Baking & Cooking with Sugar

Learn basic information for using many of our sweetener products in baking and cooking. You can also find more Baking & Sugar Use How-To's, on our consumer websites,, or



The Function of Sugar in Baking
In addition to providing sweetness, sugar adds flavor, bulk, and structure. In cakes without shortening, sugar helps delay egg coagulation and allows a cake to "set" properly.It also retains moisture in baked goods. And, as it's heated above its melting point, it caramelizes and takes on an amber color with a wonderful aroma and flavor.

Sugar reacts chemically with proteins during baking and browns the food surface. Higher sugar content in baked goods results in a darker brown surface.

Sugar in Breads
Sugar acts as a tenderizer during mixing. It absorbs water and slows the development of gluten strands that can make the dough or batter rigid and tough. Use sugar to prevent gluten development and give your breads a tender crumb texture and good volume.

In addition, sugar provides an immediate and ready source of nourishment for the yeast growth. With sugar, leavening hastens and the dough rises at a faster and more consistent rate.

If you want less sugar in your bread, you can remove 1 or 2 tablespoons without changing most recipes. Conversely, you can usually add a tablespoon of sugar to most bread recipes (1 tablespoon to 3 cups of flour) with no problems.

And from an aesthetic point of view, sugar gives baked goods a wonderfully golden brown crust.


Sugar caramelizes when heated above its melting point, adding flavor and leading to surface browning which improves moisture retention in baked products.

At above 175°C (or 347°F), melted dry sugar takes on an amber color and develops an appealing flavor and aroma. This amorphous substance resulting from the breakdown of sugar is known as caramel. In baking a batter or dough containing sugar, caramelization takes place under the influence of oven heat, and is one of two ways in which surface browning occurs. The golden-brown, flavorful and slightly crisp surface of breads, cakes, and cookies not only tastes good, but helps retain moisture in the baked product.


Cookies, like cakes, are chemically leavened with baking soda or baking powder. Cookies, however, have more sugar and shortening and less water proportionately. In cookies, sugar introduces air into the batter during the creaming process. Approximately half the sugar remains undissolved at the end of mixing. When the cookie dough enters the oven, the temperature causes the shortening to melt and the dough to become more fluid. The undissolved sugar dissolves as the temperature increases and the sugar solution increases in volume. This leads to more fluid dough, allowing the cookies to spread during baking.

Sugar also helps produce the appealing surface cracking of some cookies, such as gingersnaps. In addition, sugar serves as flavorant, caramelizing while the cookies are baking.

Egg Protein Coagulation

In un-shortened cakes, sugar molecules disperse among egg proteins and delay coagulation of the egg proteins during baking.

As the temperature rises, egg proteins coagulate, or form bonds among each other. The sugar molecules raise the temperature at which bonds form between these egg proteins by surrounding the egg proteins and interfering with bond formations. Once the egg proteins coagulate, the cake "sets", forming the solid mesh-like structure of the cake.


Sugar delays coagulation of egg proteins in custards and similar cooked egg dishes. Just as most baked products are essentially flour protein structures, custards are egg protein structures. If the egg white solidifies too soon from the heat in the cooking process, the liquid ingredients in the custard will be squeezed out in droplets. This is known as syneresis or "weeping."

Sugar in a custard mixture breaks up the clumps of protein molecules so that they are finely dispersed in the liquid mixture. The temperature at which the custard sets is thus raised, permitting the egg proteins to coagulate slowly and enmesh the other ingredients, resulting in a smooth, stable consistency.


The amount of sugar added per egg white determines the nature of the meringue. For a meringue tart or pie shell that is to be filled with ice cream, fruit, or other soft mixtures, four tablespoons of sugar are used for each egg white. The stiff, shaped meringue is then baked in a very slow oven to ensure even setting and thorough drying throughout. The baked meringue will be very crisp and dry, and there will be little, if any, browning.

For the meringue topping that is to be used on a pie or pudding, only two tablespoons of sugar is required per egg white, and the mixture may be baked in a hotter oven. This produces a softer meringue with a slightly crisp crust and a golden-brown color due to the caramelization of the sugar. If no sugar is added to the beaten egg white topping, considerable air shrinkage occurs during baking, and the resulting product is flat, pale and gummy.


Sugar crystals become interspersed among the shortening molecules when shortening and sugar are creamed together.

In cakes and cookies, sugar helps promote lightness by incorporating air into the shortening. Air is trapped on the face of sugar's irregular crystals. When sugar is mixed with shortening, this air becomes incorporated as very small air cells. During baking, these air cells expand when filled with carbon dioxide and other gases from the leavening agents, resulting in a smooth, stable consistency.

Egg Foams

Sugar serves as a whipping aid to stabilize beaten egg foams.

In foam-type cakes, sugar interacts with egg proteins to stabilize the whipped foam structure. In doing so, sugar makes the egg foam more elastic, so that air cells can expand and take up gases from the leavening agents.

Candy & Icing

Crystalline candies:
Crystalline candies can be subdivided into two groups a) candies with perceptible crystals such as rock candy, and b) cream candies in which crystals are too small to be detected by the tongue, such as fondant and fudge.

Sugar Heating Stages Cooking Temperature Description
Thread Stage Begins at 230 degrees F. Makes a long thread when dropped in cold water.
Soft Ball 234 degrees F. Forms a soft ball that doesn't hold its shape. Cream candies, fudge, fondants are done at the soft ball stage.
Firm Ball 246 degrees F. This ball will only flatten with pressure. Divinity and Caramels.
Hard Ball 250 degrees F. This ball will hold its shape when pressed. Taffy.
Soft Crack 270 degrees F. Separates into bendable threads. Toffee and Butterscotch.
Hard Crack 300 degrees F. Becomes brittle. Peanut Brittle.
Caramelize 310 degrees F. Sugar turns dark.


Creaming is largely dependent on interfering agents which prevent sugar molecules from clumping and growing into large crystals. Fat and protein in candy ingredients, such as milk, butter, egg, cream, chocolate and cold gelatin are all interfering agents which inhibit recrystallization and facilitate creaming. The fat and protein coat the sucrose molecules and prevent the molecules from sticking together and forming large crystals.

Invert sugar, another type of interfering agent, also helps prevent recrystallization. Invert sugar is the result of the breakdown, or the inversion, of the sucrose into fructose and glucose. This process takes place when sucrose is heated with moist heat or, as in candy making, when a water and sugar solution is heated. The amount of water used and the length and intensity of the cooking of the supersaturated solution both control how much of the sucrose is inverted. The process may be accelerated by added acid from candy ingredients such as cream of tartar, fruit, brown sugar, molasses, honey or chocolate. While it is highly undesirable for too much sucrose in the cream candy to invert, a considerable amount of invert sugar is essential to keeping the candy moist and to preventing graininess (due to the formation of too-large crystals).

Sugar's role in icings is similar to those in candies. Its versatility contributes to the many tempting frostings that may be prepared for cakes. Icings enhance the flavor of baked goods as well as function as a barrier to moisture, extending freshness of the baked good. Sugar is the most important ingredient in icings, providing sweetness, flavor, bulk and structure.

Non-crystalline candies:
Non-crystalline or amorphous candies are much simpler to make. The sugar solution must simply contain sufficient interfering agents or cook to a high enough temperature to prevent recrystallization. In taffies, butterscotch, brittles and caramels, either invert sugar in the form of molasses, or acid that will produce invert sugar, or corn syrup, are added to the mixture to prevent the formation of crystals in the candy. These candies are cooked to a higher temperature than crystallized candies so as to reduce the water content to 2% or less, which also prevents recrystallization.

Non-crystalline candy can be cooked by dry heat as well as moist heat. Some peanut brittles, for example, are made by melting dry sugar. The brittle does not recrystallize because the lack of water during the cooling period causes it to take the form of a non-crystalline, glassy solid.

Sugar's ability to recrystallize, and also to control recrystallization through development of invert sugar, provides a delightful variety of textures in candies and confections.

Jellies & Preserves

Color Retention:
Sugar helps retain the color of the fruit through its capacity to attract and hold water. Sugar absorbs water more readily than other components, such as fruit, in preserves and jellies. Thus, sugar prevents the fruit from absorbing water, which would cause its color to fade through dilution.

Sugar is essential in the gelling process of jams, preserves and jellies to obtain the desired consistency and firmness. This gel-forming process is called gelation—the fruit juices are enmeshed in a network of fibers. Pectin, a component of fruits, has the ability to form this gel only in the presence of sugar and acid. Sugar is essential because it attracts and holds water during the gelling process. In addition, acid must be present in the proper proportions. The optimum acidity is a pH between 3.0 and 3.5. Some recipes include lemon juice or citric acid to achieve this proper acidity.

The amount of gel-forming pectin in a fruit varies with the ripeness (less ripe fruit has more pectin) and the variety (apples, cranberries and grapes are considerably richer in pectin than cherries and strawberries). In the case of a fruit too low in pectin, some commercial pectin may be added to produce the gelling, especially in jellies. In recipes that use commercial pectin, the proportions of sugar may be slightly higher or lower than the one part fruit to one part sugar ratio.

Sugar prevents spoilage of jams, jellies, and preserves after the jar is opened. Properly prepared and packaged preserves and jellies are free from bacteria and yeast cells until the lid is opened and exposed to air. Once the jar is opened, sugar incapacitates any microorganisms by its ability to attract water. This is accomplished through osmosis (the process whereby water will flow from a weaker solution to a more concentrated solution when they are separated by a semi-permeable membrane). In the case of jellies and preserves, the water is withdrawn from these microorganisms toward the concentrated sugar syrup. The microorganisms become dehydrated and incapacitated, and are unable to multiply and bring about food spoilage. In jellies, jams and preserves, a concentrated sugar solution of at least 65% is necessary to perform this function. Since the sugar content is present in fruits and their juices is less than 65%, it is essential to add sugar to raise it to this concentration in jellies and preserves.

Canning & Freezing Fruit

Canning fruit:
Fruit to be canned is placed in syrup of greater sugar concentration than that in the fruit itself. The dissolved sugar in the syrup diffuses into the fruit (osmosis) and improves its flavor. As the fruit cooks in the syrup, the cell walls become more permeable, the fruit texture grows tenderer, and the retention of sugar renders the fruit plump and attractive. Whole fruits with tough skins, such as kieffer pears and kumquats, are impermeable to the sugar syrup unless precooked or unless the skins are pierced.

Freezing fruit:
Some fruits such as blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and rhubarb may be frozen in a dry pack without sugar, however these and all other fruits benefit greatly from a sugar pack regardless of the type used (dry or syrup).

Sugar helps protect the surfaces of frozen fruit from contact with air, which produces enzymatic browning-discoloration due to oxidation. In some cases, such as with peaches, nectarines and apricots frozen in a syrup pack, ascorbic acid is also added to help prevent darkening. The presence of sugar also lessens flavor change by retarding possible fermentation. In addition, texture, fresh fruit aroma, and normal size are retained upon thawing when sugar is used in freezing fruit.

Frozen Desserts

Flavors and mouth-feel:
In frozen desserts, sugar also functions to balance flavors and mouth-feel. Since low temperatures tend to numb the taste buds, sugar acts to enhance flavors, thereby eliminating the need for additional flavor ingredients. Sugar also increases the viscosity (thickness) of frozen desserts which helps impart a thick, creamy mouth-feel. It provides a clean, sweet taste. In frozen desserts flavored with added fruit, sugar also acts to balance their acidity.

About 16% sugar, by weight, is recommended for ice cream. Somewhat higher proportions of sugar are used for lower fat desserts, such as ice milk and sherbet, in order to counterbalance the reduced amount of butterfat. When cream is replaced with lower fat ingredients, such as milk or fruit puree, additional sugar is necessary to ensure a smooth, creamy mouth-feel and balanced flavor.

Freezing point:
Frozen desserts are made by freezing a liquid mixture of sugar with cream, milk, fruit juices or purees. In the liquid mixture, the dissolved sugar's ability to attract and hold water diminishes the water available for water crystallization during freezing. As a result, the freezing point of the liquid mixture is lowered. Since less "free" water is available, the ice crystals that form tend to be smaller.

As part of the liquid mixture begins to freeze, the sugar in the remaining unfrozen solution becomes more concentrated, further lowering the freezing point of the remaining unfrozen solution. Therefore, a temperature much lower than the freezing point of the liquid mixture is used to ensure rapid, consistent cooling. This combination of lower freezing point provided by the dissolved sugar and colder than freezing temperature produces a frozen product with tiny ice crystals. Tiny ice crystals give the frozen dessert its smooth, creamy texture. Large crystals are undesirable because they impart a "gritty" or "sandy" texture in the frozen dessert. Closely following the recipe procedures during hardening and storing of frozen desserts are the final steps to achieving a high-quality frozen dessert.