We all know granulated from powdered, but what about sugar in its other glorious forms? We break it down.
Photo: Shutterstock/ Gayvoronskaya_Yana
When it comes to baking up our favorite treats, we often rely on everyday granulated sugar to give it that irresistible sweetness. Of course powdered sugar and brown sugar have their place in the kitchen too (hello, chocolate chip cookie recipes!), but what about those uncommon types of sugar that specialty recipes call for? What makes them different from their pantry essential cousins?
Well, let me break down the difference between the most used types of sugar so you can shop and bake with confidence. By the way, here’s how to cream butter and sugar the right way.
Photo: Shutterstock/suriya yapin
Let’s start with the very basics. Granulated sugar is the white sugar that you rely upon everyday for stirring into your coffee or mixing up a batch of shortbread. Made from sugarcane, this sugar is sometimes known as white, table or refined sugar.
Another pantry staple, powdered sugar is sometimes referred to as icing or confectioners’ sugar. This sugar is used frequently in glazes and frostings since it dissolves so easily. Powdered sugar is just very fine white sugar with a bit of added corn starch to prevent it from becoming cakey.
Photo: Shutterstock/Corinna Haselmayer
Somewhere between granulated and powdered is superfine sugar (sometimes called caster sugar). It has smaller granules than regular white sugar, but isn’t quite ground into fine powder. This sugar variety dissolves quickly making it perfect for meringues (you can get more meringue tips here). Superfine sugar is also a bar essential—the small granules dissolve faster than table sugar in cocktail, like this classic margarita.
Available in light and dark varieties, brown sugar is another pantry staple you can use morning, noon and night. Both these sugars are granulated sugar with an added touch of molasses. While dark brown sugar does have a bit more molasses than its lighter counterpart, both these sugars can be used interchangeably in recipes to add a subtle caramel or toffee flavor.
This coarse sugar has large granules that don’t readily dissolve when exposed to heat or moisture. Sanding sugar isn’t typically mixed into any recipe, rather it’s used for decoration (and you can find it in a wide array of colors).
Turbinado sugar is derived from sugar cane and is minimally processed. This variety has larger sugar crystals than it’s granulated counterparts and is also darker in color—it looks very similar to a light brown sugar. The difference here between turbinado and brown sugars is that molasses is not added. Instead, turbinado sugar retains a very (very!) light caramel flavor due to its light processing. In fact, turbinado sugar is a better substitute for white sugar than brown. Try it in this rustic blueberry tart.
Muscovado is a type of unrefined cane sugar. Sometimes called Barbados sugar, this variety is dark brown and packed with the sugar’s natural molasses. You can substitute muscovado for traditional brown sugar, but be aware that the granules are larger and the molasses flavor much stronger. With that stronger flavor, muscovado lends itself well to savory applications, like homemade barbecue sauces.
We eat grapefruit for breakfast and in winter fruit salads—why not for dessert? Here's a sweet-tart cake that's easy, delicious and one of a kind. Oh, and healthy, too! —Maiah Miller, Montclair, Vermont
A pleasingly moist cake, this treat is the one I requested that my mom make each year for my birthday. It's dotted with sweet carrots and a hint of cinnamon. The fluffy buttery frosting is scrumptious with chopped walnuts stirred in. One piece of this carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is never enough—it's better than all the other carrot cakes I've tried! —Kim Orr, West Grove, Pennsylvania
During the warm months, it's nice to have this fluffy, no-bake peanut butter pie that's a snap to make. Packed with flavor, this pie gets gobbled up even after a big meal! —Jesse & Anne Foust, Bluefield, West Virginia
Back where I grew up in Wisconsin, people have been baking this German treat for generations. We love it for breakfast or as a special dessert. It's no fuss to fix and impressive to serve. —Virginia Arndt, Sequim, Washington
We love the combination of classic fall fruits in this cake. I bake the apples on the bottom to keep them plump and moist, then flip the cake so they're on top. This is best served warm with vanilla ice cream, but we enjoy digging in any time of day. —Christina Yahraes, San Francisco, California
This tart was a hit at my friend's baby shower. It reminds me of a fruit salad that my mother used to make with cream cheese and whipped topping. Everyone loved the flaky crust, and the bright colors make it a pretty addition to any spread. —Laura McAllister, Morganton, North Carolina
Summer is peak season for Key limes—a must for this pie’s distinctive sweet-tart flavor. Unlike other Key lime pies, mine has a smooth marshmallow layer on top. This makes it stand out as a crowd favorite. —Judy Castranova, New Bern, North Carolina
Whip up a pan of these festive bars in just 20 minutes with staple ingredients and cherry pie filling. Between the easy preparation and the pretty colors, they're destined to become a holiday classic. —Jane Kamp, Grand Rapids, Michigan
I had never tried pistachios until I visited a friend who served me these cookies. I was in love! I made the recipe my own, and now my family can't get enough of them. —Lorraine Caland, Shuniah, Ontario
Fresh berries and cream pie—it’s a simple, classic combination just like Grandma used to make. My version gets you out of the kitchen and into your lounge chair quickly. Enjoy! —Gina Nistico, Taste of Home Food Editor
Delicious figs combined with maple, walnuts and creamy mascarpone make a decadent treat that's easy to enjoy at a backyard cookout. These unique hand pies always disappear quickly. —Renee Murby, Johnston, Rhode Island
I grew up on a farm and have had a lot of good recipes handed down to me. This is one of my favorite desserts to serve when guests come over or at family gatherings and church suppers. —Ruth Simon, Buffalo, New York
With its 10-minute prep time and lovely blend of mild eggnog flavor and spices, this is a dream dessert for a busy hostess! It’s a staple for Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, my grown kids request it whenever they come to visit. —Patti Leake, Columbia, Missouri
I like to bake this lovely three-layer lemon and orange cake instead of a more traditional pie for Thanksgiving. It has that tangy Florida citrus flavor and isn't any more difficult to make than a two-layer cake. —Norma Poole, Auburndale, Florida
When my boys were young, they couldn’t drink milk but they could have yogurt. This was a cake they could eat. And it’s one dessert that doesn’t taste overly sweet, which is always a nice change of pace. —Linda Leuer, Hamel, Minnesota
My pecan praline recipe is special to me for I received it from my mother, who was an excellent cook! I also am a Texas Aggie Mom and I use pecans from a South Texas Aggie grower that our Aggie Mom's club has purchased from for many years. The quality is outstanding and far better than you will find in any grocery store. —Carol Jones, Blue Ridge, Texas
Golden whirligigs with a tart lemon flavor float on a ruby raspberry sauce in this delectable dessert. I love serving it to guests. My children also like it made with blackberries. —Vicki Ayres, Wappingers Falls, New York
We created this ice cream cake to mimic the popular dessert in many Mexican restaurants without the deep frying. It’s a no-fuss treat that feeds a crowd, and it’s conveniently made ahead. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen
We always made cream puffs for special occasions when I was growing up in our family of seven. Sometimes we used a custard filling, but this version with whipped cream and peaches is the best. —Agnes Ward, Stratford, Ontario
When I’m planning party menus, I appreciate dessert recipes like this; you can make and freeze it up to two weeks before serving. A refreshing slice is welcome after a big meal.—Cassie Alexander, Muncie, Indiana
All my leftover bread ends (raisin bread is a favorite in this house) and buns go in the freezer. Then, when I've stashed away enough, I whip up a batch of this pudding. It's an all-occasion dish—I've made it for holidays, potlucks, picnics...for any occasion or no occasion! —Dawn Green, Hopkins, Michigan
When you're short on time but long for cheesecake, try this fruity dessert. Ricotta and cream cheeses give every bit as much flavor as cheesecake without the effort. Instead of making individual servings, you could layer the ingredients in a glass serving bowl. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen
Creamy pineapple pie is a light and refreshing dessert that's quick to make and impressive to serve. This is one of our favorite ways to complete a summer meal. —Sharon Bickett, Chester, South Carolina
This creamy cheesecake is a family tradition; I've even shipped it to my daughter as a special treat. Using frozen seasonal berries, it's an excellent dessert any time of year. —Jeanette Volker, Walton, Nebraska
Our state produces an abundance of lemons, and everyone is always looking for new ways to use them. This beautiful tart is my delicious solution to the excess-lemon problem! —Lois Kinneberg, Phoenix, Arizona
Cool summer pies are one of Mom's specialties. This version offers pineapple, maraschino cherries and walnuts that are folded into a fluffy filling. It's an easy yet tempting no-bake dessert. —Jennifer Mcquillan, Jacksonville, Florida
This angel dessert is a wonderful treat when fresh strawberries are readily available. Every time I make this pretty strawberry angel food cake, someone asks for the recipe. —Theresa Mathis, Tucker, Georgia
I usually make these bite-size orange cookies at Christmastime, when Florida citrus is plentiful, but they're delicious any time of year. Every time I sniff their wonderful aroma, I remember my grandmother, who shared the recipe. —Lori DiPietro, New Port Richey, Florida
An attractive dessert, this crisp is also a popular breakfast dish at our house, served with a glass of milk rather than topped with ice cream. Because it calls for lots of rhubarb, it's a great use for the bounty you harvest. —Rachael Vandendool, Barry's Bay, Ontario
Even those who don't care for fruitcake love this special holiday dessert. It's a fun way to dress up that old favorite, carrot cake. Try it—your friends and family will agree. —Ann Parden, Chunchula, Alabama
My husband and I love pie, but we can't eat a whole 9-inch pie by ourselves. So I make these easy tarts using rhubarb and raspberries picked at home. Sometimes I substitute apples, peaches or our garden blueberries for the rhubarb. —Naomi Olson Hamilton, Michigan
My son loves pear crisp, but one night I was making bread pudding. He asked if I could make both. I compromised by combining two desserts into this one dish. It's absolutely fantastic! —Kurt Wait, Redwood City, California
This was originally my daughter's recipe, and she or I will make it for one or more of our holiday get-togethers. It can be served as a fruit salad along with the meal or as a light dessert. It's particularly pretty in a cut-glass bowl on a buffet. —Ruth Bolduc, Conway, New Hampshire
My husband's grandmother made a variety of cookies every year for her grandkids at Christmastime. She would box them up and give each child his or her own box. This crisp, orange flavored cookie is one of my favorites from her collection.—Heather McKillip, Aurora, Illinois
With peanut butter in both the batter and frosting, plus chopped nuts sprinkled on top, these treats have triple the goodness. It's one of my favorite recipes for peanut bars. —Ren Reed, Tavares, Florida
On my quest to find birthday cake ice cream—my favorite flavor—I came up with these easy ice pops. Now, instead of going to the store whenever a craving hits, I just head to my freezer. —Dawn Lopez, Westerly, Rhode Island
This is a fresh, simple approach to making a company-worthy pie. The playful Cap’n Crunch cereal crust is fun to bite into, and it’s the perfect complement to a mixed berry no-bake filling. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen
We don't want to brag, but as far as vanilla ice cream recipes go, this one is the best. And with only four ingredients, it just might be the easiest, too. No ice cream maker? No problem. Just follow the directions below to learn how to make homemade ice cream by hand. It's the perfect base for our best ice cream sundae ideas, too. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen
I made this for a holiday dinner with my family. Everyone loved the cran-orange flavor and the sweet glaze drizzled on top. For a fun variation, include 2/3 cup flaked sweetened coconut when adding the orange juice to the batter, and sprinkle the finished cake with toasted coconut. —Patricia Harmon, Baden, Pennsylvania
This easy dish is a tradition in my family. It's as quick as a boxed cake mix but it's a healthier dessert choice. It's ideal in fall when it seems that everyone has a bag or two of fresh apples to give away! —Terri Wetzel, Roseburg, Oregon
Dotted with cranberries, orange zest and vanilla chips, these cookies are so colorful and fun to eat. They look lovely on a dessert tray and would be a great addition to your Christmas cookie lineup.
—Pat Habiger, Spearville, Kansas
The first time my husband and two daughters tried this dessert, they thought it was delicious. It has all of the spicy pumpkin goodness of the traditional pie without the fuss of a pastry crust. —Denise Goedeken, Platte Center, Nebraska
Mom's yummy cobbler is a truly wonderful finale to any meal. This family favorite is sweet and tart, chock-full of berries and rhubarb, and the thick crust is so easy to make. —Susan Emery, Everett, Washington
A cool, creamy version of the original, this delicious dessert is the perfect finish to a satisfying summer meal. Its crumbly topping and smooth apple filling are crowd-pleasers! Be prepared to serve seconds. —Sharon Bickett, Chester, South Carolina
I found this Kentucky butter cake recipe in an old cookbook I bought at a garage sale and couldn’t wait to try it. I knew it had been someone’s favorite because of the well-worn page. —Joan Gertz, Palmetto, Florida
These little cheesecakes make a fun dessert that's just right for cooks who don't have a lot of time for fussy recipes. Plus, you get to eat a whole mini cheesecake yourself! —Kay Keller, Morenci, Michigan
I like to keep some of this dough in the freezer at all times since it's so handy to slice, bake and serve at a moment's notice. These wholesome cookies are super with a cup of coffee - in fact, we occasionally grab a few for breakfast when we're in a hurry.
-Kathi Peters, Chilliwack, British Columbia
Once I tried these rich, gooey bars, I just had to have the recipe so I could make them for my family and friends. The shortbreadlike crust and the rhubarb and custard layers inspire people to find rhubarb that they can use to fix a batch for themselves. —Shari Roach, South Milwaukee, Wisconsin
My grandmother gave me my first cast iron skillet, and I've been cooking and baking with it ever since. Sometimes I add drained maraschino cherries to this banana skillet dessert and serve it with a ice cream. —Terri Merritts, Nashville, Tennessee
Made from our farm-fresh dairy products, this pie was a sensational creamy treat any time Mom served it. Her recipe is a real treasure, and I've never found one that tastes better! —Bernice Morris, Marshfield, Missouri
I received this recipe for baked apple dumplings with Mountain Dew from a friend of mine, then tweaked it to suit my family's tastes. The soda is definitely the secret ingredient in this rich apple dessert. —Chris Shields, Monrovia, Indiana
This treat is the perfect balance between tart and sweet, and the almonds in the crust are just wonderful. This is one of my husband’s favorite desserts. Enjoy! —Charis O'Connell, Mohnton, Pennsylvania
When it’s time to start the cookie-baking season, this recipe always kicks off the festivities. My mother-in-law first shared it with me, but it’s too good to keep to myself! You can tint the buttery gingerbread cookie icing a cheery pink or green and pipe it on with a decorating tip. —Ann Scherzer, Anacortes, Washington
Here’s a family-sized version of my grandma’s summertime dessert. I can still taste the sweet juicy berries piled over warm biscuits and topped with a huge dollop of fresh whipped cream. My father added even more indulgence to his serving by first buttering his biscuits. —Shirley Joan Helfenbein, Lapeer, Michigan
Acorn squash has been a favorite of mine since I was little and my mother baked it with sugar and cinnamon. This particular pie was something I improvised. We love pumpkin pie, but had fresh squash in excess. So I came up with this new variation! It's good to take to potlucks, to pie or cake walks at school, or to serve as a different dessert for Thanksgiving or Christmas. —Mary Kelly, Hopland, California
It's just not a party without these light and airy confections on my dessert platter. The recipe is versatile because you can replace the cherry gelatin with any flavor that suits your taste. —Crystal Ralph-Haughn, Bartlesville, Oklahoma
I love bringing something sweet to a potluck, but I don’t like spending all day in the kitchen. Saltine crust is amazing with a no-bake, tart-sweet strawberry lemonade filling. — Gina Nistico, Taste of Home Food Editor
Inspired by a favorite ice cream flavor, I created this make-ahead recipe to free up some time in the kitchen. You can also serve this as a custard if you choose to not caramelize the top. —Eleanor Froehlich, Rochester, Michigan
Want a quick treat that's delicious and easy to make? These tartlets will do the trick. You can serve them right away, but they're even better after chilling for about an hour in the refrigerator. —Ashley Eagon, Kettering, Ohio
These sweet pastries have Polish and Czech roots and can also be spelled "kolaches." They are usually filled with poppy seeds, nuts, jam or a mashed fruit mixture. The ice cream is a unique twist on traditional kolachkes, and it's simplest to use a square cookie cutter to cut the dough. —Diane Turner, Brunswick, Ohio
While everyone is enjoying a bountiful meal, this eye-catching tart can be baking to perfection in the oven. The pretty holiday dessert calls for very few ingredients, and it's a snap to assemble. —Jackie Zack, Riverside, Connecticut
Since our area has an annual blueberry festival, my daughters and I are always looking for amazing new recipes to enter in the cooking contest. These lovely bars won a blue ribbon one year. —Debbie Ayers, Baileyville, Maine
I take this dessert to work for Friday pick-me-ups. It's one of my favorite yellow cake bar recipes. I love to share them because they're so easy to eat, easy to make and easy on the wallet. —Amy Rose, Ballwin, Missouri
This is one of the best peach dump cake recipes in the world. It's sweet, tender cake with a beautifully crisp cobbler topping. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side, and dessert's golden. —Keri Sparks, Little Elm, Texas
This fabulous cake and caramel frosting are so tender, it melts in your mouth. It's been a family favorite since the '70s and it goes over really well at church potluck meals. —Anna Jean Allen, West Liberty, Kentucky
The wild blueberries on our property spark recipe ideas. When my daughter and I made this ice cream at a Girl Guide meeting, it was well received. Even today, our 10 children, 19 grandkids and 4 great-grandchildren think it tastes great. —Alma Mosher, Mohannes, New Brunswick
My mother, who is of Scottish heritage, passed this shortbread recipe, along with other favorite recipes, on to me. When I entered this treat at our local fair, it won a red ribbon. —Rose Mabee, Selkirk, Manitoba
I adapted a Bundt cake recipe to create this layer cake. Cranberries, walnuts and homemade frosting make it taste so delicious that you'd never guess it starts with a convenient cake mix. —Sandy Burkett, Galena, Ohio
This delightful lemon bar recipe is from my mother's file. I've been serving it for many years. They has a wonderful tangy flavor, and they're always a hit. The color and shape make them a nice addition to a platter of cookies. —Etta Soucy, Mesa, Arizona
Brown sugar gives these spritz cookies a lovely light caramel tint. This variation has a rich buttery shortbread taste and texture with a hint of orange flavor. They are a delightful addition to my holiday cookie tray.
-Sean Fleming, St. Charles, Illinois
We planted one too many zucchini plants a few summers ago and harvested a lot of zucchini that year. I was looking for ways to use them, and this delicious dessert is the result. —Nancy Morelli, Livonia, Michigan
Both the cookie and the frosting are spiked with lemon in these melt-in-your-mouth goodies. Your family won't be able to get enough of this lemon butter meltaway cookie recipe. —Mary Houchin, Lebanon, Illinois
Citrus trees grow abundantly in California, and I'm always looking for new recipes which use the fruit from the orange and lemon trees in my yard. This lemon pound cake is one of my favorites! My mother passed this recipe down to me. —Richard Killeaney, Spring Valley, California
I started making these treats after tasting a batch my friend whipped up. I immediately requested the drop cookie recipe and have been baking them by the dozens ever since. The icing is an ideal complement to the tart berries in the cookies. —Shirley Kidd, New London, Minnesota
Whenever I visit friends in Lutsen, Minnesota, I make sure to buy maple syrup there because I think it's even better than in Quebec. These delicious cookies can be decorated with sprinkles but they're just fine as is.—Lorraine Caland, Shuniah, Ontario
A friend and I often visit a local restaurant for pie and coffee. When they stopped carrying our favorite lemon supreme pie, I got busy in the kitchen and created this version, which we think tastes even better! The combination of the cream cheese and tart lemon is wonderful. —Jana Beckman, Wamego, Kansas
I bake cookies all year long, so my friends and family call me the "Cookie Lady"! Whenever I bake these for Christmas, I make three batches...one to keep at home for my husband and two to give as gifts. —Patricia Michalski, Oswego, New York
My grandmother occasionally brought over this wonderful cake warm from the oven. The spicy apple flavor combined with the sweet cream cheese frosting made this recipe one that we treasured. Even though I've lightened it up, it's still a family favorite. —Lauris Conrad, Turlock, California
I asked my grandmother for this recipe after trying these irresistible spice cupcakes at her home. I love their creamy caramel frosting. They're such a scrumptious dessert, you actually forget you're eating your vegetables, too! —Virginia Lapierre, Greensboro Bend, Vermont
A single batch of these ricotta cheese cookies is never enough. I usually make one to give away and two more to keep at home. The ricotta cheese makes the morsels extra moist. —Doris Marshall, Strasburg, Pennsylvania
I came up with this recipe after hearing a friend fondly recall his grandmother's rhubarb dumplings. My son especially likes rhubarb, and this old-fashioned dessert lets those special stalks star.
-Beverly Shebs, Pinehurst, North Carolina
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.