Working with Sugar

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Adding a sugar topping to traditional recipes may  seem a bit decadent, but there’s no denying that a little extra sugar can turn just about any meal into a sweet treat.

If the cost has discouraged you from adding some colored sugar sparkle to home-baked treats, here’s an easy and inexpensive way to add colored sugar to your cake and cookie decorating arsenal.

Mixing Complementary Colors

Yellow and purple, red and green, blue and orange — these are the primary colors with their “complements.” Mix the primary and complementary colored sugars together in equal parts, and the likely result will be an unattractive grey or a mildly pleasing brown. However, if you want to lower the saturation of a color (for example, turn a bright green into a sage green),  start by adding the primary color’s complement (for the green example, try adding red). Word of caution: a little complement goes a long way. Always start by adding the smallest amount possible.

Brightening Colors

While mixing complementary colors reduces saturation, placing them side-by-side brings out their best. So if yellow sugar flowers are looking a little dull, add a small violet center. Likewise, a bright orange car cake is even brighter and zippier with a touch of blue pin-striping. Try pairing greens with purples (red + blue) and reds with teal (green + blue) to get some of the brightening effect without getting the “looks a lot like Christmas” effect.

Too Dark

When coloring sugar (or frosting), you cannot make a “too dark” color lighter by adding more colors, even light colors. Unless you use white food coloring, the only way to lighten colored sugar is to add more sugar (this solution assumes the colored sugar hasn’t been allowed to dry out). Add sugar in measured amounts (1/8 cup, 1/4 cup) and keep track of how much sugar you use to achieve the perfect color so you’ll be able to duplicate it at another time.

Duplicating Colors

As you begin the process of coloring sugar, keep a tally sheet of the colors you’re adding (including amounts). When you arrive at the final color, the tally sheet will give you the precise “color recipe” to duplicate the color at a later time.

Type of Storage Bags Used

If you mix colored sugars in a plastic “zip” bag, avoid the “easy zip” style that has an actual zipper mechanism. While they’re convenient at first, the natural grittiness of sugar destroys the zipping mechanism fairly quickly. And unlike standard zip close bags, you cannot zip the more complex zipper bags back together manually — you have to replace the bags… or have a mess. And yes, I do speak from experience on this one.

Some recipes you might like:

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