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Baking with Raw Sugars

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2017

We baked muffins, sugar cookies, layer cakes, and shortbread with granulated sugar and Demerara and turbinado sugars and compared the texture, flavor, and appearance of each.

Shoppers often buy “raw” sugars such as Demerara and turbinado because they are less processed and offer a more complex, molasses-like flavor than granulated sugar. We wondered if they could be swapped into baked good recipes that call for granulated sugar.

EXPERIMENT

We baked muffins, sugar cookies, layer cakes, and shortbread with granulated sugar and Demerara and turbinado sugars and compared the texture, flavor, and appearance of each.

RESULTS

Across the board the raw sugars added a slight molasses-like flavor that most tasters preferred to the cleaner flavor of granulated sugar. But texture was another matter. Both raw-sugar layer cakes had a moist and uniform crumb and were fluffier than the cakes made with granulated sugar. But the other baked goods didn’t fare as well. The raw-sugar muffins were denser and slightly squatter and tougher than those made with granulated sugar. The raw-sugar cookies were slightly mounded rather than flat and were a touch dry. The shortbread made with raw sugar was a total failure; it was speckled with sugar crystals and had a brittle, grainy texture.

Fine for Batters

Pourable cake batter contains enough moisture to dissolve the large crystals of raw sugar.

No-Go for Dough

The large grains of raw sugar won’t dissolve in low-moisture doughs, so the results are grainy.

EXPLANATION

Demerara and turbinado sugar crystals are larger than granulated sugar crystals and therefore don’t dissolve as quickly in dry batters. The moist cake batters made with the raw sugars were the most similar to the versions made with granulated sugar. The muffin batters and cookie doughs contained enough moisture to dissolve most of the raw sugar granules but not all. Shortbread dough contains little moisture, so the raw sugar crystals remained whole and adversely affected the texture of the shortbread.

TAKEAWAY

Raw sugars should be fine in moist, pourable batters but won’t work in drier doughs. To ensure success across the board, we recommend simply measuring and then grinding raw sugars in a spice grinder until fine and powdery before using them in baking recipes that call for granulated sugar.