Sweet talk: Sugars and a sauce for sticky toffee pudding
I found a recipe online for shortbread cookies in the US which includes "powdered sugar". I have never come across this term and was wondering if it is icing sugar? Could you please clarify?
Thank you, Jan
You're completely right - powdered sugar is the same as icing sugar. In the US they have various grades of powdered sugar and usually also list an amount of X's on the package. The more X's the finer it will be. 10X will be the same as the icing sugar you'll find here.
Icing sugar is not pure sugar. It contains anti-caking agents to help keep it flowing freely, usually cornflour or calcium phosphate. My friend Louise who lives in Amsterdam can't buy icing sugar (under any name) there at all.
The amount of times I've taken a bag of fine white powder to her in my hand luggage is worrying for all sorts of reasons, but considering how well the Dutch bake, it is surprising it's not part of their pantry essentials. If you're following American recipes you might also wonder what superfine sugar is.
That's another name for caster sugar. I only ever cook with caster sugar, rather than having a bag of each white one in the cupboard, but I do like to have a variety of other sugars hanging around. One of my favourites is unrefined golden caster. It has enough molasses among its sugar crystals to give it a lovely caramelised taste but not so much (as with muscovado) that it becomes overbearing.
The pale golden meringues made from this are delicious, and vanilla ice cream made from it is also that little bit more delicious. I remember my Gran sprinkling brown sugar over her porridge in winter; this was most likely demerara sugar, which is moister than white sugar and contains more molasses, therefore more caramel overtones.
You can make a great pav from this - using half caster and half demerara sugar, and it's also lovely used in baking cakes and biscuits - try making shortbread with it next time. It will be a little moister so cook a few more minutes. Muscovado sugar is really grunty - lots of molasses and therefore a little bitter.
Next time you're making a custard for a wintery steamed pudding use about ⅓ of it with ⅔ caster sugar and you'll find the flavour superb. It's also great in chutneys and marinades. My other favourite is palm sugar. Several palm trees are used; date, sugar date, or sago.
The syrup is tapped, much like maple syrup, then boiled down until it begins to crystallise. It can be dark or pale and the flavour is a mixture of caramel and fudge - absolutely stunning. I like to grate or chop palm sugar and pound it in a mortar and pestle with chopped red chillies, lime zest and ginger.
Mix in lime juice and fish sauce to taste and use it to dress thinly sliced rare beef, cucumber, spring onions, crushed toasted peanuts and coriander for a lovely salad.
It's also great used to make a wonderful sauce for sticky toffee pudding to which you've added lots of toasted coconut thread and mashed bananas. Chop up the palm sugar and some candied ginger and bring to the boil with a little water. Cook till sticky then add a can of coconut milk and boil until thickened - you can now add some regular cream if you like or some more coconut cream - you want it nice and thick and sticky.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you’re stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.