We’ve all had this moment – the recipe calls for light brown sugar, and you open your cupboard and only find dark. What to do? Does it really matter? What’s really the difference anyways? When I first started baking, I always followed recipes exactly because I didn’t have a good idea about how the individual ingredients come together to create the final product. As I’ve baked more, I’ve developed more of an instinct about how changing specific ingredients in a recipe will change the outcome of the bake.
This past weekend, I baked my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (they are SO GOOD) but instead of using dark brown sugar as usual, I decided to try it with light brown sugar. The results were markedly different but was one really better than the other?
The quick answer: yes, you can interchange dark with light brown sugar without ruining your bake. However, there will be distinct differences and read on to learn why 🙂
Brown Sugar 101
The difference between brown and white sugar lies in their molasses content. Molasses is a thick, dark brown highly concentrated sugar syrup. Brown sugar has molasses, leading to its distinct brown color and a moist, crumbly texture, and dark brown sugar simply has a higher molasses content than light brown sugar.
So why does the molasses content matter?
Molasses increases the moisture and acidity of your bake. This will mean denser, slightly heavier sweets, and the acidity may also cause your baked goods to rise a little more in the oven. It also has a deeper, more intense flavor, similar to caramel.
The Cookie Test
So did my cookies turn out differently? Yes!
Using dark brown sugar, my cookies spread less in the oven and were denser, heavier, and quite moist.
Using light brown sugar, my cookies spread a far bit more, were more airy, and had lighter flavors.
Overall, I wouldn’t say that the type of brown sugar significantly changed the outcome of the recipe. So go ahead and make your substitutions without worries – your cookies will turn out delicious no matter what (unless you burn them to a crisp, which has nothing to do with sugar content).