Sort of, is the quick answer. There is a difference between what brown sugar and white sugar do to your pastries and breads, but in a pinch, just use either sugar. Brown and white sugars are somewhat interchangeable, but they will make your bread or pastry slightly different depending which one you choose.
White sugar is made from either sugar cane or beets and is refined to get rid of impurities, writes Joanne Chang, pastry chef and co-owner of Flour Bakery + Café in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, in her cookbook, Baking with Less Sugar. Brown sugar is only partially refined, which means it still has some molasses clinging to it. Also, many sugar manufacturers just add molasses to refined white sugar and package it as brown sugar. That's fine too.
Brown sugar makes baked goods more moist than white sugar because of the molasses content, says Pichet Ong, author of The Sweet Spot: Asian Inspired Desserts. This means you may have to adjust some of the other proportions in the recipe, like slightly decreasing the wet ingredients or upping the dry ones. Brown sugar will also add a hint of rich caramel flavor and affect the color.
Ong says he decides which to use based on what texture he wants. For something like a banana or zucchini bread, where he’s looking for a moist texture, brown sugar is good. But he likes layer cakes to be more dry and aerated, so he sticks to white. He says you can also use a combo like many cookie recipes do.
Substituting turbinado or Demerara (the “natural” brown sugars usually sold as “raw sugar”) doesn’t work so well, says Ong. They won’t melt down the way granulated white or conventional brown sugar would in a recipe because of the crystal size. He likes to take advantage of the texture of these bigger crystals by using them to crust cakes or cookies.
In her book BakeWise, Shirley Corriher notes that white sugar used in high proportions “makes a very crisp cookie that stays crisp,” while brown sugar is more “hygroscopic,” meaning it draws in water more easily from the air. Therefore cookies made with brown sugar “will absorb moisture from the atmosphere and soften on standing.”
If you really want brown sugar and all you have on hand is white granulated sugar, you can make it at home, as long as you have molasses, writes award-winning blogger and home cook Deb Perelman in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. "You can make your own brown sugar by mixing 1 cup of granulated sugar with 11/2 tablespoons molasses (for light brown sugar) or 1/4 cup molasses (for dark brown sugar) and measuring what you need from this mixture," Perelman says.
Also, place an apple wedge or slice of white bread in your container of brown sugar and leave it in overnight if your brown sugar has hardened too much, says Chang. Or you can microwave your hardened brown sugar with a wet paper towel on top for 20 to 30 seconds. Either method will restore the moisture.
Try some of our favorite recipes that include brown or white sugar.
These berrylicious muffins have a little nutrition squished inside, tasty nutrition that is: blueberrries, for starters, almonds, and whole wheat flour. You'll need both white and brown sugar, but not as much as you would for other muffin recipes. Try our almond-whole wheat blueberry muffins recipe.
Hot, sweet, crunchy, and meaty, this recipe calls for it all. Hop onto the pickup truck that's steering the Nashville hot chicken trend. This version has a healthier twang to it, but it still calls for 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Try our baked Nashville hot chicken recipe.
No layers, no problem. This easy carrot cake requires one rectangle-shaped baking pan, and that's it. The cake delivers a cartful of moist, carrot-ty goodness with that creamy cream cheese topping we crave. It requires both white granulated sugar and brown sugar. Try our easy carrot cake with cream cheese frosting recipe.
Chocolate and peanut butter go together like white and brown sugar in these gooey cookies. Each contributes its own gifts to make us go mmm. Try our peanut butter and chocolate cookies with ganache filling recipe.
Both brown and white sugars play with Granny Smith apples and all the other fun packed within the tube pan in this simple, but sweet and moist cake. Try our Apple Dapple Cake recipe.
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