Substitute For Brown Sugar

Everybody’s got their poison, and mine is sugar - Derrick Rose

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Whether we’ll admit it or not, most of us have a sweet tooth that we like to give in to every now and then. We’ll freely admit that just like Derrick Rose, we’re sugar fanatics, but our chosen vices aren’t candy or soda, they’re cookies and cake. 

That’s why we studied and slowly perfected the art of baking so that we could give in to our sugar-based cravings whenever we felt like doing so with a little culinary wizardry.

And by learning how to bake and make our own sweet treats, we discover that we could increase and decrease the amount of sugar that we used in our recipes according to how we felt on the day, and how sweet we wanted our cake and cookies to be.

However, that particular over-indulgence did end up opening its own can of sugar worms and created a problem that we found ourselves desperately trying to scrabble around to fix.

We ran out of brown sugar before we started whipping a batch of cookies up and having failed to notice the gap in our supply chain we had to find a substitute quickly, or all of our baking endeavors up to that point would have been for naught. We were well and truly up cookie creek without a sugary paddle.

Necessity, as has often been noted, is the mother of invention, and having found a solution to our brown sugar problem, made us think that maybe there was more than one way to conquer the omnipresent specter of a potential lack of brown sugar.

So we began to experiment with a host of potential brown sugar replacements and finally came up with a list of seven that more than adequately filled the potential sugary void that not checking the cupboards before you start baking could potentially create.  

And so that you don’t make the same dreadful mistake that we did, we’re going to share all of them with you. If you do run out of brown sugar, it isn’t the end of the world, and by using these surrogates, you can carry on with your culinary endeavors without losing a surgary step or missing a baking beat. 

Mixing It Up - White Sugar And Molasses 

The first time (yes, it’s happened more than once and no we’re not going to tell you how many times it has happened, so don’t ask) we needed to come up with an answer to the lack of brown sugar conundrum, we thought we were being extremely clever and inventive and true baking pioneers.

We weren’t, and we’re weren’t the first people to come up with this idea either, but we like it, we’re sticking by it and we think that you’ll like it too.

The beauty of this substitute is its raw elegance and simplicity. All you need to do is mix white sugar and molasses, and you’ll create your own brown sugar.

The trick to making sure that it works is the measures of each that you use. We’ve found that the best results can be achieved by mixing two hundred grams of white sugar with roughly two tablespoons of molasses.  

It really is that easy, and there have been times when, even though we’ve had an ample of brown sugar, we’ve elected to use this combination instead, as it adds a smokiness to our baking that brown sugar just can’t seem to capture or replicate. 

More Mixing, Less Molasses - Maple Syrup And White Sugar

So, having realized that contrary to what we believed, that molasses wasn’t an ingredient that almost everyone had in their kitchen while having a morning coffee with one of our friends, we were forced to think of something that we could swap molasses with.

We were stumped and couldn’t think of anything until one of our friends suggested maple syrup. It was a lightning bolt moment, and we vowed to try it the next time we were baking a batch of cookies. 

That was exactly what did, and guess what? It worked.  And what’s more, it worked in almost exactly the same portions as using molasses did (one tablespoon of syrup for every one hundred grams of sugar) and it tastes divine in cookies.

It’s not as good as we thought it would be when it’s used to make brownies, but when it’s added to cookies, it adds a smoothness to the sugary snap that we never dared to dream that we’d be able to achieve in our baking.

Use it for cookies, but maybe give it a miss if you’re baking something else. 

Try A Little Coconut Instead

Even though we’re fully committed to the sugar cause, we do try and keep an eye on any healthier alternatives that can provide the same sweet taste that we crave in a far more beneficial manner.

That led us to coconut sugar, which as its name suggests, is made from the sap of the coconut tree. Taste-wise, it’s incredibly similar to coconut milk and has the same immediate, yet delicate sweetness.

In hindsight, that shouldn’t have surprised us anywhere near as much as it did, as they’re both derived from the same source, the humble coconut. 

If you do want to use coconut sugar rather than brown sugar in your baking, and we implore you to try it at least once, work on a like-for-like basis. Use the same amount of coconut sugar in your recipe as you would brown sugar.

So if the recipe calls for one hundred grams of brown sugar, use one hundred grams of coconut sugar instead.

That said, it isn’t a substitute that we’d recommend using regularly as coconut sugar does tend to be a little on the costly side, and if you do intend to use it as a permanent replacement for brown sugar, you’ll definitely see a marked increase in your grocery bills. 

Honey, Syrup, And Nectar… Oh My!

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you could always try a liquid substitution instead, and use either honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar as a brown sugar substitute. 

There is however a problem with these delicious infusions of sugary flavor, which manifests itself in the form of the increased liquid content of whatever it is that you’re baking.

It’s a potential minefield of mistakes and timing errors, so you’ll need to be incredibly careful with the amount of each that you use. 

The main issue is the amount of reduction that you’ll need to do in order to preserve the sanctity of your bake. You’ll need to reduce the amount of each that you add to the mix as a replacement, and as you’re adding extra liquid to your bake, you’ll also need to reduce the quantities of the other liquid ingredients that it includes.  

We wish that we could give you some precise measurements, but as you’ll need to use different amounts of honey, nectar, and syrup in your bake, the only way to really get to grips with how much you need to use and how much you need to reduce, is through trial and error, and by baking from the heart.

It’s tricky and time-consuming, but it is worth doing as all three can produce a myriad of wonderful flavors that everyone should try at least once in their lives.  

Going Raw 

Then there’s the first of the easy alternatives, raw sugars. Demerara is a personal favorite of ours, but it does come with some inherent risks if you’re going to use it as a brown sugar substitute.  

It’s much coarser than refined brown sugar is and doesn’t cope as well with liquid either, so it can lead your cookies and cake down a culinary alley that you don't want them to wander into.

It can leave cookies tasting a little too gritty and can suck the moisture out of a cake in less time than it takes Martha Stewart to fill out a tax return. 

We’ve talked to a few people about it and while there doesn’t seem to be an ideal solution, one of the guys in our club suggested grinding the sugar in a pestle and mortar before using it.

While it did reduce the gritty texture, it did take more time than we thought it would to grind the sugar down, so even though you can use raw sugars, we wouldn’t recommend it unless you want to significantly increase your preparation time. 

The Stickier, The Better

One of our favorite brown sugar swaps, even though it increases the bake time and the workload, is muscovado sugar.

Less refined than brown sugar, it has a higher molasses content so adds extra color to your bake and as it also contains more moisture than brown sugar, it’s sticker and also tends to be lumpier.  

But it’s worth working with it, as it’s so deliciously sweet you’ll remember your first bite of a brownie baked with muscovado for the rest of your life.   

Dealing with the lumps that it tends to form is the main issue that you’ll have to continuously fight throughout the mix, but if it’s something that you’re willing to tackle head-on, then we’d seriously recommend that you do so.

And if you do, however much brown sugar your recipe calls for, that’s how much muscovado you should use. One on one. No more, no less. 

The Easy Road   

The last resort in any brown sugar shortage is ordinary white granulated sugar. It lacks the potency and taste of brown sugar and some of the other replacements that we’ve mentioned, but if you’re in a bind and have absolutely no other alternative, then you can always use white sugar.   

The reason that we don’t like using it is simple. It adds a crispness to our cookies that we think that they could happily do without and it makes all of our baking look much paler and far less interesting.

It just seems so bland in comparison to some of the other alternatives that we really don’t know why anyone would ever use it unless they absolutely had to.

It’s the last resort and an easy way to circumnavigate your way around the problem of running out of brown sugar.   

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use regular sugar if you don’t have brown sugar?

Sometimes a recipe may call for you to use brown sugar, and we don’t always have brown sugar in our homes. Oftentimes we will only have regular white sugar in the house, unless we are avid bakers. 

So if you need brown sugar, and you do not have any, you may wonder if you can use regular sugar. 

The good news is that you can. You can simply swap white sugar in a recipe that calls for brown sugar. If you need one cup of brown sugar then use one cup of white sugar.

And if you feel bad about replacing the brown sugar with white sugar then you can always try to make your own brown sugar by using white sugar… Yes, that is possible! 

How do you make homemade brown sugar?

When you are baking there is every chance that you may run out of brown sugar mid-bake. If this happens you may not know what to do.

Should you pop to the store, or is there a way that you can make your own brown sugar? Of course there is, and it is really, really easy. All you need is some white sugar and some molasses. 

Use a cup of white sugar, and a tablespoon of molasses and combine the two in a bowl until the molasses is completely incorporated with the white sugar. If you want the sugar darker, add more molasses.

It really is that simple. It is not complicated or confusing as you might think it could be.

Not only that, but it can be done within just a few moments, and you will be able to continue your cooking with no problem. If you want to save some for later seal it in an air-tight container. 

How do you make brown sugar from white sugar?

There are a few ways you can make brown sugar from white sugar, this is because there are a few variations; light brown sugar, dark from white sugar, and dark from light brown sugar.

Each will have its primary uses, darker sugars are often used in baking more than other foods.

If you want to make light brown sugar from white sugar simply measure one cup of granulated white sugar and a tablespoon of molasses then stir until completely mixed. 

If you want to make dark brown sugar from white sugar then measure a cup of granulated white sugar and two tablespoons of molasses and stir until completely combined.

Yet, if you want to make dark brown sugar from light brown sugar then measure a cup of light brown sugar and add a tablespoon of molasses then stir until completely mixed together. Nice and simple. There is not much to it. 

What is the difference between white sugar and brown sugar?

There is very little difference between white and brown sugar, even though it may seem like they are entirely different.

White sugar is produced through a purifying process that removes a brown syrup which we know as molasses. 

Brown sugar either experiences less processing into order to retain the molasses, or it can be made by mixing white sugar with molasses. 

In short the only real difference between white sugar and brown sugar is the molasses content in the sugar.

This is why if you do not have any brown sugar in the kitchen, and you need some desperately all you need to do to make some is mix together sugar and molasses, and you will have some fresh brown sugar ready for use whenever you need. 

The Final Word On Brown Sugar Substitutes  

So that’s it, that’s everything that we’ve learned about what you can and can’t, successfully substitute for brown sugar.

And while the final choice about which of the other sugars and natural sweeteners you’ll use is up to you, we’d implore you to try and avoid using white sugar and always use muscovado if you can.  

Trust us, as far as sugar and sweet things are concerned, we’re never wrong.   

Cassie Marshall
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