Material Handling: Sugar

Category: Pastry & Baking

The column tackles arguably the central ingredient to the dessert industry—sugar—and its contribution to flavor profile and texture in recipes.

Sugar is a central ingredient to almost everything we do in the pastry kitchen. Now that we have amazing access to an increased palette of sugars, we should always be reaching for the sweetener that imparts the most flavors. First, we separate the role of sugar into two categories: recipes that need sugar for texture (chemically) and recipes that sugar is active in the flavor profile of a preparation. Then we can focus on adding character to recipes by utilizing sweeteners that create an increased depth of flavor: yacon, sucanat, Okinawa kokuto, granulated maple sugar, coconut palm, and Gula Melaka.

Yacon syrup is extracted from the yacon root and processed like maple syrup. Yacon syrup tastes like a dark caramel or molasses and is as sweet as honey with a sweet melon note. The texture is between molasses and maple syrup. TerrAmazon produces raw, organic yacon syrup that can be sourced on their website:

Sucanat is whole unrefined cane sugar. It’s made by crushing freshly cut sugar cane, extracting the juice and heating it in a large vat. Once the juice is reduced to a rich, dark syrup, it is hand-paddled. Hand paddling cools and dries the syrup, creating the dry, porous granules of sucanat. 100% certified organic sucanat is produced by Wholesome Sweeteners. Information on sucanat and other fair trade certified sugars is located at

Okinawa Black Sugar
Okinawa Black Sugar. Photo by Rare Tea Cellar Inc.

Okinawa black sugar is known as the rawest, most natural sugar in the world. Loaded with minerals and rare antioxidants, Okinawa black sugar has a great flavor of concentrated pure cane sugar. We buy ours locally from ingredient guru Rod Markus of Rare Tea Cellars, at

Granulated maple sugar is made from pure maple syrup that has been heated, then quickly stirred to cool evaporating all moisture in the process leaving granulated maple sugar. Maple sugar looks like brown sugar and has more trace minerals (copper, manganese, zinc) than plain white sugar.

This shortbread ratio illustrates how a substitution of granulated maple syrup can enhance even a simple recipe. We used granulated maple sugar from Frontier Natural Products ( for this round, but recommend using other sugars from the list to get a clear idea of each sugar’s unique character.


SHORTBREAD. Photo by JMPurePastry.

Maple Shortbread

Yield: 36 cookies

6.75 oz/188 g all-purpose flour
2.8 oz/80 g rice flour
0.1 oz/2.84 g salt
8 oz/227 g unsalted butter, softened
3.5 oz/100 g maple sugar

1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. Cream the butter and maple sugar together.
3. Sift together the all-purpose flour, rice flour and salt. Add flours to the creamed butter and combine until dough comes together.
4. Roll the dough into 36 balls. Flatten the balls of dough, 1” apart, on parchment lined baking pan. Dock the dough. Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges start to get a golden color.


DARREN TOEH's GULA MELAKA. Photo by Joshua Chan Photography.

Gula Maleka palm sugar is made from sap tapped from the arenga pinnata (sugar palm) tree. The sap is boiled then poured into bamboo sections to cool and harden into a cylindrical shape that looks like bone marrow. Darren Toeh is the author of Redefinition, a cookbook that introduces modern Malaysian cuisine, and is Chef Lecturer of KDU University in Malaysia. Chef Toeh utilizes local Gula Melaka for a plated presentation of a modern marquise mousse (see below for image & recipe).

Coconut palm sugar is an unrefined sugar that is produced by cooking down the nectar that has been tapped from the coconut palm tree flower. The flavor is reminiscent of maple syrup with a nuance of butterscotch. The texture is dry and crumbly like sucanat and melts easily in liquids. Pastry Chef Will Goldfarb, the Executive Pastry Chef at Ku De Ta Hotel and Resort in Bali and owner of WillPowder, gives us ‘Sugar Refinery’; a conceptual dish that utilizes Balinese palm sugar from Big Tree Farms ( for a playful take on our theme (see below for image & recipe).


DARREN TOEH's GULA MELAKA MARQUISE. Photo by Joshua Chan Photography. Click image above or links below for recipe.
WILL GOLDFARB's SUGAR REFINERY. Photo by Emilie Baltz. Click image above or links below for recipe.


Jimmy & Julie MacMillan of JMPurePastry
Jimmy & Julie MacMillan of JMPurePastry. Photo by Anthony Tahlier.


Any trends or inspirations you’d like to see in the Material Handling spotlight? Email Jimmy and Julie at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


JMPurePastry is a Chicago-based pastry solutions group specializing in high quality, well designed products for the restaurant, baking and hospitality industry. The duo is also responsible for the 2-time Emmy-Award-winning Chicago Restaurant Pastry Competition video series. For more information, visit



Find 'Material Handling: Sugar' recipes in the Recipe section or click the links below.