Toasted Sugar

July 29, 2017
4 Stars
Photo by Julia Gartland
Author Notes

In a low oven, granulated sugar develops a toasty flavor reminiscent of light caramel or turbinado, yet it remains powdery and dry. That means you can use it to replace white sugar in any recipe, adding a subtle note of complexity to round out the simple sweetness of your favorite dessert. Because of the time involved, you’ll want to roast a whole bag of sugar to make it worth your while. Just give it a stir every thirty minutes or so to help it toast more evenly, then cool and store like plain sugar.

You can toast smaller quantities of sugar while you blind-bake a pie crust—just use sugar with a foil liner in place of pie weights—or make small quantities in just 30 minutes at 350° F. Pour the sugar into a 10- or 12-inch skillet in a layer that’s a quarter-inch thick so that it toasts evenly. The exact timing will depend on the accuracy of your oven—keep a close eye on the sugar the first time around, then adjust the temperature for future batches accordingly.

Excerpt from BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks. Copyright © 2017 by Stella Parks. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. —Stella Parks

  • Makes 4 pounds (9 cups)
  • 9 cups (4 pounds) refined white sugar
In This Recipe
  1. Key Point: This technique will not work with raw or semirefined cane sugar, as its natural molasses content will begin to melt at much lower temperatures, causing the sugar to clump.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Put the sugar in a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish and roast, stirring well once every 30 minutes, until it darkens to a sandy tan, with a coarse texture like turbinado, about 2 hours. The color change can be strangely difficult to judge in the dim glow of an oven, so scoop out a spoonful to examine in better light.
  3. Let the roasted sugar cool away from any sources of moisture or steam until no trace of warmth remains, about 1 hour. If you notice molten caramel around the edges, pour the hot sugar into a heat-resistant container, leaving the melty bits behind; once cool, the baking dish can be soaked clean. Despite its innocuous appearance, roasted sugar can be dangerously hot, so take care not to touch it.
  4. Store for up to a year in an airtight container at room temperature.
  5. Troubleshooting:

    - Metal baking pans conduct heat more rapidly, and their corners may harbor traces of grease or moisture, factors that make the sugar more likely to liquefy around the edges.

    - Given the importance of maintaining a low temperature, use an oven thermometer to verify that yours runs true to dial. Otherwise, the sugar will caramelize too quickly and begin to liquefy.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Eric Andrist
    Eric Andrist
  • Michael Kricsfeld
    Michael Kricsfeld
  • Francie
  • Alex Txn
    Alex Txn
  • Jacqueline

60 Reviews

Eric A. January 7, 2018
You say that it'll keep up to a year. What happens after a year? Normal sugar keeps indefinitely when kept away from moisture.
Author Comment
Stella P. January 8, 2018
From the standpoint of perishability, toasted sugar will last as long as plain sugar. Due to the toasting it is more hygroscopic, so it can more readily absorb moisture from the air and clump over time; for that reason, indefinite storage may be problematic without a truly air tight container, so I listed "a year" as an arbitrary sort of timetable just to give folks something to go on.
judy November 11, 2017
This was a great experiment for me. I too went to Serious Eats to read the blog. I had an extra bag of sugar so I thought I would give this a try. I love to try different things in the kitchen. Took about 4 times as long to bake as stated. All day almost to get to light color. Checking and stirring as recommended. I let it cool and tasted. Tasted wonderful! Sadly baking the sugar changed the molecular structure (as explained in SE) in such a way that I could not tolerate it. I have several sugar/sweetener intolerances. Didn't know what to do with it, as I don't have friends who bake. So it sits. sad. I hope you all enjoy.
Eileen F. September 25, 2017
I'm not sure what happened that I had this problem. After roasting, I left it on the stove to cool. When I went back several hours later, it was hard as a rock. I scraped some of it, and put it through a strainer. I ended up putting it back in the oven at 300, and scraped off what had loosened up every ten minutes, still putting through a strainer. Did I need to stir it while it was cooling? Or was it something else I did wrong?
Author Comment
Stella P. September 25, 2017
It sounds like some excess moisture was trapped in the sugar, which can happen when the sugar doesn't have enough surface area to shed steam during cooling, or when it's particularly humid indoors (as the sugar itself is inclined to absorb moisture from the air). Stirring during the cooling phase can help, or you may try switching to a larger pan to increase the sugar's surface area so it can shed that moisture more effectively in the oven. Glad you were able to salvage it in the end!
Eileen F. September 26, 2017
Thank you! There was plenty of humidity in the air. I can't wait to bake with it. As soon as I have enough time later in the week. And to have some in a cup of tea when I can relax.
kasia S. November 1, 2017
Sugar is highly hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air and anything it's in contact with, its weird how the weather can affect cooking and baking so much. I can't wait to try this tho :)
Kyle S. September 21, 2017
Given how delicious and versatile toasted sugar is, it's amazing no one sells it! I love it so much I decided to just start roasting sugar and selling it myself. I set up a simple online store: Caramel Crystals. I slow-roast the sugar by hand following Stella's recipe, and it's completely organic!
kasia S. November 1, 2017
Your prices are insane for the amount you get plus you can do it at home for pennies.
Kyle S. November 17, 2017
Kasia, I disagree! Pennies? No way! Just buying 2lbs of organic cane sugar alone costs $4-5 dollars in most grocery stores. And doing this at home takes several Hours of attention and repeated stirring to prevent hot spots and melting (especially problematic with organic sugar), and the value of your time isn't zero! Also bear in mind this isn't being churned out of an industrial factory somewhere - I make every batch myself!
Ginny K. July 3, 2020
So, everything I am reading on this thread says it can’t be done with organic sugar. How are you making it work?
Kate S. September 21, 2017
I halved the recipe and it worked great! I used 4 cups of sugar and roasted it in an 8x8 inch glass baking dish at 325°F for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. I used it in a Peach Pie and it lended a hint of caramel-like flavor. Thanks for the great idea!
CAROLYN September 8, 2017
Would you recommend roasting on parchment paper for easy transfer to a not-hot vessel for cooling to minimize further cooking and steaming?
Author Comment
Stella P. September 9, 2017
You can absolutely use a parchment layer if you prefer!
Michael K. September 1, 2017
Wondering if this roasted sugar can be used to make simple syrup. I love complex-flavor syrups in my old fashioneds and bourbon drinks. Would this sugar work for that application?
Author Comment
Stella P. September 1, 2017
Absolutely! It makes a truly amazing simple syrup. Even when the sugar itself doesn't seem dark, you'll be surprised how intense the color of the syrup is once you add water. Enjoy!
Michael K. September 1, 2017
Thank you!
Kimberly August 30, 2017
I read that if you use turbinado, if takes 2 hours. Standard sugar takes around 1 hour, correct?
Author Comment
Stella P. August 30, 2017
That's just a description of what the sugar will look like after 2 hours, dark and coarsely textured, visually similar to turbinado. Turbinado itself cannot be used with this technique.
Francie August 28, 2017
We have a gas oven which tends to be a bit more of a moist heat when using. Would roasting sugar work in this type of environment?
Author Comment
Stella P. August 28, 2017
Huh! I've made this in gas ovens before, but I've never noticed an sort of humidity or moisture about it. If that's a quirk of your oven or where you love, it's potentially a problem because sugar itself is hygroscopic. Do you normally have trouble drying things out in the oven?
Francie August 28, 2017
We live in the Pacific Northwest, so moisture is definitely an issue. When the oven is turned on initially, there is always condensation inside the oven door, but it goes away after fully heated. At a high enough temp, the oven doesn't have any trouble drying things out. I think I'll try roasting the sugar but I'll let the oven go a bit beyond the normal warming up phase so it is good and dry when I put the sugar in. Thanks..
Author Comment
Stella P. August 28, 2017
Ok! You may find you need to stir the sugar more frequently during roasting, and during cooling as well, in order to make sure the sugar doesn't steam itself.
Charlie September 5, 2017
France if you are getting condensation on your oven door, you may want to get the seals on the door and window checked.
AndyManlee August 28, 2017
How would this affect yeast and fermentation? I'm curious about making simple syrup from this to feed my SCOBY to try a nuanced flavor.
Author Comment
Stella P. August 28, 2017
It won't have any negative affect on fermentation, have at it!
AndyManlee August 28, 2017
Thanks Stella! Loving your book so far :)
Nancy G. August 27, 2017
Would it be possible to use "roasted sugar" in cooked jelly and jam recipes?
Author Comment
Stella P. August 28, 2017
Nancy G. August 28, 2017
Thank you . . .Perhaps an experiment with my soon-to-be harvested zinfandel grapes is in order.
Alex T. August 27, 2017
Wow, interesting method, but a great idea. I 'm going to make some to use it with my riz au lait .
Beth August 27, 2017
I have the same question as Emily: can this be done with organic sugar, or only the white stuff?
Author Comment
Stella P. August 27, 2017
Refined only! Organic sugar contains fructose, which will cause the sugar to liquify prematurely. Plus, it already has a unique flavor of its own, so it doesn't really need any help in that department.
emily August 27, 2017
What about using the typical organic cane sugar that is found in bulk in many natural food bulk sections? It is already a "caramel" the toasting effect similar? More intense? In the sense that it "decomposes" I wonder how this changes the nutritional physiological impact, if at all?
Author Comment
Stella P. August 27, 2017
Refined only! Organic sugar contains fructose, which will cause the sugar to liquify prematurely. (Fructose melts and caramelizes at a much lower temperature.) Plus, organic cane sugar already has a unique flavor of its own, so it doesn't really need any help in that department.
Jacqueline August 25, 2017
I love the thought of this and cannot wait to give it a try! Thank you for passing this along!
Deborah M. August 24, 2017
Is 325 considered a low heat to bake. I'm NOT a good baker so just wondering.
petalpusher August 27, 2017
Follow the recipe. You're baking sugar. Have faith in the instructions.
moi August 23, 2017
I'm excited to try this. I usually weigh my baking ingredients. Do you know if the weight changes after roasting?
Author Comment
Stella P. August 23, 2017
It still clocks in at 7 ounces/cup, so it can be used as a 1:1 swap in any recipe that calls for white sugar. Hope you enjoy!
Velvet D. August 22, 2017
Can you do this with coconut sugar?
Author Comment
Stella P. August 23, 2017
Alas, no, due to its fructose content, coconut sugar will not stand up to the roasting process.
Desarbs August 21, 2017
Can you do this in smaller batches? I would love to try this, but for just me, 4 pounds is excessive.
Author Comment
Stella P. August 22, 2017
Small batches cook too quickly for the darker shades, but you can definitely give small batches a brief toasting. Google "BraveTart quick toasted sugar" and the first result will explain what you need to do.
Linda August 24, 2017
Tried Googling "BraveTart quick toasted sugar" and the only links where for this page and a scented body lotion?!? Any ideas on how to find tips for smaller batches without the pie crust? Thank!
Author Comment
Stella P. August 24, 2017
Oh, that's so weird! Here's the link:
petalpusher August 27, 2017
Desarb- the 4 pounds of sugar is good to use for up to a year. Store it or share it.
Printz August 20, 2017
Nope, don't need another reason to be tempted to add extra sugar on my baked goods-but THIS sounds delicious! Thanks to Antonia James for the heads up- copied your link from Stella's pie crust recipe. Much appreciated.