Learn how to make brown sugar with just two simple pantry staples. Mixing granulated sugar and molasses makes for a quick and easy sweetener substitute.
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If you find yourself with an empty container of brown sugar, don’t fret. Save yourself a trip to get store-bought products. It’s really simple to make at home! You only need two pantry staples and a food processor to make your own. In minutes, I’ll show you how to create light brown and dark brown sugar.
Brown sugar is composed of refined white sugar and molasses. The combination turns into a soft, slightly sticky ingredient with a hint of caramel flavor and color. Now you’ll always have a way to keep stocked the next time you’re ready to bake, make a sauce, beverage, and more!
What is brown sugar?
It’s a combination of refined white sugar and different levels of molasses. The thick dark syrup that is a by-product of the sugar-refining process has a cooked caramel flavor and dark brown to black color. Brown sugar adds an earthy depth to recipes and a more golden hue.
The moisture in the molasses makes the sweetener hygroscopic (it attracts water). This natural humectant adds a chewy and soft texture to baked goods, even over extended periods.
The difference between light brown sugar and dark brown sugar
The only difference is the amount of molasses added. Light brown sugar (golden brown sugar) contains about 3.5% molasses (by weight). Dark brown sugar contains about 6.5% molasses (by weight). It’s sold as light brown sugar or golden (about 3.5% molasses) and dark brown sugar (approximately 6.5% molasses). It will have a deeper brown hue and a more pungent cooked caramel taste.
Why type of molasses should be used to make brown sugar?
The different types of molasses are made from varying levels of boiling sugar cane or sugar beet juice, then extracting the sweet crystals. The more cooking, the more intense the taste. They are sold as light, medium, dark, mild, original, full, robust, or treacle, and the labeling and taste vary by brand. It’s either unsulphured or sulphured.
I use the brand Grandma’s® Molasses, labeled as original and unlsuphured for this brown sugar recipe. It’s the key ingredient when I make gingerbread cookies. Any type can be used except for blackstrap molasses which has a strong, bitter taste.
How to make brown sugar
Add white granulated sugar and molasses to a food processor, pulsing until combined. The syrupy molasses gets stuck to the sides of the bowl. Use a spatula to scrape it back into the sugar mixture. Process until molasses is completely incorporated. Alternatively, you can mix it in a bowl with a spoon, it just takes more time, and the distribution of the molasses won’t be as even. The required amounts can also be added directly to a recipe without mixing beforehand.
- Light Brown Sugar (Golden Brown): Combine 1 tablespoon molasses with 1 cup of granulated sugar.
- Dark brown sugar: Combine 2 tablespoons of molasses with 1 cup of granulated sugar.
Using other types of sweeteners
You have got options if you’re looking to use other types of sugars. To substitute white granulated sugar, choose a dry and flowable product like coconut sugar, turbinado, or demerara. To replace molasses, use equal amounts of pure maple syrup, honey, or agave syrup.
Muscovado sugar is similar to brown sugar as it still has molasses remaining in the product. It can be swapped for equal amounts as brown sugar, but it has higher moisture which may impact the texture of some recipes. Each ingredient substitute will have unique flavor characteristics, especially if white sugar and molasses are swapped.
After making brown sugar at home, if not used right away, it will last about 1 month, stored in an airtight container at room temperature. I use a glass jar for long-term storage or a heavy-duty plastic bag with the air removed. You can freeze for up to three months.
Tips: Here’s how to soften brown sugar if it hardens during storage. Don’t throw it away, as it may still be good. Also, are you properly measuring ingredients? Find out why it’s so important and how to do it.
Ways to use homemade brown sugar
- Chocolate chip cookies
- Chewy oatmeal raisin cookies
- Banana bread
- Brown sugar glaze for ham
- Blackening seasoning for salmon or chicken
- Candied pecans
Frequently asked questions
Pure maple syrup is the best substitute if you don’t have molasses. It will not be as dark in color, with slightly fewer caramel notes. Honey, then agave syrup would be the next best substitute.
Yes, golden and light brown sugar are used synonymously. They have fewer molasses, so the caramel taste and deep color are not as robust as dark brown sugar. This is great for adding to baked goods to add moisture and flavor without turning the product deep brown in hue.
They can be used in equal amounts up to ¼ cup of brown sugar. Above that level, the amount of moisture will increase, which may impact the texture of baked goods. The color and caramel flavor will be more intense using dark brown sugar at high levels.
Unsulfured is made from ripe sugar cane, giving a cleaner taste, and is recognized as having a better taste. Sulfured molasses is made from immature green sugarcane. It’s treated with sulfur dioxide for preservation, leaving a more chemical taste.
Can brown sugar be substituted for white sugar in recipes?
They have the same sweetness level, but brown sugar tastes more complex, with cooked caramel notes. The molasses makes it brown and color and a humectant, attracting moisture from the environment. In recipes, it can be substituted for granulated sugar in equal amounts by weight. However, it will look and taste slightly different. Swapping it in quick bread, muffins, and chewy cookies is best. Avoid brown sugar for drier cakes and crispy cookies.
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How to Make Brown Sugar
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon molasses, see notes to make dark brown sugar
- Mix Sugars – To a food processor, add granulated sugar and molasses. Cover and pulse until just mixed, about 5 times.
- Scrape Bowl – Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate the molasses into the sugar mixture.
- Process – Blend on high speed until the mixture is fully incorporated and resembles brown sugar, about 10 seconds.
- Recipe Yield: 1 cup
- Serving Size: 1 tablespoon
- Light/Golden Brown Sugar: Add 1 tablespoon molasses to 1 cup of sugar.
- Dark Brown Sugar: Add 2 tablespoons molasses to 1 cup of sugar.
- Other Liquid Sweeteners: Maple syrup, honey, or agave syrup can be substituted for molasses.
- Adding Directly to Recipes: The required amounts of brown sugar using the proper ratios of the granulated sugar and molasses can be added directly to the recipe without prior mixing.
- Mixing By Hand: Mix the sugars in a bowl with a spatula until fully incorporated. The molasses will distribute more as it sits.
- Storing: Place brown sugar in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost before using.
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