Brown sugar is a quintessential ingredient in all American chocolate chip cookies and many, many other American desserts as well. It is the the ying to white sugar’s yang. And I took it for granted when I moved to Germany.
In those first few weeks, before we had any of our things delivered from home, it was a little rough. I wanted to make chocolate chip cookies. I needed a comfort food and a taste of the familiar, and I can’t remember why I did it, but I think I’d actually packed chocolate chips in my checked luggage. Priorities, people. Anyway, at the grocery store, I somewhat uncertainly purchased a product called ‘brauner Zucker’, which literally translates to brown sugar. But upon arriving home and opening up the package, I was met with something more like large crystals of raw sugar, which, I found out later, it essentially is. This product is very familiar to the residents of Germany and often used to flavor dark coffee. But it is unequivocally NOT brown sugar as we know it.
Being somewhat desperate, however, I determined to give it a go, using brauner Zucker and vanilla sugar because my vanilla extract was of course in the shipment we were waiting on. They were terrible! The boys loved them somehow, but they were too thin and also grainy from the big crystals of the brauner Zucker, and they just didn’t taste right.
Thus began my quest!
I knew that brown sugar in the US is composed of regular granulated sugar with molasses added in. This is really kind of a silly thing to do as molasses is the product of processing our table sugar, stripping the cane sugar of it’s juices and boiling it to produce molasses. But however silly, brown sugar is a staple, and we can’t get rid of it. It adds moisture and a distinct flavor to baked goods. So, I had to find molasses, which turned out to be a bit difficult.
After scouring all the grocery stores in our near vicinity, plus a fancy grocery store downtown that sells British and American products, and after getting funny looks from store workers when asking if they had the product, I finally found molasses in a health food store a block from our house. Go figure. A number of months later, incidentally, Kaufland started carrying it too, for any other expats looking to make their own brown sugar.
You could also skip making brown sugar all together and put white sugar and molasses in separately when baking, but I want to convince you that it’s not worth it. As you’ll see, if you only need 1/4 C of sugar, adding molasses in separately is impractical and messy with how sticky it is and what a small amount of the syrup you’d need to add. Plus the viscosity of it makes it a little more difficult to mix in evenly with the other ingredients.
Making brown sugar is easy! You just need to experiment with the ratios you use because not all molasses is created equally, and if you do an internet search you’ll find all sorts of ranges that people swear by from 1 Tablespoon to 1/4 Cup molasses per cup of sugar. Call me crazy, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And I’m a perfectionist.
So here’s how I found my perfect ratio. I tried using 1 Tablespoon to 1 C sugar, mixed it all in and added 1/4 C sugar at a time until I was satisfied that the consistency, color, and taste were comparable to my favorite brand of light brown sugar back home. The end result was 1 Tb molasses to a whopping 2 C sugar. But I also think that the molasses available to me is more like blackstrap and is therefore quite strong. So, yes, you can use blackstrap molasses to make brown sugar, you’ll just have to use less.
Let me tell you, when I finally figured out the secret to brown sugar and also got our shipment of things with my giant bottle of vanilla extract, the first thing I did was make a batch of perfect, soft chocolate chip cookies. And I was one happy, homesick American gal eating my cookie dough and cookies after weeks of waiting and many mediocre and unsatisfactory attempts with inadequate ingredients. So worth it!
Here are my tips for the best brown-sugar-making experience:
Tip #1 – Grease your measuring spoon liberally with vegetable oil. Don’t skip this step! And if it’s rather cool, you can every so slightly warm your molasses with literally a couple seconds in the microwave. Cold molasses is stiffer and takes much longer to work in.
Tip #2 – Find yourself a good, high vantage point so you can get the most leverage with your fork. It takes me five minutes if I’m up above my bowl but ten if I’m working at my counter, as it’s quite a high counter and makes my arm work a lot harder from that angle. I really don’t recommend using a food processor or blender to try to make this as you’ll only end up cutting your sugar granules into smaller pieces while you mix in the molasses.
If I make this at the counter, I mix in the molasses a bit so it’s somewhat evenly distributed, then I finish processing it a third at a time in a smaller bowl. That makes it go faster. But if you follow my tips, it should be a smooth, fast, and painless process.
Tip #3 – Put the ingredients in a somewhat wider bowl, not one with very high or straight sides. You need to use the sides of the bowl to smash the molasses against and need room for your hand.
And here are my step-by-step photos:
Supplies, but I forgot my measuring spoons, and there’s a second bowl that I didn’t end up using (See tip #2 above).
Measure out sugar and molasses:
Get to mixing! Smash and swipe. Molasses is thick, so put some elbow grease into it.
Here are the stages:
It looks pretty good here, but you can see that it’s not totally ready yet as there are still small clumps of molasses. Almost there though!
And finally, perfect brown sugar.
Here’s possibly a better look at how I mix. I press and pull, whichever way is convenient for me and keeps my hand from getting tired–front to back, left to right, right to left, however. But the key is to apply pressure and movement against the solid bowl.
Happy brown sugar making! Now I want chocolate chip cookies. Mmm…
Homemade Brown Sugar
Whether you ran out at home and can't get to the store or you live in a country where American brown sugar doesn't exist, here's how you can make it with just molasses and white sugar.
- 2 C granulated white sugar
- 1 Tb - 1/4 C molasses
- Note: I like using 2 C sugar to 1 Tb molasses because my molasses is quite dark and strong. See the Notes section for tips on finding the ratio you like.
- Measure out sugar into a wide bowl, not one with high or straight sides.
- Grease your measuring spoon for your molasses, as it makes it slide out more readily. And if it's cold in your house, heat up the molasses by microwaving your measured out molasses for a couple seconds or placing your jar or bottle of molasses in a bowl of warm water for a minute or two. It'll make this whole process go much more quickly.
- Add your molasses to your sugar, grab a fork, and start smashing the molasses into the sugar. Keep going until it's a nice even brown color and there are no visible clumps of molasses left.
- The amount of molasses you use depends on the type, whether regular or blackstrap, and whether you want light or dark brown sugar. Start out with 1 C sugar to 1 Tb molasses, mix it all in and if you don't like the color or consistency, add 1/4 C sugar or 1 tsp molasses at a time, depending on whether you want it lighter or darker.
- The mixing process will only take about five minutes, once you get your molasses smashing technique down. So don't be discouraged if it takes a little longer the first time.
Love from Germany,