugar in Britain, bar or extra fine sugar in the USA.

Confectioner's sugar is granulated sugar with the addition of cornstarch which has been mechanically ground into a very fine powder.

Sweeteners are granulated sugar, light brown sugar, powdered sugar (10-x or confectioners'), corn syrup and honey. Granulated sugar is available in about five categories of fineness example (regular, rock sugar, and superfine-bartender's sugar).

Cooked sugar is added to beaten egg to make a pate au bombe (egg yolks) or an Italian meringue (egg whites). Start cooking the sugar and then go on to another step. As the sugar cooks, the water added to it evaporates. If you are not ready to use the sugar when it reaches the proper temperature, simply add a few tablespoons of water and allow it to continue to cook. This way you can hold the sugar until you are ready. Remember the term "Mise en Place"---have everything ready before you start and you won't have to wait!

Using an invert sugar, (Sucrose can be split into its two component sugars glucose and fructose). This process is called inversion, and the product is called invert sugar allows you to use half the amount of regular sugar called for in a recipe. Examples of invert sugars are honey, glucose, corn syrup, and trimoline.

Powdered sugar: Also known as confectioners sugar or 10-x, this is granulated sugar ground to a powder with a bit of cornstarch. You can't make it at home because no home processor will grind it to that powdery texture. It is used to sweeten because it dissolves more easily than granulated sugar. It is also used to thicken because it contains cornstarch which prevents the granules from sticking to each other. Most offen used in whipped cream and sprinklings for a decorative effect.

Pastry Making and Using Sugar

Corn syrup: This is starch extracted from corn kernels and treated with an acid or enzyme to create a sweet syrup. Its presence will keep sugars from crystallizing. Corn syrup is an invert sugar, meaning it takes half as much of it to sweeten as much as regular sugar. Corn syrup helps baked good retain their moisture and increases shelf life. It lasts indefinitely if you keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Honey: Honey is another invert sugar. It is used to add sweetness and moistness to baked goods. It also helps to extend shelf life because it releases its moisture slowly and absorbs humidity. The darker the color, the stronger the flavor. Clover blossom honey is light and blueberry blossom honey is dark. I always prefer honey from the USA!

Vanilla sugar: This is granulated sugar to which dried vanilla bean has been added. It can be stored indefinitely at room temperature in an airtight container.

Sure-Jell (powdered pectin): Fruit pectin for homemade jams and Jellies. It contains dextrose (corn syrup), fruit pectin, and furnaric acid (which assists in the gelling process). Most grocery stores carry it, it is also available as Sure-jell Light or Slim-Set. Not a sugar but important in glazing's like apricot glaze.

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Stages of Sugar Temperature Range
(see more below)!

Always be very careful and don't be distracted when working with very hot liquids that may splash or spill!!!

Thread 230°-235°F / 110°-112°C
Soft ball 240°-250°F / 115°-121°C
Hard ball 255°-265°F / 124°-129°C
Soft crack 270°-290°F / 132°-143°C
Hard crack 300°-331°F / 148°-155°C
Caramel 320°-350°F / 160°-176°C

When sugar is cooked to 250°F (121°C) on a candy thermometer, it is cooked to the soft ball stage. This method is definitely not recommended for anyone who can't concentrate on what they are doing! Sugar cooked to the soft ball stage is used when making Italian meringue.

When sugar is cooked to 300° to 311°F (148° to 155°C), it is cooked to the hard crack stage. Sugar cooked to this stage is used to make Angel Hair or a Sugar Cage.

Cooked Sugar Tests and Temperatures

Stage Temperature Test

Thread---215°F Forms a brittle thread when pulled.

Pearl---220° - 222°F Forms pliable thread. Pulls off in sheets from a spoon.

Souffle---222° - 234°F Boiling sugar creates small bubbles resembling snowflakes.

Soft Ball---234° - 240°F Sugar syrup forms ball in water but flattens out when removed.

Firm Ball---242° - 248°F Sugar syrup forms ball in water and holds shape when removed. A very soft ball can be rolled between your fingers.

Hard Ball---250° - 268°F Sugar syrup forms ball in water and holds its shape in a tight, slightly pliable ball.

Soft Crack---270° - 290°F Sugar syrup forms stiff threads in water.

Firm Crack---293°F Sugar syrup has lost all of its water. Following stages are critical and temperature should be watched very carefully.

Hard Crack---300° - 310°F Sugar syrup forms hard, brittle threads when dropped into water.

Liquid Sugar 320°F Melting point of sugar.

Light Caramel---330° - 350°F Syrup turns a very pale amber color darkening to a rich golden.

Medium Caramel---350° - 370°F Syrup continues to darken, turning from light brown to a dark mahogany.

Dark Caramel---370° - 400°F Syrup becomes very dark brown, nearly black and gives off a very burnt aroma. Used only for coloring, not for confections. Used in Jamaican cooking for coloring gravy.

Black Jack +400°F Black color, dark smoke. No practical use for this---it's burnt!