Roses are red. Violets are blue. Sugar is... boring. But flavoured sugars? They add exciting yet delicate undertones to cookies, cakes, desserts and even your morning cup of coffee or tea. Whether you bake them right in or sprinkle them on top, these affordable luxuries are easy to whip up and make an impressive gift anyone will love.
While you can make flavoured sugars with any edible flower, citrus rind or sweet-friendly spice, Heidi Noble, author of the award-winning cookbook Menus from an Orchard Table (Whitecap 2007), says vanilla, cardamom and lavender work best.
Recipe for success
There are two ways to flavour sugar:
- Infusion: This method takes a couple of weeks, but leaves the sugar snowy white and perfect for sprinkling on sugar cookies. Vanilla pods and lavender work best with this method. Just mix white sugar with your ingredient of choice, seal and shake daily for two weeks.
- Pulverization: A mortar and pestle, food processor or spice grinder give immediate results and allow you to control the intensity. Just grind white sugar with the flavour of choice. How much to add? There are recommendations below, but it’s entirely up to personal taste. Noble says to start with a pinch and keep adding until the sugar appeals to you. “You can always add more,” she says, “but you can never take it back.”
Lock and load
Regardless of which flavour you choose, be sure to store your sugar in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Mason or swing-top canning jars are ideal. Stored properly, these sugars improve with age and will keep for years—although they probably won’t last that long.
Ideal as a finish for sugar cookies, vanilla sugar is also wonderful stirred into coffee or tea. Noble rolls chocolate truffles in it instead of cocoa when she wants a bit of crunch. She even uses it in the ginger pound cake she sends to her mother each Mother’s Day.
- To make: Cut a vanilla pod in half lengthwise. Vanilla pods can be found at grocery stores and specialty shops. Embed the split pod in one cup of white sugar. Seal tightly and shake daily for two weeks. For immediate results, pulverize. The resulting sugar will be beige, but rich.
Love that lavender
Lavender gives a lovely floral taste to sugar cookies, white cakes, shortbreads, petits fours and other desserts. If you’ve tried lavender before and not liked it, you’ve probably had something made with English lavender, which is quite potent and can have a medicinal, almost eucalyptus-like taste. Noble recommends the Provence hybrid as it’s very mild and sweet. You can grow your own or buy it a specialty cooking stores. Culinary and pink lavender are sweeter and gentler.
- To make: Use 1/3 cup culinary lavender to 2/3 cup white sugar. If you want whole lavender buds to pretty up cookies, let them infuse. If you just want the flavour, pulverize.
Crazy for cardamom
This is Noble’s personal pick. “I keep it around my house all the time,” she says. A confessed cardamom addict, Noble puts cardamom sugar in her coffee and rolls sugar cookies and chocolate truffles in it to give dessert a distinct Middle Eastern flavour.
- To make: Split one tablespoon of cardamom pods by pressing them with the flat of a knife and remove the seeds. Pulverize the seeds with one cup of white sugar.
Charmian Christie is an avid gardener and home cook. When she's not digging in the dirt, she's charting her culinary adventures at her blog, Christie's Corner.