Baking Booster: Dark Muscovado Sugar
Picasso had his blue period, Hugh Hefner had his blonde period. I am currently in my dark muscovado sugar period.
That sentence made a lot more sense in my head before I typed it.
At any rate, I've been playing with this heady, dark, mysterious sugar a whole lot over the past few months, and I'm smitten, friends. When I want Real Big Dark Brown Sugar Flavor, all smoke and molasses and sticky sweetness, I reach for dark muscovado, and since we're heading into serious baking season and lots of sweets with big bold flavors like gingerbread and pumpkin pie and decadent dark chocolate somethings, I've got to urge you--nay, implore you--to find some and give it a shot. It's basically dark brown sugar on steroids! Magical. Let's talk about it.
So we've already know that regular dark brown sugar is really just white sugar with molasses added back in, right? Well, unlike regular dark brown sugar, dark muscovado is a much more natural and unrefined sugar. With dark muscovado, the molasses has never been removed and the sugar is minimally processed, so you get a little nutrient boost in addition to it's spectacular flavor and dynamite color. (There's also light muscovado sugar to consider, which is a little less hard core in its molasses-ness, but still delicious--I'd put it somewhere between regular dark brown sugar and dark muscovado in terms of its boldness.)
Anywhere you might use dark brown sugar, dark muscovado can give you a whole lot more oomph. Baked goods, fall stews, marinades, sauces. But in sweet treats, the difference made by dark muscovado really shines--the bonus molasses punch gives added complexity and an almost savory quality to sweets, which is especially wonderful in recipes that have other bold flavors or spices involved, or walk that sweet and salty line--the kryptonite of many. If there's such a thing as sugar being sexy, dark muscovado would have its own racy calendar. It's that good.
Because it's all unrefined and rough around the edges, you may need to work with it a bit depending on the brand you get--it may have some harder, dark lumps in it that need to be massaged out or run through a food processor (you can see a few of these lumps in the photo above), or you may need to store it overnight covered with a damp cloth or shove half an apple in the jar for a bit if a batch is on the dry side--but the extra TLC is worth it for the flavor payoff, I promise.
Outside the U.S., dark muscovado isn't so exotic--like in the UK, it's a pantry staple, and our plain old dark brown sugar is the sweetener that can be tough to procure. So if you're reading this from some fabulous far-flung locale, tracking down dark muscovado ain't no thing. For those of us who are not so lucky to find dark muscovado sugar as a common ingredient in markets, we need to do a little detective work. I get mine from natural foods stores or online, where you can often find the best deals. My current dark muscovado love affair has me running through these jars from India Tree and these smaller boxes from Billington's at an alarming rate. This sugar is definitely more spendy than your standard issue brown sugar, but consider it a specialty product and use it in recipes where it can really shine.
Here's a few recipes from the archives that would definitely benefit from swapping in dark muscovado for the sugar listed in the recipe (I'll have a dreamy dark muscovado-specific recipe up soon!):
Best Cocoa Brownies (I'd do half white sugar, half dark muscovado here) Coffee-Caramel Glazed Baby Cakes (use muscovado in the glaze!) Dorie's Double Apple Bundt Cake (I'd try swapping in muscovado for white sugar, and reduce the apple butter by about 1/4 cup or so) Classic Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing