Instead of buying a whole pack of brown sugar for one recipe, you may be wondering whether you can’t just use the white sugar in your pantry instead. Besides its unique caramel flavor, brown sugar is specifically called for in recipes because it adds more moisture than its white counterpart. It gives cookies their chewy rich texture while the white version is generally used in crisper items.
If your recipe requires the sweet brown granules and all you have is white sugar, don’t worry, you can make your very own replacement at home. Here we’ll look at exactly what brown sugar is, how it is made, and how you can make it at home without any specialist ingredients.
How It’s Made
As with the white version, brown sugar is made from sugarcane or alternatively sugar beet. The sweet syrup is extracted from the crops, purified, and heated. This concentrated syrup is what we refer to as molasses. A centrifuge machine spins at high speed to separate the crystals and molasses. White sugar runs through a filtration system to remove excess molasses and creates smaller crystals.
Unrefined crystals are less processed, retaining some molasses and a naturally darker color. The more common store-bought brown sugar is refined white sugar with molasses mixed back into the crystals to develop the caramel taste and increase the moisture content.
The color and flavor depth will depend on the amount of molasses present. Light brown types comprise approximately 3.5% molasses. Dark brown types have a higher moisture content and deeper flavor with closer to 6.5% molasses content.
Homemade Brown Sugar Recipe
According to the explanation above, you’ve probably figured out that all you need to do to the sweet white granules in your pantry to transform them into light brown sugar is add a little molasses.
The amount of molasses added to make a brown sugar substitute will depend on whether you create a dark or light variety, the intensity of the caramel-toffee flavor, and the moisture content that adds the chew factor to your cookies.
To make light brown granules, mix one tablespoon of molasses with 1 cup of white sugar. For dark brown sugar, use two tablespoons molasses to one cup white granulated sugar. Once mixed, use it as a cup-for-cup substitute in any recipe.
Note: You can also use date molasses as an alternative to regular molasses.
Start by mixing the granules and syrup with a spoon. You will notice that it clumps together. Now it’s time to get those fingertips a little dirty. Rub the granules between your fingers until everything is well mixed and all the clumps are worked out and evenly dispersed.
If you don’t like the thought of getting your hands sticky, drop the mixture into an electric mixer at low speed or into a food processor and gently pulse at short intervals until clumps are broken up and an even granular consistency is obtained.
What Can I Substitute for Brown Sugar Without Molasses?
Not everyone keeps molasses around and since it is usually purchased in a big jar there is no reason to buy a whole bottle just for the two tablespoons you need in a recipe. There are other pantry staples you can easily use without brown sugar syrup or molasses.
Buckwheat honey is the best option here in terms of matching the color and prominent flavor. However, any honey will do if you don’t specifically have buckwheat. Keep in mind that certain varieties have stronger floral notes than others and this might come through in delicate baked goods.
Use the same method as above by mixing 1 tablespoon of honey with 1 cup (200g) of white sugar.
#2. Black Treacle
Black treacle will give you the closest resemblance to the real thing, which makes this a great option. Add one to two tablespoons of black treacle to one cup of granulated sugar depending on how dark you want the end product. Mix well to ensure even distribution and that there are no clumps left.
#3. Maple Syrup
Here you will use the same ratios as above to make your DIY sweet caramel granules. Pure maple syrup is a great option since the difference is hardly detectable and it can be used in almost any application including baking, dressings, and sauces.
#4. Barley Malt Syrup
A tablespoon of barley malt syrup mixed with 200g of granulated white raw sugar will give you a very close match since the syrup is reminiscent of sticky, dark brown molasses. Using this in baked goods will add a lovely rich color.
#5. Brown Rice Syrup
If you find honey, maple syrup, or treacle to be just too sweet of an addition, brown rice syrup is your best alternative. It is less sweet than other syrups or liquid sweeteners but can be added in the same quantity at 1 tablespoon of rice syrup to 1 cup of white sugar to up the moisture content and give a slightly darker color.
#6. Agave Nectar
If you are vegan and keep agave around instead of honey, you can use this as your syrup component. The color is similar to honey or maple syrup and provides the perfect substitute for vegan baked goods. Use the same ratio as the above combinations.
Coconut sugar granules are light brown and made from the sap of coconut trees so they don’t have a coconutty taste. You can use it in a straight swap but keep in mind that it does not have the same moisture content so your baked goods may have a drier texture.
Honey, maple syrup, agave, and other liquid sweeteners are best used as a substitute in non-baked recipes, sauces, and glazes. If it’s the only sweetener you have on hand for your baking recipe, you can use it but will need to make adjustments to compensate for the textural difference. When using the syrup as a replacement, only use two-thirds of the amount required in your recipe and reduce liquid elsewhere in your recipe by 60 ml (1/4 cup).
White sugar is generally incorporated into recipes that require a light and airy texture such as meringues, souffle, mousse, and certain cakes. Brown sugar is most suitable for denser items and chewy cookies. Although the two can be used interchangeably in most cases, the end product may have a slightly different texture and appearance due to the difference in moisture content and color.
With its dark color and high moisture content, muscovado can be used to replace brown sugar. It contains more molasses with a rich caramel flavor and is minimally refined. Choose a light muscovado in equal quantities and sift it into the dry ingredients to remove any clumps. Recipes that are intended to be crispy may come out softer due to the higher moisture content.
These two sweeteners are not the same although they have very similar properties. Rice syrup is made by breaking down cooked rice starches. Unlike high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup does not contain fructose but is instead composed of maltotriose, maltose, and a small percentage of glucose.
Pure maple syrup is made entirely from maple tree sap without any additions. Regular maple syrup or maple flavored syrup is a standard syrup with maple flavoring added to match the authentic taste.
Making your own brown sugar is a great way to experiment with sweeteners. It allows you to make just as much as you need and to customize the caramelly richness to the intensity you prefer. Honey, agave, maple syrup, black treacle, barley malt syrup, or rice syrup are all options to mix into your homemade alternative.
Always be mindful of any flavor or color differences that your chosen alternative will add to the recipe and remember to store leftovers in an airtight container.
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