I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “There is no holy grail of sweeteners.” Simply put, if something is too good to be true, it isn’t true. Organic, vegan sweeteners are less processed than granulated white sugar and liquid corn syrup, but they are still that sweeteners that are meant to be used in moderation. (And don’t get me started on artificial sweeteners that are chemicals!) Desserts are welcome treats and can be made better. Sugar alcohols, stevia too, behave differently from granulated sugars, and often contribute off taste, or digestive upset, or just not work. The liquid sweeteners, maple syrup, agave, molasses, rice syrup, sorghum syrup, have different properties and flavors and they are not interchangeable in batter based desserts.
I get so many questions about sweeteners, especially the granulated ones we call sugar. Here’s the deal: sugar is needed to make batter based desserts that taste good and have a good crumb. Use the right one and in the smallest amount you can without compromising the dessert. That’s what I do. When a sugar-free dessert is what’s appropriate, choose fruit!
Vegan and organic sugars are not filtered through bone char or bleached, like conventional white sugar, so it ranges in color from off white to light beige and in size from fairly fine to very fine. However, as the crystals of these sugars are always larger than conventional white sugar, I generally specify grinding them before using them in cake recipes. Beet sugar is never filtered through bone char, but I don’t use it since beets are a highly GMO crop.
My favorite brand of organic, vegan, fair-traded sugars is Wholesome!, but there are many others in the marketplace, including store brands like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.
When granulated sugar has been ground to a super-fine consistency, it is known as Caster Sugar (UK) or Superfine Sugar (US) or Baker’s Sugar
To make your own Caster Sugar (or “Fran Sugar” )
- Put 1 cup granulated sugar in a high-speed blender or 1/2 cup in a conventional blender, or larger nut of spice grinder. Repeat until you have made a quantity. You will have more sugar by measure than you started with so using weight is appropriate.
- Pulse until it reaches a super-fine, but not powdery consistency.
- Let the sugar settle for a few minutes.
- Store in jars or any airtight container and use in place of the finely ground, superfine, or caster sugar called for in your recipe.
Powdered Sugar and Confectioners’ Sugar
- Both are granulated sugars that have been completely pulverized into a very fine powder. They are not interchangeable though, because confectioner sugar has a small amount of cornstarch or tapioca starch added to keep the sugar from clumping together.
- Do not substitute either for regular or superfine sugar.
Okay, then what is Whole Cane Sugar, a.k.a. whole cane juice, evaporated cane juice, or dehydrated cane juice? This is cane sugar with all of the molasses from the sugar cane intact, which makes it a good substitute. Grind whole cane sugar to a powder before using so it will dissolve in baked goods and other desserts. Depending on the size of your blender, grind 1 to 2 cups at a time. (Do not be alarmed at the dust that rises when you open the blender lid.) You can grind the sugar ahead of time and store in an airtight container. Sift before using. Note that jaggery from India, piloncillo from Mexico and Latin America, and rapadura from South America are forms of non-granulated whole cane sugar. I don’t recommend grinding and using them in recipes since their moisture content is variable. I use organic fair trade Sucanat from Wholesome!. More detailed information about whole cane and other sweeteners is found on pages 21 through 23 in Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts.
Coconut Sugar (or coconut palm sugar) is a sustainable sugar made from the sap of the coconut palm tree flower. Its flavor reminds me of a mild brown sugar with caramel overtones that I have come to appreciate, particularly in coconut-based desserts. Make sure to buy palm sugar from a reputable supplier, as much of what is sold in Asian markets contains a blend of fillers like white cane sugar. Grind to a powder in a blender before using and store in an airtight container. It is less strong tasting than whole cane sugar and quite lovely. Your light colored batter-based desserts will be darker when this sugar is used.
Maple Sugar is evaporated maple syrup and was for many years the only sugar I used. But as my desserts have become more refined, I reserve this sugar to use in maple-forward desserts or as a garnish. Grind to a powder in a blender if coarse, and store in an airtight container. It is less sweet than organic cane sugar, and quite a bit more expensive. Your light colored batter-based desserts will be darker when this sugar is used.
I appreciate the subtle flavor that organic, less refined sugars add to a recipe, unlike white sugar that is just sweet. Lately I favor coconut sugar when darker color doesn’t matter. What are your favorite granulated sugars?
I have a signed copy of my book Vegan Chocolate and bags of Wholesome! Cane Sugar, Coconut Palm Sugar, and Sucanat for one lucky winner. Follow the instructions below to enter. U.S. residents only, please. Contest ends at midnight on Tuesday, May 24th. Good luck!