Clever and useful tips for your kitchen.
I often get asked about the difference between granulated sugar and caster sugar and which is best used for when baking…so here’s the low-down:
The main difference between granulated (also know as white table sugar) and caster (also know as super-fine in North America) sugar is the size of the grain. Granulated is larger and more coarse (I once read that granulated is about 0.5mm in diameter while caster is about 0.35mm in diameter, although I’m not really sure who would measure them!). Because of this caster sugar is generally the most versatile and preferred of the two when baking – its small granules mixes more easily and dissolve more readily when combined with other ingredients giving biscuits, cakes, pastries etc. a more even, less coarse texture. You may have noticed if you have made a cake with granulated sugar that it sometimes can have a ‘speckled’ appearance – this is the undissolved sugar in the batter. Caster sugar is also best to use when making meringues and pavlova because of its ability to dissolve more quickly. Granulated sugar however is great when making toffee (it is less likely to crystalize), in general cooking and in baking when your want a slightly coarser texture (for example, I often make a traditional Scottish shortbread that has a better, more suitable texture when made with granulated sugar). My advise is to use whichever sugar is specified in the recipe and if you don’t have caster sugar in your cupboard you can always make it by processing granulated sugar in a food processor using the pulse button until finely ground.read less
- The first and most common reason (and what happened to the meringues in the front of this pic) is that the oven temperature is too high. The intense heat will cause the air bubbles in the mixture to expand efficiently, causing it to rise, spread and crack. The meringues behind them were from a second batch that were baked in an oven preheated to 10°C lower (yep, sometimes that’s all it takes!) and resulted in perfect, smooth-crusted meringues without cracks.
- The second reason is that the mixture has been whisked on high speed with an electric mixer. The furious and quick incorporation of air into the egg whites will form an airy foam with lots of large air bubbles. When baked these large masses of air have a greater ability to expand than smaller air bubbles, causing the mixture to rise, spread and crack unevenly. If this is the case, the best solution is to whisk the egg whites and sugar mixture on medium or medium-high speed which will form a denser foam made up of lots of tiny, even bubbles that, when heated, will only expand slightly, if at all, minimizing any rising, spreading and cracking.
Some like ‘em crisp, some like ‘em chewy. If you fall into the chewy camp with your meringues it is easy to make sure they have this hard-to-resist texture by taking them from the oven as soon as they have finished baking and cooling them at room temperature. For crisp meringues, turn off the oven, leave the door slightly ajar and leave them in the oven to cool.read less