All dry sugars – granulated, brown, powder or confectioners’ – have a very strong ability to attract water. They are hygroscopic in nature, like dating without marriage.
They keep water and moisture away from structure builders such as starch and proteins that are present in flour and eggs. The result is very tender, soft, moist sugar cookies that have a longer shelf life than other types of cookies.
On the other hand, if you reduce the amount of granulated sugar called for in your cookie recipe, you inadvertently increase the amount of water or liquid that is available for flour to absorp. As a result, your dough will be stiffer, and your sugar cookies tend to be crunchy and don’t spread much.
Brown Sugar – Granulated Sugar – Confectioners’ Sugar
Sugar increases spread in cookies. The finer the sugar granules, the more spreading they cause. Confectioners’ sugar, however, does prevent spreading because it contains cornstarch.
When added properly, sugar stabilizes whipped egg whites very effectively. It accomplishes this by:
- Slowing down the unfolding and aggregation of egg proteins.
- Forming a thick, viscous syrup to protect air bubbles from collapsing.
- Extracting juice from sugarcanes and sugar beets.
- Removing impurities from this juice. The addition of lime and carbon dioxide makes this process very efficient.
- Forming sugar crystals through gentle heating and water evaporation.
- Separating sugar crystals from molasses through centrifuges.
The unclean and inedible sugar is further refined before it reaches you and me, the final consumers. Nowhere during this process is sugar bleached nor chemically changed.
Sucrose is the chemical name for granulated sugar that we commonly use in baking sugar cookies. It is a disaccharide consisting of glucose and fructose.
Confectioners’ sugar is a powdery blend of granulated sugar and 3% cornstarch to keep it from clumping. It is called icing sugar in England and sucre glace in France. The fineness of its crystals ranges from 6x up to 10x that of granulated sugar.
Confectioners’ sugar is less sweet than regular granulated sugar. It does not trap air cells as well as either granulated or brown sugar does. Do not substitute confectioners’ for granulated sugar unless your recipes for sugar cookies call for it.
Two common methods of making brown sugar are:
- Leaving some molasses in granulated sugar during the refining process.
- Adding molasses back into granulated sugar.
I sometimes make my own brown sugar by combining 1lb. of molasses with 9lb. of granulated sugar. I can easily adjust color, flavor, and quality of my homemade brown sugar by varying the quality of molasses.
Comparatively, brown sugar has similar amount of calories and carbohydrates as granulated sugar. The small amount of molasses has very little effect on texture and nutritional value.
Sugar cookies made with brown sugar have darker color and softer texture. During the baking process, sugar crystals melt and move to the surface. There, they caramelize, turn cookies brown, and add flavor.
A good way to store brown sugar is in an airtight container along with a terra cotta sugar softener. You can also use a slice of apple, but must remember to exchange it for a fresh one every few days.
Finally, air, a natural leavener, is present among sugar crystals but not in liquid sweeteners. To incorporate air into cookie dough, we start most of our recipes by creaming softened butter with sugar. Let’s visit easy cookie recipes for ideas before we start creaming.