Ask Peter: Sugar whizz
I am a Kiwi living in the US and come from a long line of good cooks. I have a few recipes that call for caster sugar; it is very expensive here, $7 for 8oz! I have tried regular sugar in place of, but sometimes it does not work. My husband suggested we buy a whizzer and make our regular sugar finer? Would this work? I also have a Vitamix that might do the trick. I hope you can assist me here and many thanks for the great bite.co.nz website.
Someone wrote in with a similar question a few years back, although theirs was regarding powdered sugar and icing sugar (they are in fact the same thing) availability in the US. I’m surprised that kitchens around the world where people love to bake, whether it be the Dutch, Germans, Americans or New Zealanders, don’t all have the same sugars at their disposal as often the finished goods are similar. Icing sugar is one such ingredient that hasn’t been incorporated into every kitchen, and it is hard to replicate as it’s a mixture of very finely ground sugar mixed with anti-caking agents.
Caster sugar, on the other hand, is easy to make yourself as it’s simply white sugar that has been ground to around half the crystal size. As you suggest, you can do this in a food processor or blender fairly easily. Key will be to have enough sugar in the bowl or processor, so that it does in fact blitz. Too little sugar and it’ll just whizz around the bowl slowly breaking up. Once you’ve blitzed it, store as you would normal sugar, in an airtight container.
Having said that, it is hard to understand how the sugar producers can charge such a premium for caster sugar when in reality it just needs grinding/blitzing for only a little more than regular sugar. It is also interesting thinking about the different results using caster sugar in a shortbread or sponge recipe compared with white sugar. The crystals in caster are so much smaller that they quickly dissolve into the fat (butter) or eggs in a recipe and help it increase in volume as it is beaten. It’s like beating cream with icing sugar,caster sugar, white sugar, or brown sugar.
In theory all are the same (although brown sugar has molasses in it so it will taste different) but all four whipped creams will bequite different. The texture of crunchy sugar crystals will still be noticeable in the white sugar cream, and possibly the brown sugar one, and no amount of sitting will get rid of it, although the cream will break down faster as the sugar crystals begin to "weep’' from the moisture trapped in the cream.
When I’m blitzing sugar to make caster sugar, I also find that it is really good to add one roughly chopped vanilla bean (use 1 bean per 600-800g sugar) and then you’ll have the best vanilla sugar ever. Keep blitzing it until there are very few particles of the bean left, then sieve it before using.
You can also add kaffir lime leaves, lavender flowers (only the edible type) or dried lemon or orangepeel minus the white pith. By blitzing these flavours with the sugar you’ll end up with a deliciously aromatic sugar you can sprinkle over fruit, or use in custards, panna cotta, icecreams and jellies. Just make sure that what you add isn’t too moist, or you’ll end up with damp sugar, andat the worst, a thick slurry.
As I’m writing this, I’m skiing in Whistler in Canada. In some of the shops I've seen something called maple syrup sugar. This is in fact made just the same way as palm sugar, whereby the maple tree is "tapped'’ and a sweet syrup runs from the tree. It’s generally then simply just bottled (after filtration and sterilisation) but someone obviously thought it would be good to make the sugar.
The advantage is that it doesn’t seem to go off. Maple syrup, if not kept in the fridge, will begin to ferment and bubble and you end up throwing it away. The sugar can be kept in your pantry.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.