Chewing on Brown Sugar

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Jeff Potter, self declared kitchen geek (author of Cooking for Geeks, O’Reilly Press), talking on the science of chocolate chip cookies yesterday at the monthly meeting of the Experimental Cuisine Collective fed us two fairly flat, pretty pale, decidedly crisp chocolate chip cookies, labeled 1A and 1B.  The cookies looked remarkably alike in shape and dimension, with only a slight variation in color. But when we took a bite there was no mistaking the chew of brown sugar in 1B.

At Cookulus we have been blown away by the difference a little brown sugar makes. Many  factors contribute to a cookie’s softness (baking time, oven temp, flour ratio) but moving from white sugar to brown in a formula is a simple change with powerful results. Dialing our chocolate chip cookie recipe just one point towards softness (a reduction of about 1 tablespoon  white sugar and an increase of 2 tablespoons brown sugar in a 24 cookie batch) increases the moisture content, the softness and the chewiness perceptibly.  The thicker and chewier you dial the cookie the more dramatic the difference becomes.

The best way to measure brown sugar is by weight, but if you only have measuring cups be sure to pack the sugar when you measure. If you don’t, you won’t get the right amount of sweetness.

Brown sugar is a mixture of granulated white sugar and liquid molasses. More molasses means deeper color but it also means less sweetness. The moisture from molasses causes sugar granules to swell slightly, so a cup of brown sugar contains fewer plumper sugar crystals than a cup of granulated white sugar.  Since it is the sugar crystals, not the molasses that gives brown sugar its sweetness, brown sugar is typically packed into a measuring cup to give it a similar number of sugar crystals (and level of sweetness) as the same volume of white sugar.

Light brown sugar is about 10% molasses, and dark brown sugar is closer to 20% molasses.  If you don’t have brown sugar you can make some by stirring molasses into granulated white sugar.

  • To make light brown sugar, stir 1 1/2 tablespoons molasses into 1 cup granulated white sugar.
  • To make dark brown sugar double the amount of molasses.
  • Turn light brown sugar into dark brown sugar by adding 1 tablespoon molasses to 1 packed cup light brown sugar.
  • Turn dark brown sugar into light brown sugar by blending equal amounts dark brown sugar and granulated white sugar.

You can find this kind of in-depth info about ingredients, equipment and cooking techniques in every Cookulus recipe.