Toasted Sugar Recipe (2024)

Why It Works

  • Gentle heat allows caramelization without harming sugar's crystalline nature, letting slow-toasted sugar behave exactly like plain granulated sugar.
  • Glass and ceramic are poor conductors of heat, insulating the sugar for slow and even caramelization.
  • Stirring eliminates hot spots, so the sugar won't overheat or liquefy, while encouraging the evaporation of water (a byproduct of caramelization).

Want to know something crazy? Sugar doesn't melt; it undergoes thermal decomposition. That may sound like a pedantic distinction, considering we've all watched sugar effectively melt into a pool of caramel atop crème brûlée, but the implications are huge—worthy of far more explanation than a mere tl;dr.

Toasted Sugar Recipe (1)

Man, who am I kidding; you're here for the tl;dr, aren't you? Okay, fine. Here goes: Caramelization occurs independent of melting. Consider the above photo exhibit A—the sugar pictured here is neither brown sugar nor turbinado, but granulated white sugar that I caramelized without melting. It's dry to the touch, and it performs exactly like granulated white sugar.

Except, you know, the part where it tastes like caramel.

That opens up a world of possibility, as it works flawlessly in recipes for buttercream, mousse, or cheesecake, which can accommodate only a small amount of caramel sauce before turning soupy or soft. It's also ideal for desserts that would be ruined by caramel syrup, which is by nature too hot for fragile angel food cake and too viscous for soft candies like marshmallows or nougat. And compared to caramel powder (made from liquid caramel, cooled and ground), it won't compact into a solid lump over time.

Toasted Sugar Recipe (2)

Some bakers work around these issues by swapping in brown sugar for caramel, but why accept an imitation when you can have the real thing? Unlike quirky brown sugar, this "granulated caramel" won't alter the pH of doughs and batters, which can negatively impact how our favorite cookies and cakes spread, rise, and brown (in turn affecting their texture and crumb). For example, sugar cookies made with granulated caramel stay crisp at the edges, and oatmeal cookies spread like they should.

What's more, granulated caramel is free from the impurities that cause molasses-rich sugars to smoke and burn at high heat. Granulated caramel also won't curdle boiled milk, which can happen when you're making eggless custards and cajeta with brown sugar.

Now, with enough technical know-how, almost any recipe can be reformulated to accommodate brown sugar or caramel sauce/syrup/powder, but granulated caramel requires no such precaution. It's a perfect one-to-one replacement for white sugar; no calculations, no adjustments, no tinkering. Just use it to replace sugar in any recipe you love, from the meringue on Gramma's chocolate cream pie to my own angel food cake.

Toasted Sugar Recipe (3)

So what makes this magic possible, and why haven't we been doing it since the dawn of time? Well, the answer goes back to that whole melting-versus-thermal-decomposition thing, so bear with me for a sec as we wade into the nitty-gritty.

Melting is a phase change that has no impact on chemical composition, like the transition from ice to water. It's still good ol' H2O either way, right? Under normal conditions, the melting point of any given substance is fixed—when ice hits 32°F (0°C), there's nothing we can do to stop it from melting. Phase changes are also reversible; you can melt and refreeze ice as many times as you like, with no loss of quality on either end.

Thermal decomposition, on the other hand, is a chemical reaction that breaks down molecular bonds to produce new substances. While it's not a perfect analogy, imagine a pile of grass clippings releasing carbon dioxide as it turns to mulch in the sun—an irreversible process with variable results (i.e., no two handfuls of mulch are exactly alike, or composted to the same degree). Instead of occurring at a specific point, thermal decomposition occurs over a range of temperatures determined by the intensity and duration of heat.

Still with me?

Heat up some sugar on the stove, and it sure seems to melt, but if it were just a simple phase change, then melted sugar would be perfectly clear, not brown. Melted sugar would taste simple and sweet, not bitter and complex. Melted sugar would cool into crystals, not glass. None of those things are true because heat doesn't cause sugar to change phases. Heat breaks it down into something new: caramel.

In fact, caramel is so unlike sucrose (C12H22O11) that its nature can't be expressed by a single chemical formula. Instead, it's a mixture of caramelan (C15H18O9), caramelane (C12H9O9), caramelen (C36H48O24), caramelene (C36H25O25), caramelin (C24H26O13), and over a thousand other compounds "whose names," one scholar lamented in 1894, "science seems to have invented in a fit of despair."

Realizing caramel contained more permutations of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen than scientists' cutesy naming scheme could accommodate, they gave up on trying to define it. They even gave up on nailing down a definitive melting point for sucrose. Unlike ice, or even coconut oil, sugar refused to liquefy at a single, consistent, scientifically reproducible temperature. The point of caramelization proved even trickier to isolate, in some experiments occurring at a mere 340°F (171°C) and in others holding out past 360°F (182°C).

If you think that's confusing, you're not alone. Scientists have a better grasp of quantum mechanics than of caramel, which is still poorly understood. But in 2011, a team of researchers finally established that caramelization is a product of thermal decomposition, not melting (you can read the paper here). Not only that, they determined it's technologically impossible to document the melting of sucrose independent of caramelization.

With the right technique, we can caramelize sugar without liquefying it at all.

The significance of that discovery can't be overstated, yet the food world collectively shrugged. Whether sugar melts or decomposes, the results are the same: liquid caramel. Everyone heard the facts, but no one caught the implication. If sugar is governed by thermal decomposition, then caramelization doesn't happen at a specific temperature; it happens across a spectrum, in which liquid caramel happens to be at the end. With the right technique, we can caramelize sugar without liquefying it at all.

High-Heat Versus Low-Heat Caramelization

Caramelization and liquefaction only go hand in hand with high-heat techniques, which speed thermal decomposition. On the stovetop or under a blowtorch, sugar races through the caramelization process so fast, it liquefies in an instant. But in the gentle heat of a 300°F (149°C) oven, the process is drawn out, revealing myriad stages of caramelization in a crystalline state.

Check it out.

Toasted Sugar Recipe (4)

Despite a modest progression of color, the sugar goes through extreme changes in flavor every step of the way. With only one hour of toasting, it mellows with a complexity totally unlike plain sugar. After another hour, it's evocative of caramel the same way unrefined sugar hints of molasses, surely but subtly.

Within three hours, thermal decomposition liberates enough water that the sugar begins to clump as stronger caramel notes develop, changes that intensify into hour four. At five hours, the clumping effect makes granulated caramel visually identical to light brown sugar but with a unique flavor of its own. Though undeniably caramel, it lacks the bitter notes synonymous with high-heat techniques, giving it a lighter profile. Beyond that point, thermal decomposition will finally liquefy the sugar.

Because water is a by-product of caramelization, and relatively low "roasting" temperatures prevent it from being driven off as steam, deeply caramelized sugar is super clumpy. Stirring from time to time helps release entrapped moisture, but not enough to stop it from cooling into hard, lava rock–like pieces.

Fortunately, these chunks are highly porous and easily demolished in a food processor, where they can be ground until powdery and fine. This free-flowing granulated caramel behaves like white sugar in terms of shelf life, and it never needs to be ground again so long as it's kept in an airtight container.

However alluring the darkest shades of caramel are, I'm most excited by the lightest hues. A single hour of toasting won't develop any discernible caramel flavor, but it tames the intensity of marshmallows, angel food cake, and fudge—recipes that rely on sugar for structure, but have a reputation for tooth-aching sweetness.

Lightly toasted sugar brings these desserts into balance without sacrificing structure or distracting from their classic flavor (for small batches, see our guide to quick toasting sugar). In most recipes, toasted sugar even cuts down on the need for salt—a real boon for those on sodium-restricted diets. Not only does toasted sugar taste less sweet, it has less sucrose, fewer calories, and a lower glycemic index than plain sugar. How much lower would depend on the extent of thermal decomposition, but it's a promising notion.

But alas, I digress. My motivations have nothing to do with dietary considerations, and neither should yours. Whether caramelized a little or a lot, toasted sugar is crazy delicious, and I hope you try it at home. The technique itself is as straightforward as toasting bread crumbs: Stir occasionally, and let color be your guide.

Toasted Sugar Recipe (6)

As long as thermal decomposition halts before anything liquefies, granulated caramel behaves like sugar, so there are no caveats on its use. I've been playing around with this technique since 2010, having stumbled into it long before I understood the science, yet I've never encountered any technical difficulties with substitutions. So set aside that blowtorch and step back from the stove. There's a new caramel in town, and it has the power to change every recipe you've ever known.

May 16, 2016

Recipe Details

Toasted Sugar Recipe

Cook4 hrs

Active15 mins

Total4 hrs

Serves72 servings

Makes9 cups


  • 4 pounds (9 cups; 1.8kg) granulated white sugar(see notes)


  1. Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 300°F(150°C). Pour sugar into a 9- by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Toast until the sugar turns ivory, about 1 hour. Stir thoroughly and continue roasting, pausing to stir every 30 minutes. The sugar will produce steam as a byproduct of toasting, so it must be stirred well to allow that moisture to escape. Stirring should also help move hot sugar from the edges toward the center, and cool sugar from the center toward the edges, for even toasting. Continue toasting and stirring every 30 minutes until the sugar has darkened to the desired degree, from a light beige to the color of traditional brown sugar, between 2 and 4 hours more.

  2. When the sugar has finished toasting, set aside and cool to room temperature, stirring from time to time to speed the process and allow for continued evaporation of steam. Alternatively, the cooling process can be sped along by pouring the sugar into a large, heat safe container. Once fully cool, transfer to an airtight container and store as you would plain white sugar. It can be used interchangeably, by weight or volume, in any recipe that calls for white sugar.

    Toasted Sugar Recipe (7)

  3. Troubleshooting: In an oven that runs hot, or when using a different volume of sugar, or a different size baking dish, or a metal dish, the sugar will heat more rapidly, and may begin to liquefy much sooner than expected. If this happens, immediately pour the dry sugar into a large stainless steel bowl, leaving the melted caramel behind. If the sugar is not stirred thoroughly throughout the toasting process, it may clump severely along the way and as it cools; should this happen, grind the cooled sugar in a food processor until powdery and fine.

    Toasted Sugar Recipe (8)

Special Equipment

9- by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish, Food processor (optional)


While this recipe can be scaled to any size, considering the time and effort involved, I find larger batches more worthwhile; for smaller batches, check out our guide to quick toasted sugar. In either case, refined cane sugar or beet sugar will work equally well; organic, raw, and semi-refined styles will be more inclined to melt prematurely due to their natural fructose content.

    Toasted Sugar Recipe (2024)


    What do you use toasted sugar for? ›

    You can use it in any recipe that calls for granulated sugar, whether you're baking, cooking, or making drinks. Because its flavor is delicate, toasted sugar works best in simple recipes with few ingredients.

    How do you toast raw sugar? ›

    If you set the oven temperature to 325°F, just think: it's sugar-toasting time! Grab your sugar and throw it into a pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Just remember to stir it every 30 minutes or so, and in a few bakes, you'll have a whole bag of toasted sugar to make magic with.

    How to make toasted sugar bits? ›

    Preheat your oven to 300°F and pour sugar onto a baking pan or sheet (you'll want one about 9x13in) Toast it about 1 hour, stir well and continue to toast, stirring at 30 minute intervals until it reaches your desired color (It's best not to go over 4 hours) The sugar will gradually get more sandy.

    What happens when you toast sugar? ›

    Toasted sugar is made through thermal decomposition

    While the sugar becomes a liquid, it also undergoes a chemical change. Sugar may "melt" into caramel, but it doesn't harden into sugar again once it cools.

    How long does toasted sugar last? ›

    Store for up to a year in an airtight container at room temperature. 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.

    Is toasted sugar less sweet? ›

    At that stage, it doesn't have a pronounced caramel flavor, but it tastes dramatically less sweet, with a richness uncharacteristic of plain sugar. It's sort of like the umami of sweetness, more satisfying in a way that's hard to describe unless you've tasted it for yourself.

    Does turbinado sugar melt when baked? ›

    Unlike regular refined sugar, turbinado—also known as raw sugar—won't melt into the batter while baking, so you'll be left with a crunchy, sparkly, expensive-looking finish on your loaf.

    How do you toast sugar for baking? ›

    Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 300°F (150°C). Pour sugar into a 9- by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Toast until the sugar turns ivory, about 1 hour. Stir thoroughly and continue roasting, pausing to stir every 30 minutes.

    What happens when you melt raw sugar? ›

    Melting sugar breaks the bonds of granulated sugar so it can be recrystallized into different shapes by using molds or other tools. Melting sugar is also the first step in making caramels and candies. The melting temperature determines what can be made with the sugar.

    How do you make caramelized sugar? ›

    -Using a heavy bottomed and high sided pot, combine 200g sugar and 150ml water, over a medium-high heat until they start to boil. -Once it has started to boil, turn down the burner to a low heat and allow the syrup to get darker and reduce. Don't stir, but you can tip the pot to distribute the mixture.

    What is melted sugar called? ›

    Caramelized sugar is sugar cooked over low heat, causing a change in both appearance and flavor. Through a process called pyrolysis during caramelization, sugar oxidizes, taking on an amber color and a rich, slightly sweet, and nutty flavor.

    How do you caramelize sugar without a blowtorch? ›

    once your spoon is hot enough, place it directly on the sugar. and move it around in a small section. the heat will sizzle. and caramelize the sugar on contact, creating the same brulee effect as a blowtorch.

    Is toasting sugar worth it? ›

    By gently baking granulated sugar, it develops a unique caramelized flavor that lends itself well to cookies, cakes, and more. Toasted Sugar is really easy to make but does take time. However, if you have the time, it's totally worth it for the flavor complexity it adds to your favorite recipes!

    Can you toast sugar with a lighter? ›

    Not everyone has a brûlée torch, but nearly everyone has a candle or grill lighter. This may or may not be practical, though; mine took forever to melt even a small amount of sugar. I think that this is a good option only when you have a small surface area, a thin layer of sugar, and a pretty powerful lighter.

    What is caramelized sugar used for? ›

    Caramelized sugar is used in everything from caramel sauces, candies, topping flan, ice creams, frostings, and so many more things! It's even used for savory preparations such as the sweet and sour gastrique sauce.

    What to do with burnt melted sugar? ›

    Baking Soda And Vinegar: A Winning Combination

    This is especially true when it comes to tough stains on your cookware, as these two kitchen staples are capable of breaking down even the stickiest of residues. You can pour straight white vinegar into your pan, or mix it with water, and boil the liquid on your stovetop.

    What is decorating sugar used for? ›

    Ultimate Baker Sugar Decorating Options

    Typically used for icing, frosting and other fine surface dusting and glazes. Also known as Icing Sugar or Confectioner's Sugar in various parts of the world.

    What does caramelizing sugar do? ›

    What Is Caramelization? Caramelization is a slow cooking process that occurs when sugar is cooked over low heat, causing a change in both appearance and flavor. Through a process called pyrolysis, during caramelization, the sugar in a food oxidizes, taking on a brown color and a rich, slightly sweet and nutty flavor.


    Top Articles
    Latest Posts
    Article information

    Author: Kelle Weber

    Last Updated:

    Views: 6005

    Rating: 4.2 / 5 (53 voted)

    Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

    Author information

    Name: Kelle Weber

    Birthday: 2000-08-05

    Address: 6796 Juan Square, Markfort, MN 58988

    Phone: +8215934114615

    Job: Hospitality Director

    Hobby: tabletop games, Foreign language learning, Leather crafting, Horseback riding, Swimming, Knapping, Handball

    Introduction: My name is Kelle Weber, I am a magnificent, enchanting, fair, joyous, light, determined, joyous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.