How to Make and Use Scented and Spicy Sugars

February 23, 2015

Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Cinnamon sugar is all well and good, but you can do so much more than that. Let your spice drawer (and your fruit bowl) be your inspiration.

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Whoever invented cinnamon sugar was a genius, no less so than the frugal pastry cook who first buried spent vanilla pods in sugar. But why stop there? Open your spice drawers, rifle through your cupboards, and raid your fruit bowls to find inspiration and ingredients. 

More: Dorie Greenspan has 4 more ideas for using spent vanilla bean pods.

And then? Go ahead and reinvent French toast, waffles, or pancakes by sprinkling them with flavorful sugars instead of pouring on the syrup. Make cardamom toast instead of cinnamon toast! Dredge freshly-made donuts or beignets in ginger sugar instead of the plain stuff. Get creative with cookies: Roll snickerdoodles in garam masala sugar. Sprinkle shortbread or sugar cookies with lemon, nutmeg, or lavender sugar. Coat ginger snaps with 5-spice sugar or star anise sugar before baking them. Create a signature cocktail by rimming the glass with lime or chile sugar (or a mixture). Sweeten berries with spicy sugar or stir some into your tea or hot cocoa. 

Here’s how:

Mix ground spices or freshly grated citrus zest -- or pulverized herbs, tea, or dried rose petals -- with plain white sugar to taste. 

I have used the ratios below over the years, but don’t get hung up on measuring -- just taste and adjust. Blending is good, too: Cinnamon and cardamom are grand together; orange zest with cinnamon and cloves is super festive. I often include a tiny pinch of fine salt for every 1/4 cup of sugar.

To 1/4 cup sugar, add flavor as follows, or to taste: 

  • Cinnamon sugar: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Nutmeg sugar: 2 to 4 teaspoons freshly grated or ground nutmeg 
  • Cardamom sugar: 1/4 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons crushed cardamom seed or ground cardamom  
  • Clove sugar: 1/4 teaspoon ground clove  
  • Garam masala sugar: 3/4 teaspoon garam masala
  • Ginger sugar: 1 to 2  teaspoons ground ginger
  • Chile or chili sugar: up to 1/2 teaspoon ground dried chile or chili powder 
  • Chinese 5-spice sugar: 1 teaspoon ground 5-spice
  • Star anise sugar: 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
  • Citrus sugar: grated zest of 1/4 of an orange, or more, grated directly over the sugar to capture all of the fragrance and flavor possible (the zest will dry out in the sugar eventually -- you can sieve it out or not)  
  • Lavender sugar: 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender buds, pulverized with some of the sugar in mini processor or with a mortar and pestle

Photos by Bobbi Lin

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • NoFlatlander
  • lorie brand
    lorie brand
  • Nancy
  • Natalie
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


NoFlatlander May 7, 2015
Natalie April 26, 2016
Those are Weck canning jars, I believe, if anyone else is interested...
lorie B. February 25, 2015
I dry my own rose scented geranium leaves and infuse sugar with these. Especially good with raspberries or mixed fruit or to top delicate sugar cookies
Nancy February 25, 2015
Oh yum - I love spiced sugars. One of our favorites is Salty Peanut Sugar from The Sugar Hit blog - toasted peanuts, sugar and flaked salt pulsed together in the food processor. It's great on ice cream with hot fudge and lots of other things.