21 February 2013

Sugar Sugar: How to bake without specialty sugars

I had a wonderful afternoon yesterday as a friend invited  seven or eight of us over for tea and cakes.  She had made a wonderfully tasty chocolate fudge cake (my favorite) and a bannoffee and lemon meringue pie.  Yumm.  It is always good to meet up with friends because, to a great extent, they stand in for your family when you are abroad.

During our meet up talk turned, for a while, as it always does to what you can find in the shops and how to cope when you can't.  I mentioned that I had seen some caster sugar the other day and was immediately asked for details of where and when I had seen it.  Caster sugar is quite rare here and usually you have to bake with granular sugar.  I have written before on baking without baking powder and without baking chocolate but sugar is a fairly key ingredient to any cake.

Kazakh Sugar
Granulated sugar is easy to find

I have got used to using granular sugar, as it is not difficult to turn it into caster sugar - just put it through a coffee mill.  My food processor came with a special mini mill which I use for this purpose.  Just blitz it in 15 second bursts to make sure that you do not over process.  I usually just blitz enough to use on the cake I am baking at that particular time but I sometimes do a bulk load for friends who do not have a mill.

make your own caster sugar
It is easy to make your own caster sugar
Icing sugar is easily available here and in most places.   I have made my own in the past, usually when I have realised that I had forgotten to buy the powdered sugar in the shops and had no time to go and get more.  Just blitz the sugar to a very fine powder (checking at 15 second intervals) and then add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch for every 250g of sugar.

Muscovado sugar is one of my favorite baking ingredients, it makes a lovely toffee sauce, works brilliantly in a lot of banana recipes and when combined with orange juice and mustard powder gives a tasty glaze to ham and is a must when cooking red cabbage.  Muscovado sugar is like gold dust here in Astana.  I found some in the supermarket last year and bought four kilos.  I am nearly out of it now.

All is not lost, however, because I can buy molasses here.  If you add about 2tbsp of Molasses to ordinary baking sugar to get a good replacement for muscovado sugar.  Alternatively you can replace Muscovado sugar with ordinary brown sugar.  There is less moisture in brown sugar so you may need to check your recipe and add a little more liquid.  In places where molasses has been impossible to find I have used honey or maple syrup in its place.  The recipe tastes different but not unpleasantly so. 

One of the problems of using muscovado sugar is that it gets hard very fast.  I am always careful to store mine in airtight containers but it still gets hard and my four kilos became rock solid very quickly.  I know that it is possible to re-hydrate it by placing some slices of apple or bread in the container with the sugar (remove once moist).  I usually forget to do this, if I remember that I need it the night before baking I will cover the sugar with a damp kitchen towel and leave it overnight.  If I forget that I soften it in the microwave, this takes care because the sugar can get too hot and melt or burn.  Place it in a container and put a glass of water beside it.  I usually zap it in 30 second intervals checking if it is soft in between.  In extremis (my microwave was broken) I have just used it as is without softening but using the grater to break up the larger pieces., I probably should have used the food processor.

Click on the picture for more posts on the challenges of expat cooking.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Oh my, am I now hungry just reading this! I am going to save your writing and refer back to it when we head to the states in a months time- you can't find castor sugar readily available their either! Thanks!

  2. Hi Kathleen, glad you found it useful. I did not know that you can not get caster sugar in the US! All the very best


  3. fab tips xxxx
    I'm using our coffee grinder to make caster sugar these days - works brilliantly

  4. good article sir..no expert says that sugar leads to any disease, even obesity.

    sugar cane equipment