Expect to pay at least a dollar a pound more for natural and organic sugars. Here are the most common brands:
- Billington’s all-natural muscovados come from eco-friendly factories on the isle of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean.
- Wholesome Sweeteners, a subsidiary of Billington’s, sells organic milled golden cane and powdered sugars from Central America.
- India Tree sells Demerara, muscovado, and golden cane sugars online (indiatree.com) and at selected retailers.
- Florida Crystals sells natural milled cane and Demerara sugars online (floridacrystals.com) and at selected retailers. They also sell the only certified-organic sugar grown domestically.
- Hain Pure Foods sells an organic, kosher muscovado at most grocery and natural-food stores.
First off, it’s a given you’re going to eat sugar this holiday season. So we say, make it the best sugar possible. For years our sugar consciousness was stuck in boring. Whenever we’d bake, we’d reach for the generic refined white sugar we grew up on. But when we tried cooking with natural and organic sugars, our tastebuds felt as if they’d won the sweetstakes. That convinced us that there’s a big difference in this ubiquitous pantry staple.
1. Skip the processing. Because natural and organic sugars are not bleached or chemically processed, higher levels of minerals and vitamins are retained in the crystals. Even though that doesn’t make these sugars a health food, it does give them a deeper flavor.
2. Accept no aliases. Here’s the difference: Refined brown sugars are just white refined sugars that have been coated with molasses or a coloring. With muscovados, or natural brown sugars, the natural molasses remains in the crystals, resulting in a fudgy-tasting sugar with a sweetness that stays on your tongue. Rub some refined brown sugar in the palm of your hand and the color will usually come right off. Rub muscovado sugar in your palm and the sugar stays brown because it’s not coated. Demerara is a crunchy, dry golden-brown sugar often used as a dessert topping.
3. Go beyond tradition. Unrefined sugars can be used in nearly all your traditional recipes, but we’ve come up with three slightly nontraditional holiday desserts that use natural and organic sugars to give them their full-bodied taste and superior color. We’ve created a potassium-rich banana-chocolate coffee cake, a soy-based lemon pudding, and a batch of jasmine green-tea cookies loaded with almonds (along with a recipe for roasted candied nuts that can be used as a festive topping).
Jasmine Almond Cookies – Makes 40 cookies
Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly spray baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray. In a large ovenproof bowl, add the butter, almond butter, and sugar. Place in the oven for 3–5 minutes to soften butter. Mix until light and fluffy, then beat in egg and vanilla.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, tea, baking soda, and salt. Add to egg mixture and beat until combined. Don’t overbeat.
Spray a 1/2-tablespoon measuring spoon with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon balls of dough onto baking sheets, about 2 inches apart; press an almond into the center of each.
Bake 13–15 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Let cool completely on baking sheets. Store in an airtight container.
Banana, Chocolate Chip, & Macadamia Coffee Cake – Makes 10–12 servings
Preheat oven to 350º. Coat an 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, nuts, chocolate chips, baking powder, and baking soda.
In another big bowl, combine mashed bananas, butter, egg, oil, and vanilla. Beat until well blended. Add flour mixture and beat just until blended.
Pour batter into pan. Sprinkle top with Demerara. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.
You can easily double or triple the recipe, and the nuts keep in a sealed container for up to a week. Use them in desserts or sprinkle them on top of salads.
Preheat oven to 350º. Spread nuts on a large baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until lightly brown. In a small pot, bring sugar, water, and vanilla to a boil. Fold nuts into the sugar mixture. Spread on a lightly greased cookie sheet and let cool.
Lemon Pudding – Makes 4 servings
You can make this quick and easy pudding ahead of time and garnish it right before your guests arrive. (Note: Because it’s unbleached, organic powdered sugar is off-white to beige in color.)
Place the tofu, soy milk, lemon juice, and powdered sugar into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, about 20 seconds.Pour into four dessert serving dishes and chill for one hour. Garnish with lemon zest and nuts before serving.