The editors of the New York Times food section stepped in it last month when they headlined a chocolate chip cookie recipe developed by British pastry chef Ravneet Gill with the word “Perfect.” Perceived perfection in a chocolate chip cookie likely has more to do with your childhood than whether you chill the dough in precise portions for 24 hours before baking them.

What caught my eye in the recipe’s ingredient list was that it called for superfine sugar, an ingredient I learned to bake with while living in England. Also known as caster sugar, it has a finer grain than run-of-the-mill granulated sugar.

While caster sugar is regularly on grocery store shelves throughout the United Kingdom, it’s more of a specialty item in the United States, one used predominantly by professional pastry chefs because it dissolves quickly into the batters, doughs, frostings, meringues and sauces. But it’s also expensive. Four pounds of Domino pure cane sugar costs about $2.50, or about $.04 per ounce. Domino superfine sugar costs about $6 for 12 ounces, or about 50 cents per ounce.

Granulated sugar, left, caster sugar and powdered (or confectioners’) sugar. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Sugar is one of those not-so-local, highly processed ingredients that, while I try to use less with substitutions like maple syrup and honey, still has a place in my baking cupboard because my own perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe requires it. So do most of my family’s holiday baking recipes. So my 10-year-old Domino tub gets regularly refilled this time of year.

But there is no need for me to also keep superfine, confectioners’, light brown or dark brown sugars in the house as well as they can all easily be made using granulated sugar. Doing so cuts down on the amount of packaging bakers bring into their kitchens and helps curb food waste as bags and boxes of unused sugar derivatives don’t go stale or harden from disuse.

To get 1 cup of superfine sugar, simply pulse 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar in a food processor or spice grinder for 30 seconds.

To make a cup of confectioners’ sugar, combine 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a blender, run it on high for about 2 minutes and sift the powdered sugar.

By adding molasses to granulated sugar, you can make your own substitute for light or dark brown sugar. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

To make a cup of light brown sugar, combine 1 cup granulated sugar with 1 tablespoon molasses. For dark brown sugar, increase the molasses to 2 tablespoons. You can pulse the sugar and molasses in a food processor, but for most cookie or blondie recipes, I typically just add them as individual ingredients.

You can push this streamlining your baking cupboard further if you’re interested in keeping your holiday baking shopping list to a minimum. If your holiday fudge calls for a cup of sweetened condensed milk, simmer 2 cups full-fat or low-fat milk (not skim) with 2/3 cups sugar without stirring for about 45 minutes. Cool this mixture before using.

To rid your kitchen of corn syrup, combine 1 cup of sugar with ¼ cup water in a small pan and bring it to the boil over medium heat so the sugar dissolves. Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature and then use as needed right away. Since this syrup doesn’t contain preservatives, it will harden and crystallize as it sits.

Oh, and don’t forget that caramel is simply sugar, melted, on its way to burning. If you fancy a bit of caramel to drizzle over your apple pie, don’t jump in the car to go out and buy a jar. Simply pull out a saucepan and some sugar and make your own. You’ll find the directions here.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Part of what makes these blondies so special is that they incorporate homemade caramels. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Salted Caramel and Pretzel Blondies
This recipe is adapted from one posted by food writer Deb Pearlman on her Smitten Kitchen blog. It shows off sugar in various forms.
Makes 16 blondies

FOR THE CARAMEL:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more to prepare pans
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt

FOR THE BLONDIES:
½ cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
2/3 cup chocolate chips
½ cup crushed pretzels

To make the caramel, line a small tray with a silicon mat or parchment paper; if using paper lightly it grease it with butter. Pour the sugar into a medium, dry saucepan. Place it over medium heat to melt. As it melts from the outside in, it will start to turn color. By the time it is mostly melted, 3-4 minutes, it will be a copper color. Tip and swirl the pan around to help even it out and melt any remaining sugar granules. Take care! Sugar can quickly go from copper to burnt.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter until it’s melted. Add the cream, then add a couple pinches of salt, whisking until combined. Return the pan to the stove over medium-high heat and cook without stirring for 3 minutes more. Pour the caramel onto the prepared tray and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom and 2 sides of an 8- by 8-inch pan with parchment paper, buttering the exposed sides of the pan.

To make the blondies, combine the melted butter, sugar and molasses in a large bowl. Whisk in the egg, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and stir just until it disappears. Scatter the chocolate chips and pretzels over the batter. Remove the caramel from freezer and cut it into 1-inch squares. Scatter all but 10 squares over the batter. Gently fold the chunky ingredients into the batter, then spread the batter into the prepared baking pan, smoothing the top. Place the remaining caramels on top.

Bake for 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven, take a skewer and use it to create a zigzag pattern through the caramel squares. Return the pan to the oven and finish baking them until the edges are deeply golden and the top is mostly dry, about 10 minutes more.

Cool the blondies for 10 minutes before lifting them out of the pan via the parchment paper sling and cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into small squares. They will keep at room temperature for 3 days.


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