Sugar shock: Adding electric colors or subtle flavors to plain sugar

Wednesday, October 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Laura Ehret / The Dallas Morning News

Say what you will about sugar: Although our heads may bemoan its lack of nutritional value, our mouths find it too satisfying to resist.

We have a large national sweet tooth, consuming an average of 43 pounds of sugar per person annually, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Besides filling a void in the comfort food zone, sugar fills many other functions in cooking and baking. We've decided to improve upon a good thing, adding flavors and colors to sugar to enhance your sweetening pleasure. Their colors can coordinate with your tabletop, and their aromas are invitations to indulge.

Making flavored sugars can be as simple as adding a whole vanilla bean or herb leaves to granulated sugar and letting it rest undisturbed for a few weeks in a cool, dark place in an airtight container.

If you want something with a little more oomph, contributor Christine M. Carbone has created combinations to flavor tea, muffins, cakes, cookies, fruit or just about any other dish that needs a sweeter touch. The flavored sugars, with suggested uses attached, would make excellent gifts. And imagine cranberry-flavored sugar on the breakfast table during the holidays.

There are also instructions for colored sugars, which make thoughtful gifts when they're layered in a jar, like sand art.

Here's to your sweet tooth.

How to make flavored sugar

Flavored sugars are best made with granulated sugar. Place flavoring ingredients in the bowl of a coffee grinder used specifically for spices. Add ¼ cup of the sugar and grind until fine. Pour the mixture into a bowl and grind the rest of the sugar. Add that to the bowl and stir. Store in an airtight container. The mixture will keep for 3 months.

If you want to give the mixture a little more texture, grind all the flavoring ingredients with a small amount of sugar. Then add that mixture to the rest of the sugar, which is left unground. Allow the flavors to blend at least 1 week.

How to make colored sugar

To color sugar, simply add gel or paste food color drop by drop to sugar in a zip-top bag. Start with 4 drops and increase the amount depending on how deep you want the color. Zip the bag and rub the sugar until the color is evenly mixed. If the sugar seems too damp, spread it evenly onto a cookie sheet and put in a 175 F oven for at least an hour, until dry. Store in an airtight container.

Note: Ateco and Spectrum both make gel food coloring that can be squeezed drop by drop into the sugar. Find these products at stores that sell cake-decorating supplies, or a kitchen shop.

Suggested combinations:

Lavender: Grind 1 tablespoon of leaves and buds of English lavender with 1 cup granulated sugar. (Find the lavender at an organic nursery. Do not use lavender that is sold for making potpourri.)

Uses: Add to a cup of hot Pekoe tea or sprinkle on warm cookies.

Vietnamese Mint and Lime: Grind 10 Vietnamese mint leaves with the zest of half a lime with ¼ cup granulated sugar. Stir this into 1¼ cups granulated sugar. (You can use any type of mint, or try it with basil leaves.)

Uses: Use as a dip for fruit, add to iced tea or use in place of plain sugar in a sugar cookie recipe.

Lemon Spearmint: Grind the zest of 1 small lemon, 10 spearmint leaves and 1 cup of granulated sugar.

Uses: Add to hot or iced tea.

Chocolate: Finely grind 1 tablespoon cocoa, a tiny pinch of salt and 1 cup granulated sugar.

Uses: Stir into coffee or cappuccino. Sprinkle onto warm cookies or oatmeal.

Orange-Orange Geranium: Grind three 1x½-inch strips of orange zest, 3 orange geranium leaves, 6 drops orange gel food coloring, a pinch of saffron and a little granulated sugar. Stir into at least 11/2 cups of granulated sugar. The saffron helps soften any sharpness from the orange flavors.

Uses: Substitute for sugar in an orange muffin or pound cake recipe. Use in herbal tea or serve with fresh fruit.

Holiday Spice: Grind ½ teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg and 1 cup granulated sugar and 12 frozen cranberries (optional) until fine.

Uses: Sprinkle onto oatmeal, a warm coffee cake, buttered toast or coffee.

Red Hot: Grind ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, 15 drops red gel food coloring and 1 cup of granulated sugar.

Uses: Sprinkle onto warm sugar cookies, stir into a cup of coffee or serve with fresh fruit.

Blue Vanilla: Grind the seeds of half a vanilla bean, 6 drops of blue gel food coloring and 1 cup of granulated sugar.

Uses: Substitute for sugar to make a truly blue blueberry muffin recipe; sprinkle onto buttered toast or oatmeal.

Blueberry Muffins

¾ cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
1 pint fresh blueberries
¾ cup milk
¼ cup sour cream
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
¾ cup flavored sugar, such as Lemon, Holiday Spice or Blue Vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 F. Toss the blueberries with 2 tablespoons of the flour and set aside. Sift the rest of the cake flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt together twice. Leave in the strainer or sifter; set in a bowl until needed. In a separate bowl, stir the milk and sour cream together. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl beat the butter until white and pale, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture no longer feels grainy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and yolk and beat until the mixture is fluffy, about 2 minutes. Sift half of the dry ingredients and half of the milk mixture into the mixer. Using a large rubber spatula, delicately fold the ingredients together, stopping when barely combined. Add the remaining dry and liquid ingredients and fold in just until mixed – don't be concerned about getting everything evenly incorporated. Sprinkle the blueberry sugar mixture over the batter and fold in only until just mixed.

Spoon the batter into buttered muffin tins, filling each at least two-thirds full, and bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until the tops, which will be flat, are golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed. Remove from the muffin tin and cool on wire racks. Makes 18 standard muffins.

Adapted from a recipe by Rick Katz, contributing baker, Baking with Julia, William Morrow and Co.

Orange-Orange Geranium Pound Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup finely ground Orange-Orange Geranium Sugar, or any other flavored sugar ground superfine
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon potato starch

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream the butter in the mixer. Add the sugar and continue to whip at medium-high speed until the mixture becomes very light, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating each one in until the batter is light and smooth before adding the next egg. Briefly mix in the egg yolk and then the vanilla. Sift together the flour and the potato starch and fold them in using a wire whisk. Scoop the batter into a generously buttered 6-cup loaf pan, filling three-fourths full. Place the filled pan on a baking sheet and bake until the cake is light brown and firm to the touch, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. A skewer inserted in the center will come out clean.

Unmold the cake and cool on a wire rack. Makes 8 servings.

Note: Potato starch can be found in the kosher section of the grocery store.

Adapted from The Art of the Cake, by Bruce Healy and Paul Bugat, William Morrow and Co.