The holiday baking days are upon us, and, ever helpful, the dailies are getting down to the basics of baking. Forget Gourmet’s fiddly geometric Christmas cookies: The food sections of the San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times talk butter and sugar this week.

The Chron’s wish-we’d-been-a-judge taste-off features European-style butters, those high-priced, high-butterfat charmers whose ranks are ever swelling in the dairy case. The lucky tasters assessed each butter (some domestic, some imported) straight up and baked in shortbread. Surprisingly, Plugra, the butter whose high-fat plasticity started the whole Euro-butter craze, came in third in the combined scores and fourth in baking, beaten by the American Challenge and Danish Lurpak butters.

Over at the Times, life is sweet as writer Kim Severson continues her culinary romance with Louisiana, this time focusing on the state’s cane sugar industry, with recipes for cane-syrup popcorn balls, gingerbread slabs, and gâteau de sirop—along with a description of a local snack of white bread folded over a brown ripple of cane syrup and called, memorably, a “diaper sandwich.”

According to fans of unrefined products like raw sugar and cane syrup, the cane solids in the rough stuff add a smoothness that’s lacking in whiter-than-white processed sugar. As Charley Steen of longtime family business Steen’s Cane Syrup says, “For lack of a better word, the cane flavor just butters it out.”

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