Sugar is undoubtedly the biggest part of what makes cookies such a treat, and after all, what satisfies our sweet tooth. Its use is up there with the use of flour which is THE ingredient. But do you know what it really does and how it affects the process of baking and, in the end, the product itself? We're here to shed some sweet light on this subject.
...and types coming from different sources. The most known is maybe the granulated sugar or „table sugar“ – it is actually sucrose, a disaccharide of glucose and fructose. Did you know you can find sugar in most plants? Specifically, sugarcane and sugar beet are best for commercial extraction because of bigger concentration of substance. The world production of sugar in 2011 was about 168 million tonnes.
List of sugars is a long one, ranging from agave nectar (very high in fructose and sweeter than honey) to jaggery made from date, cane juice, or palm sap which contains 50% sucrose, up to 20% invert sugars, and a maximum of 20% moisture. But how does this translate to baking? Sugar used in baking comes in three forms: dry, liquid or syrup.
Sugar keeps baked goods soft and moist, and it does a lot more than just satisfy our craving. The bond between sugar and water allows sugar to lock in moisture so that items such as cakes, muffins, brownies, and frostings don't dry out too quickly. It creates tenderness, deepens colour and flavour, and adds crunch.
Sugar is an important contributor to flavour by interacting with other ingredients. Depending on the food application, sugar has the unique ability to heighten flavour or depress the perception of other flavours.
The main monosaccharides we encounter in baking are glucose, fructose, and galactose. The disaccharides (two sugar units) are derived from each of these single sugar units as follows: sucrose = (glucose + fructose), maltose = (glucose + glucose) and lactose = (glucose + galactose).
Fermentation, an extremely important process in the baking industry, is fuelled by sugars. Sugars are used to activate yeast for fermentation. The type and amount of sugar added can increase the dough yield and softness of bread by altering the rate of fermentation. Sugars remaining after fermentation contribute to the overall flavour, colour, and texture of the final product.
How it combines with other ingredients determines the cookie's volume and density. Sugar also attracts water from the dough, interfering with gluten formation, protein coagulation, and gelatinization of starch – even bacterial development!
People each day pay more attention to health benefits, many turn to artificial sweeteners and unrefined natural sugars. There are all available in baked goods and there is a big enough number of alternatives to satisfy everyone's sweet tooth. But sugar is not to be forgotten, because it has many functional roles in baking – not just providing sweetness.
As a bonus, sugar also helps produce the appealing surface cracking of some cookies, such as gingersnaps. Additionally, sugar serves as a flavorant, caramelizing while the cookies bake.