All confusion about the raw sugars (demerara, turbinado, muscovado, and sucanat) is resolved here, with the following detailed information and outstanding receipt.
In the mid-1990’s, I got this chocolate scone recipe from Cindy Mushet’s highly appraised Baking with the American Harvest. I have adapted it by grinding my own flour, which is totally optional, as well as by adding some time-saving tips. 1
Ms. Mushet calls for sprinkling crystallized sugar, on top of the unbaked scones, after washing them with egg; I use demerara here. This is a form of large granule sugar that gets its name from the location in Guyana, on the northern mainland of South America, where it originated centuries ago. Today rather than Guyana, this form of cane sugar comes from a number of countries, such as Mexico and India; in the States it is produced in both Hawaii and Florida.
Demerara can be compared to turbinado, muscovado, and sucanat; these are all types of cane sugar, which are classified as raw, even though they do indeed require some processing. Of these, the first three were originally known as “factory” brown sugars; all are produced during the initial processing of cane juice into unrefined sugar. 2
Most sugar cane grew in colonies or developing countries. Sugar refining required expensive machinery to be produced; thus, its production came to be divided into two stages. The initial stage of the crystallization of raw, unrefined sugar took place in factories near the plantations in these poor countries. Industrial nations-the consumers-performed the expensive final stage, of refining this raw sugar product into white sugar. 3
The making of raw sugar requires two basic kinds of work: crushing the cane to collect the juice, then boiling off the juice’s water. Originally the crushing called for hard physical labor, which in the Caribbean was accomplished by slaves, and the boiling called for large amounts of heat; thus, deforestation occurred there. 4
Three 19th century innovations helped make the production of raw sugar a more affordable luxury. First, the application of steam power made this initial crushing process easier. The next step, heating, was aided by the vacuum pan, which boils the syrup at a reduced pressure and therefore at a lower, gentler temperature. Also, the multiple evaporator was added, which recycles the heat of one evaporation stage to heat the next. 5
From the Middle Ages until now, there was a clearing of many organic impurities; in the pre-industrial age, this was accomplished, at the beginning of the boiling stage, with the introduction of lime and a substance, such as egg white or animal blood. These substances would coagulate and trap the coarse impurities. Today, heat and lime only are generally used to coagulate and remove proteins and other impurities. 6
Then and now, with these boiling and clarification processes, dark brown syrup has resulted, to which seed crystals have then been introduced to bring about crystallization. The final step, in making these factory sugars, has been the drawing off the molasses from the crystals, which originally occurred slowly-merely by the force of gravity. For some time, refiners have used centrifuging-much like spinning lettuce-to quickly do this final step, producing raw sugar and the by-product of the first molasses. 7
Beginning in the 19th century until recently, this raw sugar has next been refined in refineries in industrial countries, where white sugar has been consumed. Now it is produced in such developing countries as Mexico and India.
Today, the making of refined sugar starts with refined syrup being introduced, to wash the raw sugar. Next, hot water dissolves it; then, a carbon absorbent clarifies and decolorizes it. Evaporation and crystallization follow, with centrifuging being the final stage, producing white sugar, with the bi-product of cane syrups. This last crystallization process is carefully controlled, giving individual sugar crystals a uniform size, with an astonishingly pure content of 99.85% sucrose-our white sugar. 8
As opposed to white sugar, “brown sugars” are sucrose crystals coated with a layer of dark syrup, from one stage or the other of sugar refining. This provides them with a more complex flavor than white sugar.
There are several types of brown sugar. The first type is factory brown sugars-produced during the initial processing of the cane juice into unrefined raw sugar, as defined above; the second is refinery brown sugars, or sugars produced at the refinery using this raw sugar as the starting material, not cane juice. There are also what might be referred to as whole sugars, crystalline sugar still enveloped in the cooked cane juice from which it is formed (such as Indian jaggery or gur and Latin American piloncillo, papelon, or panela).
Factory brown sugars originally got their name, because of their production in factories near the plantations in cane-producing, tropical countries. The first, demerara, then and now, has been a partially refined, large, somewhat sticky, yellow-gold grain, produced from the first crystallization stage of light cane juice into raw sugar. It has a delicate, caramel-like, toffee flavor that augments certain baked goods (it is especially good for sprinkling on top of them). 9
The second, turbinado, has been raw sugar partly washed of its molasses coat during the centrifugation, resulting in large golden crystals that are not as sticky as those of demerara. Though more refined than demerara, turbinado is less refined than what we now call brown sugar (refinery brown sugar), which is generally white sugar with molasses added back into it. 10
The artisanal muscovado, appearing to be very dark form of our refinery brown sugar, actually has been the product of the final crystallization from the dark mother liquor, or first molasses, in the making of raw sugar. It was and is an unrefined cane sugar in which all the molasses is not removed, like it is with what we call our regular brown sugar. 11
This muscovado sugar, however, is more refined than demerara and turbinado, with a small-grained, wet, sticky texture that has a sweet impression at first that dissolves into a rich, floral, bittersweet note, leaving a slightly smoky aftertaste. Most of the muscavodo sugars, of which there is both light and dark, come from Mauritius, a republic made up of islands off the southeast coast of Africa. 12
On the other hand, sucanat, which stands for “sugar cane natural”, is the most unrefined of the raw cane sugars; it is merely evaporated cane juice, which has been hand–paddled; this cools and dries the dark syrup, which is obtained by heating the extracted cane juice in a large vat. It is a much finer grain than the demerara and turbinado crystals, and it is the healthiest of all the cane sugars, with an intense, dark, rich flavor, which is ideal in spicy baked goods. 13
With their minimal processing, all these raw sugars retain some minerals and vitamins, making them somewhat healthier than refined white sugar. They, however, contain large amounts of sucrose, which is a composite molecule made up of one molecule each of glucose and fructose; thus, they should be eaten cautiously, as they may contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, among other health issues. 14
How we treasure comfort foods, of which these scones are one of the best. Our words, much like food, can comfort. We are instructed to comfort those with the comfort which we have received; these opportunities delight our souls.
We are only equipped to do such, as we learn our lessons in life’s trials. Slowing down in the midst of these storms allows for this equipping to best be established.
Webster’s describes establish, as to order, ordain, enact (a law, etc.) permanently. Reading recipes isn’t required once our “muscles” have kinetically learned all the required movements, through multiple times of preparation.
Much like baking, establishing life’s lessons-and the laws they represent-is a process; we are perfected (matured) through practice, as we repeatedly go over the given steps, until the means for victory is indeed fixed in us. By necessity, such progression requires patience, just like following a receipt, but once achieved we can share words of comfort with those in need around us.
I recently made a batch of these scones, with the following recipe, which I completed with clotted cream (I purchased a jar of imported Somerdale Devon Double Cream, from World Market). Being unaware, my plans to take them to my regular prayer meeting, however, were thwarted, for it was the fourth of July, and prayer had been cancelled. Quickly I decided to bless various neighbors with this treat, which brought great joy (and comfort) to all.
- Cindy Mushet, Baking with the American Harvest, 5 volumes (Santa Monica, CA: Cindy Mushet, 1993-1996) Vol. 4, #1, p. 12.
- Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 674.
- Ibid., p. 673.
- Ibid., p. 671.
- Ibid., pp. 670-672.
- Ibid., pp. 671, 672.
- Ibid., pp. 672, 674.
Chocolate Scones Yields: 8 scones. Adapted from Cindy Mushet’s Baking with the American Harvest, Vol. 4, # 1, Spring, 1996. Total prep time: 1 hour (only if grinding flour fresh, an additional 3/4 hr resting time is needed)/ active prep time: 40 min/ baking time: 20 min.
Note: best served with clotted cream, though butter and jam are also good; an imported Somerdale Devon Double Cream is available at World Market.
1 2/3 c unbleached white flour (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached flour is ideal, or may grind 1 1/3 c organic soft winter wheat berries; this makes 2 c whole wheat pastry flour, with which 1/3 c flour must be removed after grinding-set this aside for flouring board.)
1/3 c cane sugar or coconut sugar (Coconut sugar is healthier, with a lower glycemic index-for details see Zucchini Bread, 2017/07/24.)
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder (Trader Joe’s carries a brand of high quality, reasonably priced.)
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 stick (4 oz) cold unsalted butter
3/4 c heavy cream
1 lg egg, lightly beaten
Demerara sugar, or crystallized sugar (Demerara sugar is available inexpensively in bulk at our local Winco.)
If grinding flour fresh, do so now; see photo.
- Preheat oven to 425 F (if grinding your own flour, wait to preheat oven). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- In a sealed storage bag, shake together: flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.
Easily cut cold butter into small pieces, by cutting stick in fourths length-wise; keeping cube in tact, rotate this stick and cut in fourths again; then, shave small pieces off end. See photo below.
- Place butter in bowl with flour. Using a pastry cutter, or two forks, blend until mixture is like a coarse corn meal, and flour is incorporated. See photo below.
- Add cream and stir just until dough forms what Ms. Mushet calls “shaggy clumps”; flour will be barely incorporated. See photo at bottom.
Place this loosely formed mixture on a lightly floured board and knead several times, until dough is formed. Do not over knead. ONLY IF FRESHLY GROUND FLOUR IS BEING USED, place dough back in bowl, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 45 minutes. (Freshly ground flour is a coarser grind, which doesn’t absorb the moisture as readily as the store-bought white flour; thus, this resting time is required.)
- Pat out into a 7” round; cut into eighths. Holding individual scones in hand, brush top and sides of each with egg wash and sprinkle top with crystallized sugar. Place on parchment-covered pan (see photo at top of recipe).
Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until edges are firm, but center is soft to the touch. As you press on the edges, there will be a yielding, due to its high concentration of hot fat; scones, however, firm up as they cool. Note: if using freshly ground flour, 18-20 minutes will be required for baking.
- Cool on wax paper at least 10 minutes before serving. Ideally served with clotted cream, but butter and a good jam are also great.