When you do a lot of cake baking and decorating, you usually find that some ingredients work better than others, and once you find the ones that work best for you, you will tend to stick with them as long as they are available.
Sugar is no exception, and professional pastry chefs will tell you that they can tell the difference between each type of sugar-based on the results they get from their baking.
All sugar is not the same, and that is why even if it looks the same as any other sugar, it just may not produce the results you would like?
Until I started using icing/confectioners sugar to make gum paste for making sugar flowers and make rolling fondant to cover my cakes, I thought all sugar was the same. For everyday use, such as sweetening food and drinks, there is not a lot of difference.
Difference between sugar beet and sugar cane
Sugar beet and sugarcane are the plants that provide the sugar we use every day. Two completely different plants, one is a root vegetable, and the other is a grass type. Although the plants’ chemical makeup is similar, they are not the same, and sugar beet is cheaper to produce because it only requires one refining process, whereas sugar cane requires two.
You would need to be a sugar connoisseur to tell the difference between the taste of sugar made from either plant if you put it in your coffee.
Are you wondering what this has to do with baking and decorating a cake?
However, if you use sugar for decorating cakes, then it is a different matter. I have talked to bakers who have tested the various sugars in baked goods, and they said that there is a difference in the texture and the taste of the products they make, depending on which type of sugar they use. Their unanimous verdict seems to be that they all prefer sugar that’s made from sugarcane.
When it comes to beet sugar V’s cane sugar for decorating cakes, I have noticed that buttercream or fudge fillings have a definite grainy texture if made with sugar beet icing/confectioner’s sugar. The reason is that the crystals don’t seem to absorb the moisture properly and melt into the filling. On the other hand, I have never had that problem with sugar cane icing /confectioner’s sugar.
I find that I can use sugar beet icing/confectioners sugar to make rolling fondant, providing I leave it overnight before it’s used. However, it doesn’t handle as well as fondant made with cane sugar icing/confectioners sugar.
Royal icing made with sugar beet icing/confectioner’s sugar is not too bad, providing it is left for 4 or 5 hours before use, and it will be good enough for icing the top and the sides of a cake and for piping with a nozzle that is not too fine. Royal icing made with cane sugar still needs to stand for a couple of hours but not as long as some made with sugar beet.
Whatever type of icing/confectioners sugar you use, beet or cane, if it hasn’t been ground finely enough, there can be problems with the sugar grains blocking the smaller nozzles, especially with extra small ones such as sizes 00 or 000.
It depends on the brand of sugar you use, and it does not necessarily depend on the price you pay for it. I have bought a cheap icing/confectioner’s sugar and found it has been ground finer than the more expensive one. It is a case of finding the brand you like, and if it works, then keep using it.
This may sound silly, but it works
The only way to overcome the problem with any icing/confectioner’s sugar that has not been ground finely enough is to pass the dry icing/confectioner’s sugar through a very fine sieve or even grind it again yourself in a coffee grinder.
If you make Royal icing that will be used for piping with fine tubes, then use a NEW ladies nylon stocking, stretch it over a bowl, and pass the icing/confectioner’s sugar through it.
It takes a few minutes to pass through enough to use but well worth the effort to get a smooth icing that doesn’t block the tiny tubes you use for fine piping.
But wait – there’s more…
My biggest problem with sugar beet icing/confectioner’s sugar is that it doesn’t make good gum paste for flower making. It doesn’t seem to have the same texture or stretch as gum paste made with sugar cane icing/confectioner’s sugar.
I’ve also found that if I use sugar beet icing/confectioner’s sugar for making gum paste, it’s not so white as if it is made with sugar cane, even if I beat it for a long time. That aspect of it is not such a problem if I am going to add color to the paste, but if I want white flowers, I add some white gel paste color.
Manufacturers don’t always label their product to show if it’s made from cane sugar or sugar beet, so you may not know what you are buying until you use it.
The best solution I have found…
I have an excellent coffee grinder. If I am not sure what type of icing/confectioner’s sugar I can get, I buy some granulated cane sugar, grind it myself to produce the icing/confectioner’s sugar I prefer.
We’re not through yet…
Do you know that cornflour/starch or tricalcium phosphate is added to commercially produced icing/confectioners sugar as an anti-caking agent? Tricalcium phosphate is a preferred additive, and it’s a natural ingredient that is often used as a dietary supplement.
One British producer, Tate & Lyle, has altered their traditional recipe. Instead of using tricalcium phosphate, they now use cornflour/cornstarch for all their icing/confectioners sugar, and cake decorators are not happy.
I’ve read on several social media groups that bakers are experiencing many problems with the new recipe icing/confectioner’s sugar. They say that it’s almost impossible to use it to produce intricate designs in Royal icing because cornflour/starch contains fat, so it tends to break down. It won’t hold its shape, that the consistency of buttercream is not the same as it was and that glace icing has no shine, to name a few problems.
Many people have contacted the company, asking them to return to the original recipe; they refuse to change it because the cornflour/starch extends the product’s shelf life.
As I have already said, you have to find the brand that works for you.
I hope you find this article useful, and maybe it has answered a few questions you may have had about the sugar you have been using.
I am sure that knowing more about beet sugar V’s cane sugar for decorating cakes will help you choose the right sugar for your cake decorating tasks in the future.
If you have any questions or some information you would like to share, please put them in the comments box below as I would love to hear from you.
I wish you successful flower making, cake making, and decorating.