Pearl sugar is a uniquely European ingredient and popular in a variety of scrumptious baked goods. Bakers on this side of the pond are catching on and delighting in their culinary exploits with sugar pearls. Few baking ingredients have the unique look, texture and taste of pearl sugar, sometimes known by its other names—nib sugar and hail sugar.
If you’ve experimented with pearl sugar, you’ve likely encountered the 2 main types—Belgian and Swedish. Though the two share a namesake, the use and outcome of a recipe varies considerably depending on which type of pearl sugar is used. Generally, the two are not interchangeable.
Belgian pearl sugar is comprised of densely-compacted sugar granules derived from sugarbeets. The Belgian variety is larger than the Swedish variety and resembles pearly white pebbles. The size of the Belgian pearl sugar is what lends itself to caramelized pockets crunch in Liege waffles and the ability to maintain its integrity at higher cooking temperatures.
Swedish pearl sugar or pärlsocker is comprised of small, hard sugar granules. This variety is used primarily to top and decorate pastries, cakes, breads and even candies. Because of Swedish pearl sugar’s minute size, cooking it in a dough or batter could lead the sugars to cook and disappear into the final product (lacking the full and addictive crunch of a larger pearl sugar such as the Belgian variety).
Both pearl sugars have their distinct uses. But remember—when a recipe calls for pearl sugar, be sure to confirm whether the Belgian or Swedish variety is needed and use accordingly. Especially in a recipe for true Belgian Liège waffles!
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