We love it, we hate it, we crave it, yet we fear it… but do we really know anything about it?
We know that if we want to stay healthy, refined sugars are the ones to avoid. We also know that high intake of sugar has a negative impact on our sleeping patterns, our activity and our hormonal situation.
On the other hand, one cannot deny the fact that sugar is a pure source of energy.
Sugar is a simple source of carbohydrates, which are an essential macronutrient for us as human beings.
Our body needs this energy to live, to breathe, to repair itself and to reproduce.
Sugar craving are natural. The need for sweet taste is a natural need embedded in our biology.
That´s why… a good home-made piece of cake is able to save a bad morning, huh?
Nevertheless, this story is not about the pros and cons of sugar consumption. Nor it is a story about how bad or good white sugar is.
When it comes to bakery and pastry making, there is no such thing as good or bad.
Cooking is pure chemistry.
There are chemical and physical processes that do not depend on our beliefs or needs, on fashion or current trends.
They are there, because it is natural for them to be there and to act as they do.
These processes are an indispensable part or culinary art and have to be taken into account in order to achieve the best result.
So let´s omit all the precautions and stereotypes and step up together into the culinary world to really investigate one of the most basic and supposedly well-known products we use in our kitchen when baking and creating desserts – sugar.
I have prepared a small cute infographics for you, so you can note the bullet points and understand the 8 Main, yet only basic Function of Sugar in bakery. Let´s look at it and go through the content in more detail:
Those who are already for long involved with baking and pastry making will support me – sugar plays an incredibly important role in this process, and performs a great number of functions, crucial functions that have a considerable impact on a final product, its smell, taste, texture and shelf-life.
The taste, even being the most obvious feature, is the very small part of the sugar story.
When I say sugar, I do not mean only white, refined granulated sugar. Not even I mean brown sugar and its derivatives (Demerara, Turbinado, Muscovado). I also imply sugar syrups (coconut syrup, corn syrup, dates syrup, agave syrup, rice syrup, etc), honey, molasses, glucose syrup and inverted sugar.
As you can see, there are so many variables and each of them can be implemented and successfully implemented in your culinary adventures, if you know the technology of working with each of them.
To simplify, we can divide it to
First and most important – theoretically, dry sugar can be substituted fully with glucose syrup or any other liquid sugar. It will also be able to provide for the process of caramelisation, but the end product is going to have different characteristics.
First, taste. Refined sugar is nothing but sweet, whereas honey (and every type of honey is completely different) adds a typical flavour to the baked good. Mind that when you cook. If this flavour is not intended, I would go for a neutral liquid substitution – glucose syrup, corn syrup.
Second, texture. Dry sugar allows the good to be crunchy, have a nice brown coating and be more fluffy. The space between the crystals of sugar has a lot of air; thus, when we beat in sugar with fats (butter), or eggs – we add a lot of air to the dough. It stays there, because sugar crystals are able to stabilise by connecting with fats or liquids. Adding too little sugar or too much of sugar may result in a way that the dough is flat and not puffy at all.
Liquid sugars, on the other hand, preserve more moist inside the dough. Such bakery tends to have a longer shelf-life and is on the overall less crunchy, but more elastic. Such sugars are relevant if you want to create a moist texture, juicy and flavour at the same time.
You all know that beautiful shiny mirror glaze that we are all hypnotised with whenever any of those french chefs share their videos on Instagram… I don´t know how about you, but I personally am always stuck in those accounts. Now..what does it have to do with liquid sugars?
Liquid, so to say, sugars, are responsible for the smooth and shiny appearance of the desserts (glaze, ice-cream, creams, mousses, etc). The elasticity it is able to grant as well as moist create this effect on your desserts. Due to glucose syrup, for example, your bonbons shine bright like diamonds or the mirror glaze ideally is so perfect you can apply your mascara looking into it instead of the mirror.
The browning (coating) and crunch effect are caused by two processes that sugar is involved in.
First, caramelisation. The sugar loses its structure under the heating and the product acquires nice brown/caramel collar and flavour.
Second, Maillard reaction: the sugars and proteins mixed together undergo the heating.
Another purpose of sugar is fermentation. This is relevant mostly in bread making art, where sugar creates the environment for the yeast to ferment and develop cultures in a dough (if you every baked yeast bread yourself, you know that pinch of sugar we add to the voucher before the kneading).
Okay.. Now it seems like we covered the most important functions of sugar.
The question remains: is it really so important and is there really no way to substitute sugar in bakery and pastry?
Just remember, any substitution is equal to sugar in one or other way. If we substitute sugar with fructose, honey or agave syrup – it is still the derivatives of sugar.
Maybe, less junky. Maybe, tastes better. Still…sugar it is.
Theoretically, coconut sugar is the only ´healthy´substitution one can make without losses in the taste and texture, as among other derivatives, coconut sugar has the best nutritional values and therefore, creates ground to think that this substitution is justified.
I, personally, do not eat sugar. I am happily developing my paleo nutrition and clean eating plan, so lately I am coming with a number of recipes that are gluten free, dairy free and sugar free (refined sugar free). Yes, the textures are different. Yes, the process is different. The taste… the taste is divine. Natural. Fulfilling.
If you like sweets, but don´t want to lose the abs (the summer is in one month, hehe) – here is a paleo version of gateaux de voyage (travel cake), developed by me recently, that will totally blow your mind!
Not only it is super healthy, its also a best treat for this pumpkin lovers.. I am sure there are so many of us.
Pumpkin dates cream on a fluffy almond-cashew-coconut cake… look at those textures…mmmm
Can you believe, that it will not only indulge your receptors, but also nourish your body.
So, Paleo Pumpkin-Cashew-Coconut Travel Cake Composition:
- cashew mousse almond flour pastry with coconut caramel
- pumpkin-dates caramel mousse
30 g coconut sugar
30 g coconut syrup
100 coconut milk
20 coconut oil
vanilla extract (few drops)
orange blossom (few drops, optional)
- In a saucepan, on a medium heat, caramelise the coconut sugar and syrup for few minutes. Be careful, the caramelisation process of coconut sugar is very hard to control (due to the colour, browning is different). Orient by the smell and texture.
- In other saucepan, heat the coconut milk.
- Start adding hot coconut milk into the sugar pot constantly mixing with a spatula.
- Add coconut oil and salt.
- Pour into a bowl. Let cool. Add extracts. Mix well.
70 g almond flour
20 g coconut syrup
35g rice flour
100 apple puree
10 grapeseed oil
3 g baking powder
salt 1 g
vanilla extract (few drops)
Pre-heat the oven to 165 degrees.
- Beat the eggs with coconut syrup for 5 minutes till stiff.
- add apple puree and caramel sauce.
- add the flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla extract.
- in the end, mix in the grape seed oil.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Take out, let cool on the grid.
raw pumpkin 300 g
cashew mousse 40 g
coconut flour 20g
coconut oil 20 g
- Prepare the pumpkin. Peel it, cut into small pieces and cook in a steamer (you can make it or cook in the microwave till soft).
- Use a hand blender to pure the pumpkin.
- Mix pumpkin puree with dates, cashew mousse, coconut flour, oil and spices using a hand blender. Blend until smooth.
- Let cool in the fridge for at least 40 minutes.
- Put into the piping bag and pipe over the cooled cakes.
- Serve with blueberries.
So… sugar story short – sugar is essential. If you want the result as it should be, as it has been developed by classics, by masters – do not omit it. Do not underestimate the role of it. Learn to use it.
If you want a particular type of pastry, with a particular level of moisture, crunchiness and elasticity you know what tools to use. Sugar amount is a tool you can vary to get different results, and this is a pure beauty of the kitchen chemistry.
If you are pursuing certain body goals for yourself or keeping a healthy diet for yourself, feel free to experiment. There is a such a great variety to use the natural sweetness of certain products and make your desserts not only tasty but healthy.
In any of the case… I wish you best of luck in your kitchen adventures and I hope this post was useful!
All the best from the warm Berlin,