[Sca-cooks] Sugar sponge

Terry Decker t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net
Fri Aug 3 18:52:20 PDT 2007

> I found this on internet as my books have given me no clue as to grades
> of processed sugar in the Middle Ages:

I believe that you will find the Medieval and Rennaisance grades of sugar 
are related to the quality of processing at the location the sugar was 
produced.  For example, Cyprian sugar was considered superior to Barbary 
Sugar.  Since it was was shipped and sold in loafs, modern classifications 
don't really apply.

> Loafsugar: We buy our sugar mostly granulated or powdered, but in the past 
> sugar was sold as cone-shaped loafsugar. Before using it, the sugar had to 
> be grated on special graters. Before 1600 all sugar was cane sugar. I 
> don't know whether it is the same everywhere else, but in the Netherlands 
> cane sugar is always light brown, either from added molasses, or from not 
> being 100% refined. Refined cane sugar is as white as refined beet sugar. 
> Unrefined brown sugar may contain small traces of minerals and such, but 
> nothing you don't get by consuming your ordinary daily food. However, 
> there is a slight difference in flavour, brown sugar has more taste.

Before 1747, all sugar was cane sugar.  Andreas Sigismund Marggraf produced 
beet and carrot sugar experimentally.  Achard developed the commercial 
process at the end of the 18th Century and the first commercial beet sugar 
plant opened in 1801.

> The loafsugars on medieval miniatures are white, not brown. The cane sugar 
> was as refined as possible. If you want to prepare medieval recipes the 
> authentic way, you'll have to use white, refined cane sugar. If you can't 
> get that, you'll have to choose: either use unrefined cane sugar which has 
> a slightly different flavour and can end up colouring the prepared dish in 
> an unintended way, or use refined beet sugar which has the same flavour 
> and colour as refined cane sugar, but is actually an anachronism.
> Yeah, more or less, tongue in cheek -. I think sugar grades were due to 
> more or less boilings in the Middle Ages. Why are we going to take out the 
> molasses and then put it back in? I priced sugars the other day in the 
> supermarket. Brown sugar is as in medieval times is cheaper than 
> granulated. So why is not more expensive if the molasses is removed and 
> then added again. Should it not be the other way around?
> Things are starting to fit in as per my thinking although unsubstantiated 
> to date: dark brown, light brown, granulated, castor. Now we have to fit 
> in the Spanish "red". Would that be integral? And "pink", would that be 
> light brown or caramelized? Is integral or dark brown the result of one 
> boiling? Would pink be the result of three boilings in medieval terms? I 
> can't find anything to confirm my ideas.
> Ah Doc you asked a while back why do I not try using honey instead of 
> sugar. I do in various recipes as I cover Castile from 1300 until 1474 and 
> Aragon only in cooking (I include Nola as I think the text was written by 
> then) and have tried using honey in cheese cake. It resulted in such a 
> goo-ie mess I would not eat it much less The Family and believe me my 
> cheese cakes are one thing I can brag about. But I tell you with brown 
> sugar they create family fights over the last morsel to the point that now 
> I have to make two every time, one for mother-in-law and the other for the 
> rest of the family!
> Suey

The traditional method of sugar processing was to crush the cane and extract 
the cane syrup then boil it with water, lime, and albumen (from blood or 
eggs) to clarify the the juice and crystalize the sucrose.  This would 
produce a molasses-heavy (black) sugar.  The sugar is put in a conical clay 
mold where gravity and moisture are used to wash the sugar crystals.  The 
sugar remaining in the mold is dissolved, filtered (to remove molasses 
residue) and allowed to recrystalize into (more or less) refined sugar.  The 
process is repeated a second time with the molasses from the first boil. 
Then the remaining molasses is processed a third time producing refined 
sugar and blackstrap molasses.

Modern processing replaces the gravity molasses extraction with centrifugal 
extraction, uses carbon particles for cleaning and decolorization, and does 
not use albumen.

Brown sugar was cheaper than white sugar in medieval times because less 
labor was required to produce it.


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