Two Methods:Simple SyrupVariationsCommunity Q&A
A basic sugar syrup is about as simple as it gets: combine sugar and water, heat, and stir until dissolves. For cooks that enjoy experimentation, there are plenty of tips for avoiding sugar crystals, extending shelf life, or adding other flavors. Either way, you’ll end up with a great sweetener for cocktails, coffee, or candied fruit.
1 part water
1–2 parts sugar
Extra water (to sterilize container)
Spoonful vodka (optional — to extend shelf life)
Method 1 Simple Syrup
- Choose your sugar.
White, granulated sugar is the default for simple syrup, but you do have other options. Superfine sugar reduces the risk of crystallization. A raw brown sugar such as turbinado or demerara creates a brown, molasses-flavored syrup good for rum or bourbon cocktails.
- Do not use confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar). This usually contains cornstarch, which does not dissolve in water. The syrup will be cloudy or grainy.
- Measure water and sugar.
Measure the sugar and water and combine in a saucepan. Use an equal amount of both ingredients for a basic syrup. For a more concentrated syrup, use up to twice as much sugar as water.
- A more concentrated syrup has a higher risk of crystallizing back into solids, but will last longer in the fridge. Some bartenders prefer a concentrated syrup because it can sweeten a cocktail without adding too much water.
- For greater accuracy, measure ingredients by weight on a kitchen scale. Using volume measurements (cups or milliliters) won’t cause major issue, but you’ll end up with about ⅞ the amount of sugar.
- Heat and stir.
Turn on the heat under your sugar-water mixture. Stir until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. The sugar usually dissolves within a few minutes, but a large batch may take longer.
- Do not let the mixture boil. If you lose too much water, the sugar may not be able to dissolve.
- For very concentrated syrups (at least a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water), stir the last bits of water gently. Too much stirring when the maximum amount of sugar has dissolved can cause crystals to reform.
- Wash sugar off the side.
A single grain of sugar left in the syrup can create a large mass of solid crystals. If you see any sugar left on the side of the pot, brush it down to the syrup using a wet pastry brush. Alternatively, just put the lid on the pot for a few minutes, and the condensed water should run down the sides and clean them.
- Because the lid traps most of the water vapor, it’s all right if the syrup boils for a short time while the lid is on. To be safe, stick with a brief simmer.
- Set aside the syrup to cool.
it will be ready to store once it reaches room temperature.
- If the sugar crystallizes when it cools, either too much water boiled away, or not all the sugar dissolved. Add a little water and heat it up again.
- Sterilize a container.
Bring a small, separate pot of water to a boil. Once boiled, pour directly into a clean jar or bottle. Pour boiling water over the lid of the container as well.
Sterilizing the container will reduce the chance that your syrup re-crystallizes, and prolong shelf life.
- Unless using immediately, store in a clear container so you can watch for signs of mold.
- Store the syrup.
Dump the hot water out of the container, and immediately pour in the room temperature syrup. Fasten the lid and store in the refrigerator.
- A 1:1 syrup stays good for about one month.
- A 2:1 syrup stays good for about six months.
- To keep your syrup useful for much longer, stir in a spoonful of high-proof vodka.
Method 2 Variations
- Make syrup without heat.
Sugar will dissolve in room temperature water, if you shake it hard enough. Because there’s no heat to sterilize the syrup, this version will only last about two weeks. As far as taste goes, bartenders have lined up on both sides of the hot-cold debate. Give it a whirl and decide for yourself:
- Combine equal parts sugar and water in a sealed container. (Using superfine sugar may shorten the shaking time.)
- Shake for three minutes, then let rest for one minute.
- Shake for another 30 seconds, or until all sugar is dissolved.
- Infuse with flavor.
Simmer the syrup with herbs or spices for about 30–45 minutes to extract flavors.
Try cinnamon and nutmeg syrup for winter holiday desserts, or basil syrup for sophisticated cocktails.
- If using herbs, remove them as soon as they turn brown. Strain out leaves once the syrup is done.
- The addition of other ingredients may shorten the shelf life. Stir a spoonful of vodka into the cooled syrup to prevent mold.
- Create syrup du gomme.
Adding gum arabic to the syrup creates a silky texture, and lowers the chance of crystallization. This old-fashioned recipe is making a small comeback due to the appealing texture it lends to cocktails:
- Bring water nearly to a boil. Slowly mix in an equal amount gum arabic, by weight. Stir until gluey and mostly combined.
- Let sit for two to three hours, off the heat. Stir again to work in lumps.
- Start making sugar syrup, as above. Use twice as much water as you did for the gum arabic.
- Once sugar is dissolved, reduce to a simmer. Stir in gum arabic mixture slowly, while stirring.
- Let cool, then skim off and discard scum from the top of the syrup.
- Caramelize the syrup.
Add this dark caramel flavor to whiskey cocktails or a bittersweet chocolate cake. Wear gloves and stand back from the pan, as molten sugar can cause severe burns. Try it out as follows:
- Heat the sugar (alone) in a stainless steel saucepan, stirring once every 30 seconds.
- For caramel syrup: Add water as soon as the sugar melts. This will cause spattering and steaming, so stand back as you pour. Stir rapidly and constantly until syrup forms.
- For burnt caramel syrup: Turn on stove ventilation or open windows — there will likely be smoke. Wait until sugar forms thick bubbles, than (in another 15 seconds or so) turns dark. Add water and stir carefully. It may take a while for the solid sugar to dissolve.
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- If your syrup crystallizes in storage, warm it to dissolve the sugar again.
- As another safeguard against crystallization, stir in a small amount of glucose or corn syrup. This shouldn’t be necessary unless you have a very concentrated syrup.
- Compared to the sugar and water you started with, you’ll end up with about ¾ the amount of syrup by volume.
- Indian recipes often use the “thread” system to measure different thicknesses of syrup. To test the hot syrup, lift some out with a spatula and let cool for a few second. Pinch between two fingers and pull apart gently. The number of intact “threads” of syrup between your fingers matches the description in the recipe.
- Don’t leave the mixture unattended, or it may burn.
- Hot syrup will burn and harden if it comes in contact with skin. Take care to avoid being splashed.
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Discover the many roles that sugar plays in baking and learn about different kinds of sweeteners.
Photo by Meredith
Sugar performs many important roles in baking. It provides moisture and tenderness, liquefies as it bakes, increases the shelf-life of finished products, caramelizes at high temperatures, and, of course, adds sweetness. Refined sugar helps cookies spread during baking, allowing their crisp texture. Because of these critical functions, bakers can’t simply replace sugar with a different sweetener. However, in many recipes, you can decrease the amount of sugar by one third without affecting the quality of the product.
Sugar is Sugar
All refined sugars–brown sugar, white sugar, and “raw” sugars such as demerara or turbinado–are equal from a nutritive standpoint. Brown sugars simply contain a higher molasses content. Refined sugar is 99 percent pure sucrose, a simple carbohydrate.
Other sugars, such as honey, taste sweeter on the tongue than granulated sugar. You can therefore use less honey to sweeten a batch of muffins than you would sugar. Maple syrup tastes less sweet than sugar, but its unique flavor is prized in baked goods and desserts.
Honey is 25 to 50% sweeter than sugar, and has a distinctive flavor. The flavors and colors of honey can vary depending upon the bees’ diet–buckwheat honey, for example, is darker and stronger than clover honey. Baked goods made with honey are moist and dense, and tend to brown faster than those made with granulated sugar.
Photo by Meredith
Use ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon honey in place of 1 cup sugar, and reduce the other liquid ingredients by 2 tablespoons. Unless the recipe includes sour cream or buttermilk, add a pinch of baking soda to neutralize the acidity.
- Oatmeal Raisin Cookies IV
- Easy Baklava
- Sweet Cornbread Cake
Maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees. The sap is boiled down into a sweet, delectable syrup. Grade A maple syrup is golden brown and has a delicate flavor. Grade B is thicker, darker, and is better for baking because it has a stronger flavor–and it costs less.
Although maple syrup is only 60% as sweet as sugar, use ¾ cup for every cup of white sugar and decrease the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons to compensate for its liquid state.
- Maple Pecan Shortbread Squares
- Unbeatable Pecan Pie
- Maple Apple Crisp
Molasses is a byproduct of refined sugar production. It contains small amounts of B vitamins, calcium, and iron. Molasses imparts a dark color and strong flavor to baked foods, but is not as sweet as sugar.
When substituting molasses for sugar, use 1 1/3 cups molasses for 1 cup sugar, and reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 5 tablespoons. Molasses is also more acidic than sugar; add ½ teaspoon baking soda for each cup of molasses used. Replace no more than half the sugar called for in a recipe with molasses.
- Big Soft Ginger Cookies
- Applesauce Cake III
- Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Glaze
Corn syrup is known as an “invert sugar;” it is useful in cooking and candy-making because, unlike other sugars, it does not crystallize. Corn syrup is less sweet than sugar, and does not add flavor like molasses or honey. “Golden Syrup,” common in the United Kingdom, is a refinery syrup made from sugar. It is used in place of corn syrup. Some cooks believe sugar syrups have a livelier flavor than corn syrups and add more character to dishes such as pecan pie.
- Mom’s Best Peanut Brittle
- Chocolate Chip Crispies
- Chocolate Scotcheroos
Other Natural Sweeteners
Refined fructose is sweeter than granulated sugar. It can be easily substituted in baking recipes–simply add one-third less. Some tasters find that, although products made with fructose taste sweet, they also taste a little flat. Fructose attracts more water than sucrose, so fructose-sweetened products tend to be moist. Baked products made with fructose will be darker than if they were made with white sugar. Fructose is available in health-food stores.
Brown rice malt syrup consists of maltose, glucose and complex carbohydrates. It is an amber-hued syrup resembling honey, but it is not as sweet as honey. It can be substituted cup per cup for granulated sugar, but the liquid ingredients should be reduced by ¼ cup per cup of rice syrup. Enzyme-treated syrup, as opposed to malted syrup, will tend to liquefy the batter of a baked product. Use the malted syrup for best results.
Fruit juice concentrates, such as apple juice concentrate, orange juice concentrate, or white grape juice concentrate, are wonderful substitutes for sugar and add interesting flavors as well. Juice concentrates are made up of fructose and glucose. Use ¾ cup for every cup of white sugar, and decrease the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons.
Stevia is a naturally sweet herb that has been used for hundreds of years in South America. Since neither the herb nor its powdered form has been approved as a food additive by the FDA, it is available only as a dietary supplement.
These sweeteners have been approved by the FDA and are available for home use. While they provide a sweet taste, artificial sweeteners lack the browning, tenderizing and moisture-retaining properties of granulated sugar. Sucralose is the one sweetener than can be substituted cup-for-cup for granulated sugar in baking.
Photo by Meredith
Saccharine is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar. It can be used in baked goods. However, the manufacturer recommends substituting it for only half of the sugar in a recipe. Substitute 6 (1-gram) packets for each ¼ cup sugar. It is sold under the brand name Sweet and Low®.
Aspartame is 160 to 220 times sweeter than granulated sugar. This sweetener is heat-sensitive: it loses its sweetening power when heated, and cannot be used for cookies or cakes. The manufacturer does recommend trying it in no-bake pies and in puddings after they have been removed from the heat. Substitute 6 (1-gram) packets for each ¼ cup of sugar. It is sold under the brand names Equal® and NutraSweet®.
Acesulfame potassium is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is heat-stable, so it can be used in baking and cooking. Use acesulfame K in combination with granulated sugar when baking. Substitute 6 (1-gram) packets for each ¼ cup sugar. It is sold under the brand names Sunette® and Sweet One®.
Sucralose is made from sugar, but is not metabolized by the body like sugar. It is 600 times sweeter than granulated sugar. Granular sucralose is the form used when baking. Substitute 1 cup granular sucralose for each cup of sugar called for in the recipe. Recipes made with this product tend to bake faster than usual, so check for doneness sooner than the recipe specifies. It is sold under the brand name Splenda®.
Explore our collection of Sugar-Free Recipes.
Get more cooking tips and awesome food finds.
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Baking without sugar
The war against highly-refined sugar has been going on for quite some time. We all know it’s not good for us. So what are the choices for bakers looking for a healthier sugar replacement? For many of us, it’s the return to natural sweeteners long forgotten: whole or dried fruits; maple, rice and barley syrups; as well as agave nectar and stevia.
Here in Canada, the best choice for eating local and natural is pure maple syrup. Loaded with potassium and calcium, maple syrup is good for all baking, but since it imparts a strong maple flavour it works best with simpatico flavours like pumpkin, apple, vanilla, sweet potato and cornmeal. If you are substituting maple syrup for cane sugar, you will have to adjust the amount of liquid or add more bulk for structure. I typically use about 2/3 cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of cane sugar called for in the recipe, and decrease another liquid by 3 tablespoons. Maple sugar is the dehydrated form of maple syrup and can be substituted 1 for 1 with cane sugar.
Brown rice syrup, made from fermented, sprouted brown rice, is a thick, amber-coloured syrup that is subtly sweet like butterscotch. It is best used in cookies, crisps, granola, pie fillings and puddings, or in combination with another sweetener like maple syrup in cakes and muffins. I typically substitute 1 cup of brown rice syrup for every 1 cup of cane sugar and reduce another liquid ingredient by 1/4 cup.
Barley malt syrup, made from fermented barley, is a thick, dark brown syrup with a strong, distinctive flavour much like molasses. It is less sweet than cane sugar but has a strong flavour, so I use it sparingly and often in combination with another sweetener.
Agave nectar hails from the juice of an agave cactus and is native to Mexico. It is sweet like honey and has a low glycemic impact on blood sugar levels. Raw organic agave is the least refined type of agave and is often used in raw dessert-making. There are differing opinions on the manufacturing process of raw agave and whether or not it is good for us, but I’m not going to get into that here. Since agave nectar is sweeter than cane sugar, I typically use 1/2 to 2/3 cup for every 1 cup of cane sugar called for in the recipe, and decrease another liquid by 3 tablespoons.
Stevia is a zero-calorie, non-glycemic sweetener that is actually an herb from the Amazon rainforests, available in powdered or liquid form. Stevia imparts a sharply sweet taste much sweeter than cane sugar, and so a tiny amount goes a long way. It does not replace the bulk or structure of sugar in a recipe, so volume will be less. If used in baking to replace sugar, you may have to add an additional dry ingredient to obtain the right texture. I find stevia can be bitter and leave an unpleasant aftertaste in baked goods, so I hardly ever use it.
The healthiest sweetener by far are fresh or dried whole fruits, like dates and bananas. Pureed ripe bananas are very sweet and make baked goods not only naturally sweet, but moist as well. They may also substitute for eggs in vegan baking. You may have to adjust the recipe to accommodate the extra liquid or puree.
I have been experimenting with dried dates as a sweetener substitute for a while now. Date sugar is also available and made from finely ground dates. The benefit of this sweetener is that it contains all of the fruits, nutrients and minerals. It is also low on grams of sugar per tablespoon. Date sugar can be used as a direct replacement for sugar. It is quite sweet, but doesn’t impart an overly sugary taste to desserts.
A word of caution: even when choosing these natural, non-chemical sweeteners, do so sparingly as most of these choices still raise blood sugar levels. In excess, just like white sugar, they can cause imbalances in your body. Remember, moderation is the key!
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