©2023 by Milk Dessert Bar. Photography by Annabella Charles.

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The Chemistry of Baking: How Sugar Works

Sugar is a key ingredient in most all desserts, and every sugar serves a different purpose in any recipe. Whether you’re new to baking or a seasoned professional, you know that baking is a science, and that’s why it requires you to combine or incorporate specific ingredients at certain times during the mixing process.


While sugar is technically considered a “dry” ingredient, it must be mixed with “wet” ingredients, like butter, eggs, vanilla, etc. Knowing how sugar interacts with other ingredients will not only strengthen your baking abilities, but it will also ensure that your baked goods come out perfect every time.

Before we dive into each type of sugar, we have a few quick facts about what sugar actually does to baked goods.

Sugar adds texture

It keeps baked goods moist and soft.


Sugar acts as a leavening agent

When sugar is added to fats, it cuts into the mixture and creates thousands of tiny air bubbles and makes the batter light and fluffy. While your item is baking, these bubbles expand, which helps your item rise!


Sugar adds flavor and changes color.

When sugar gets hot, it undergoes a chemical process which results in caramelization.


Sugar Types

Granulated Sugar

Fun fact: Half of the granulated sugar in the United States is made from sugar cane. The other half is made from sugar beets.

This is the most common form of sugar. These tiny white sugar crystals are used in baking and cooking. We use granulated sugar in cookies, cakes, and our edible cookie dough!


Powdered Sugar

Fun fact: Powdered sugar is called icing sugar in Canada!

Powdered Sugar, or commonly known as Confectioners Sugar, is granulated sugar ground into a fine powder. Because powdered sugar typically contains a small percentage of cornstarch, it's a great stabilizer for meringues and whipped cream. We use Powdered Sugar in our buttercream, and we roll our Gooey Butter Cookies in it before they go into the oven!


Brown Sugar

Pro tip: Keep your brown sugar soft and clump free with a Brown Sugar Bear!

Brown Sugar is simply granulated sugar with molasses. There are two types: light and dark. We prefer light and use it in both our edible cookie dough and chocolate chip cookies! Brown sugar helps cookies stay softer because it has more moisture than white granulated sugar.


Knowing exactly how each type of sugar works and what they add to your recipe will help you become a more well-rounded baker. It also makes substituting ingredients easier, if you’re in a pinch! Now that you have all of this information, it’s time to grab your lab coat - we mean aprons - and get to baking!


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