How do you know when you're losing your grip?
You find five -- five -- bottles of vinegar in the pantry. Five bottles identical in size, shape and color. You can't remember the last time you used vinegar for anything except pickles, yet you keep buying more.
At the same time, you find none -- zero, zip, nada -- of your favorite chili paste with garlic.
And then you find demerara sugar.
You have no idea when this sugar arrived, or by what mode of transport, yet it looks quite at home, having graduated from temporary housing (bag or box) to permanent accommodation (recycled grated cheese jar... hmmmm, where did that come from? You really are losing your grip.).
You just have one question. Well, two questions:
What is it, and what can I do with it?
Demerara sugar is an unrefined, large-crystal brown sugar, extracted from sugar cane rather than sugar beets. Named after a colony in Guyana, which first began producing and selling the sugar in large volume, most demerara sugar now comes from Mauritius, where it is made by pressing the sugar cane, and then steaming the juice of the first pressing to form thick cane syrup. The cane syrup is allowed to dehydrate, leaving behind large golden brown crystals of sugar.
The sugar has a rich molasses-like flavor which enhances baked goods. And, like a sweet counterpart to sea salt, the large crystals also remain crunchy, which makes this sugar a good choice for sprinkling, topping and coating.
Demerara adds texture and a creamy sweetness to banana-coconut bread, citrus sables, peach cobbler, ginger-pecan biscotti, rhubarb crumble cake, and apple-buttermilk scones.
If you spy some demerara sugar in your pantry, don't be surprised to find turbinado and muscovado, too. All three of these unrefined "specialty" sugars, once available only at gourmet and baking supply stores, are now easy to find in supermarkets everywhere, including the one in my small town in Rhode Island.
Cherry pistachio cookies
My friend Cindy Salvato, an executive pastry chef, shared this recipe for cookies that have all the colors of the Italian flag. Makes 6 dozen.
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg, separated
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup shelled pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
1 8-oz container glazed red cherries
In a large bowl of an electric mixture, cream together the butter, sugar and salt. Beat in the egg yolk; mix well. Cover and refrigerate the egg white for finishing the cookies. Add the flour and nuts; blend on low speed until just combined. Remove from the mixer and with a strong spoon, or your hands, mix in the cherries. Divide the dough in half and roll each piece into a log about 10-inches long; wrap in plastic and chill over night.
To finish the cookies:
1/3 cup demerara sugar
Adjust the oven rack to the center shelf and preheat to 350°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with a Silpat; set aside. Pour the sugar onto a piece of wax paper or aluminum foil. Lightly brush the egg white over the surface of the log; press and roll the log into the coarse sugar; transfer to a cutting board. Using a sharp knife slice the log in 1/2-inch slices; transfer to the cookie sheet and bake 12-15 minutes. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container or freeze.
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