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How Sweet It Is: The Science Behind Sugar in Baking

It’s that time of year again, when we bring out our favorite cookie, cake and pie recipes we save for the holiday season. A common ingredient in all of these delicious baked goods is sugar. It’s essential in baking to add flavor, texture, structure, volume and it helps in caramelization.

Sugar in its natural form has some amazing powers for baking. When cooking or baking with sugars, it is helpful to understand a little of the science behind sugars. Sugar is a molecule that is made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. This structure is important in cooking and baking because it makes it easy to bond with other molecules. As it bonds with other molecules it holds onto the moisture of food and makes the difference in how moist a cookie or cake is. In addition the water that sugar holds onto makes it a natural preservative.

As we bake or cook sugar can help us accomplish many things. With a recipe that has flour, we can add sugar to absorb the water and prevent gluten development. When this occurs, we have added texture to a baked product. Basically, a little sugar will give a dense texture such as what we find in rolls. If we add a lot of sugar, then we will get that light fluffy texture we want in our cakes and baked goods. When we add it to ice cream, it slows down the freezing process so that we can get that rich creamy texture that we crave.

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That is just a simple and sweet breakdown of how sugar can work in baking. Now that we know how sugar is part of the foundation for creating those sweet sensations we crave during the holidays, next we’ll look at one of my favorite sugar alternatives. Check back later this week for my blog post on baking with agave.