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Brown Sugar


porcupine
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About 8 years ago I noticed a subtle change in the texture and taste of Domino brand dark brown sugar, plus the appearance of hard, dark lumps in the product. But pick the lumps out, and it's fine.

I use dark brown sugar a lot, substituting it for light brown in a number of baked goods. One of my favorite icings is an Italian buttercream that uses dark brown sugar.

So this afternoon, I go to make a simple meringue icing (like the buttercream without the butter), using dark brown sugar. And I open the box, and get a strong smell of molasses. Well, dark brown sugar always smells like molasses a little, but this was really strong - like opening a jar of molasses strong.

So I proceed with the icing, and notice a few interesting things. First, the sugar/water mixture foams like crazy, climbing the sides of the pot and making it difficult to boil to the soft ball stage. Second, the resulting icing is the fluffiest damn stuff ever (not that there's anything wrong with that). And third, the icing tastes like molasses. A lot.

"Well, duh", you may be thinking. But for the decade or so that I've been making these icings, they've had a deep subtle taste that no-one has ever mistaken for molasses.

The icing is now on a spice cake, so it's going to taste fine. But, but... what about all the other applications where I don't want molasses taste? Is light brown sugar the new dark brown sugar? Has Domino changed the manufacturing process? (Note: the only thing under 'ingredient' on the box is 'brown sugar'.) What's with the foaming? And is there another brand that I ought to try?

[This is how I prepare for a stressful meeting: bake a cake for everyone. Maybe it will distract them and make it easier to defend my proposal. :lol: ]

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Ok, so thinking back to my food science classes in college . . . the crazy bubbling sounds like an impurity/additive in the brown sugar which is changing the boiling point. Are you using cream of tartar in your recipe? Cream of tartar makes egg foams (meringue) hold their foam because it is acidic. If you don't normally use cream of tartar in your recipe, and you had some kind of acidic impurity in your sugar then it would seem fluffier than normal. And if you are using the cream of tartar, this additional acid would still make it seem really fluffy as it allows the foam to hold more air.

Also, there are two ways of making brown sugar- one where you refine the molasses out of the sugar until it meets the standards for light (3.5%) or dark brown sugar (6.5%). The other way is to add molasses back into the refined white sugar back to the defined point (much like how they make 1%, 2% and whole milk). The second method is more precise and cheaper and they can use beet sugar instead of cane. It is possible that what you are observing is a result of a processing change.

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Ok, so thinking back to my food science classes in college . . . the crazy bubbling sounds like an impurity/additive in the brown sugar which is changing the boiling point. Are you using cream of tartar in your recipe?

The egg whites get beaten with cream of tartar to soft peaks; the brown sugar gets boiled with water to the soft-ball stage, then drizzled into the egg whites while beating; vanilla added at the end. I've made this basic sort of thing many, many times. In the past I've seen a tiny bit of foaming with brown sugar, but nothing like today's weirdness.

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