Recently in our Baking Club, Leslie Rogers shared a delicious looking batch of lemon bars with a brown butter shortbread base. But what really caught our eye wasn't the creamy lemon filling or the generous dusting of powdered sugar; it was her off-hand comment that she used sugar as a pie weight for the toasty shortbread crust! No surprise that this ingenious idea comes from Stella Parks, whose book BraveTart was a smash hit in the Club.
Parks' details her entire blind baking process over on Serious Eats, where she explains her reasoning for swapping in sugar in place of other types of pie weights:
My kitchen and budget are too tight to accommodate a bag of ceramic pie weights or marbles, and I'd rather save rice and beans for dinner. It's not that weights aren't essential, only that my go-to choice is far less traditional: plain white sugar. For one thing, it's something that any baker has in abundance, and, at seven ounces per cup, it's wonderfully heavy. As a pie weight, sugar completely eliminates the risk of slumping, shrinking, or puffing, and obviates the need for docking. The result? A laissez-faire method that gives me a crust deep and flat enough to hold every last drop of filling.
As you can see in Parks' Instagram photo above, the sugar gets faintly caramelized after a serving a round of pie duty. She suggests cooling the sugar to room temperature after use and transferring it to an airtight container. The sugar can be used as you would regular granulated sugar, but it can also be reserved for a few more rounds of work as a pie weight, until it turns pale tan. At that point, you've made roasted sugar!
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It's sugar with a toasty flavor, and it can be used just like regular granulated sugar in any recipe that would benefit from a little more complexity and a little less sweetness. Of course, if you don't have imminent plans for blind baking any crusts, you can also just skip ahead to roasting sugar all by itself.