As the holiday season ramps up, the item ranking highest on many bakers’ wish lists is sugar.
A strike at the Rogers Sugar refinery in Vancouver, B.C. has led to shortages across western Canada, particularly impacting supply of brown and white sugar under the Rogers and Lantic brands.
Winnipeg grocery store shelves where sugar usually sits have been bare for weeks, with any incoming shipments snapped up quickly by well-timed shoppers.
The strike has been raging on since Sept. 28 when 138 workers walked off the job, at odds with the company over wages, benefits and the company’s proposal to increase refinery operations.
The strike is hitting a particularly sour note with consumers, given the festive time of year, when sugary treats typically adorn doily-lined dainty trays and cookie tins at holiday gatherings.
Still, home economist Getty Stewart says there are several sweet alternatives home bakers can use in place of their standard white and brown sugars.
“You should be accepting of ‘okay, my cookies this year may not taste like they did last year, but they’re still probably going to be really good,’” Stewart told CTV News Winnipeg in an interview.
SUGAR CAN BE SWAPPED OUT, BUT OTHER ADJUSTMENTS NEEDED
If you need brown sugar, Stewart says you can easily make your own, with very little change in taste. All you need is a cup of granulated sugar and a few tablespoons of molasses. Just combine them in a bowl, mix vigorously, and enjoy.
“It works exactly the same in baking and any other recipe, so this is a really great alternative or substitute. Not very many people would be able to tell the difference.”
You can also swap in whatever sugar you have available to you, like icing sugar or sugar in the raw. Stewart notes they can add subtle taste and texture changes, depending on the type.
Certain recipes, like cookies, quick breads and muffins, are more forgiving with sugar substitutions, she says.
If you’re out of sugar altogether, fruit alternatives like applesauce, mashed bananas, pumpkin, or butternut squash purees are a good alternative.
Again, this will have an impact on texture and flavour.
She cautions the liquid in the fruit will also alter consistency, and will need to be balanced out in the other liquids in the recipe.
“So if you’re using 3/4 cup of applesauce for one cup of sugar, you still need to reduce the liquid. Whether you’re using milk or eggs or water or juice in the rest of the recipe, you would reduce that a little bit to make up for the fact that applesauce is a little bit more runny than granulated sugar.”
Liquid sweeteners, such as maple syrup, agave or corn syrup, can also be used. With those, Stewart recommends using about 3/4 cup for every one cup of granulated sugar the recipe calls for. Liquid ingredients should also be reduced to offset the added moisture.
It could also cause the bake to brown faster, so the oven temperature should be reduced by about 25 degrees.
There are also sugar substitutes that make for an easier swap out. Xylitol, for example, looks and acts like sugar, but doesn’t brown quite as well and may take longer to bake, she says. However, it can be swapped in for sugar on an easy, one-to-one ratio.
Meantime, a sweetener like Stevia powder or liquid, would only require a few drops for every one cup of sugar.
“So you can imagine that that’s going to make a big difference in your baked recipe, so you’d have to make quite a few other adjustments to try and make up for the volume that the sugar would add.”
However, if you have an especially cherished holiday recipe that you want to taste exactly as it does every other Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus – there’s no substitute for the real thing.
“Use whatever sugar you can find for that particular recipe and make modifications on other things. So your morning oatmeal, maybe you don’t need to use the granulated sugar there,” she said.
“Save whatever precious sugar you can find or borrow or beg from your neighbours. Use that for those things that are truly, truly special and that are a little bit more difficult to substitute.”
More details on sugar substitutes can be found on Stewart’s website.
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