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Sugar!


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#1 Elizabeth_11

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Posted 31 October 2002 - 10:00 PM

OK, I am so frustrated right now! Today I purchased Domino dark brown sugar instead of my regular C&H dark brown sugar, as well as the C&H "Baker's" ultrafine sugar as opposed to my usual fine granulated. I was under the impression that, unless whipping or creaming the sugar with butter to create a leavening effect, using ultrafine is the better way to go. Well I set off to make a batch of brownies and I first noticed that the dark brown sugar is NOTICEABLY darker than my other bag of C&H. Does this mean it has more molasses? Will that affect the acidity? Secondly, while making the batter using the ultrafine sugar, I noticed that my batter was much, much thinner than it usually is. I thought--great! The sugar is dissolving quicker, that's good right?? Well to my dismay, the brownies were a complete disaster! I mean, a pan of sludge really. I double checked my measurements and everything to make sure nothing was off----was it the new sugars?? Or am I just too tired right now to realize I screwed up?

So I figured I'd test them out on my usual chocolate chip cookie recipe. This recipe is incredible and it yields an big, fat, chewy, dense chocolate chip cookie...ANYWAYS.....After whipping up a batch, I not only notice the color is drastically different (darker), it, too, is significantly thinner than normal. I popped it in the fridge to firm it up, then cooked them off as usual. Well, to my disappointment, they did not turn up big and fat like usual. They spread out and got thin and crisp around the edges. I am NOT happy! What's the deal with my sugars? Can anyone shed some light? Should I just never again buy domino dark brown and the ultrafine unless I'm using it for meringue or angel food cake or something? :shock:
-Elizabeth

Mmmmmmm chocolate.


#2 nightscotsman

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 10:04 AM

Here on the west coast C&H is the standard sugar brand, so I haven't tried Domino for baking. However, I recently tried an older recipe from Fine Cooking for a lemon pie with a brown sugar italian merangue. The writer of the recipe made it quite clear that they had developed it using C&H brown sugar, and that when the editors on the east coast did a test with Domino it didn't work properly at all. Apparently Domino brown sugar contains more moisture and is primarily made with beet sugar instead of C&H's 100% cane sugar, which seems to have slightly different chemical properties. They actually gave alternate directions for using Domino brand sugar to approximate, but not exactly duplicate, the results using C&H.

#3 tsquare

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 10:19 AM

Excellent subject - hopefully some of the pastry chefs will discuss further.

I asked Fran Gage about beet versus cane sugar at her talk at Norhtwest Bookfest. There was some preference for cane, though she could only say that beet sugar does not carmelize - so it can't be used on creme brulee and the like. I've noticed that cane sugar does not lump as much.

#4 Elizabeth_11

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 10:36 AM

Wow, that's very interesting. I had no idea that Domino used beet sugar. That would most likely explain the runnier consistency considering it contains more moisture. With that said, does this mean the "ultrafine" sugar, as opposed to the usual "fine granulated", didn't cause this? Or is it possible that the two in combination caused this mishap? I wish there had been a disclaimer on the package stating that they aren't necessarily interchangeable, or at least be more clear on their ingredients list. All it lists are: brown sugar, cane caramel color. Oh well..from now on C&H is all I will buy.

Wait a minute---I just compared both packages and they both state "Dark Brown Cane Sugar"---I am now completely stumped :unsure: :wacko:
-Elizabeth

Mmmmmmm chocolate.


#5 Dave the Cook

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 11:50 AM

I don't want to come off like a smug scientific bastard, but I must insist that refined white sugar is refined white sugar, whether it comes from cane or beets. By the time it is packaged, the two are indistinguishable: 99.8% sucrose. Period. The idea that someone could tell the difference by taste or by the outcome of a recipe is simply not credible. (And I'm sorry to dis Fran Gage, tsquare, but claiming that refined white sugar, or even brown sugar, regardless of source or manufacturer, doesn't caramelize is likewise unbelievable. Sugar burns. Brown sugar, which is white sugar with added molasses (mainly another form of sugar) burns. I would believe that brown sugar, because of the moisture, takes a little longer, but not that it won't do it at all).

The darker brown color is from additional molasses, and this would make it more moist. I don't know about C&H, but Domino markets a light and a dark brown sugar; most likely you have dark, since their light version is pretty pale.

I would discount the acid. Assuming the minute difference is chemically significant (I think it's probably not, but you never know), it could affect the leavener in the cookies. But unless you have an unusual recipe, the only leavener in the brownies is eggs, and that is downplayed considerably. In this case, the additional acid would strengthen the egg structure (think cream of tartar, which is tartaric acid), not weaken it.

So there are two possibilities, I think. One: substitution of extra-fine sugar for fine sugar; two: additional moisture in the brown sugar.

Substitution has two scenarios. One: smaller crystals (more surface area, hence more cutting edges) cut the fat so finely that the batter simply came apart. Two: because sugar is hygroscopic, the smaller crystals created an imbalance between moist and dry ingredients. I think this would have been exacerbated by oven heat, causing first an uptake of moisture, then a catastophic release.

Moisture in the brown sugar: obvious, plus combined with sub scenario 2.

It seems to me that all three might be contributing to create a disaster.

Elizabeth, you know what you have to do, don't you? You have to make more brownies (poor girl), changing one component at a time. My money is on the white sugar. Make a batch using your usual sugar with the Domino's. If that doesn't work, use the ultra-fine with C&H brown. If that doesn't work, we'll have to do some more theorizing.

All of this is negated, however, if you use a leavener (probably baking powder?) in your brownies and it happens to be the same as what you use in your cookies. In that case, my money is on the baking powder. It's dead.

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#6 Dave the Cook

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 12:05 PM

Just thought of something else.

If you're measuring by volume, you're probably using too much sugar. Super-fine will weigh more for a given volume than fine, because the smaller crystals will pack tighter, just like kosher vs. table salt.

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#7 Elizabeth_11

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 12:30 PM

Coincidentally, I just finished up attempting to answer my own question before I read your post Dave. I think you are right, and the scientific breakdown you gave me helped me understand why :)

I decided to use a simple butter/sugar cookie making one batch with ultrafine, and the other with my regular fine granulated. BIG difference! The ultrafine spread out like mad and produced an almost feathery crispy crust on top, and you could slightly see the butter bubbling up (this also seemed to happen with the brownies, except the brownies were REALLY bubbly)! The fine, on the other hand, turned out perfectly. Just the right amount of spreading, and no feathery/bubbly butter surface. So it must be the ultrafine! I'm sure the added moisture in the Domino dark brown sugar didn't help matters, though. The funny thing is: This isn't the first time I've bought the ultrafine, it's just been a while since I have. I don't recall ever having this problem! *sigh*

I think I'll try with the brownies as well, though, only I will use regular sugar along with the same domino dark brown sugar to confirm this. Just a side note, I did wonder if the ultrafine measured differently, but the package clearly states that it measures and weighs the same--so who knows! I do not own a scale (buying one tomorrow), so I think I'll measure 1/2 cup of each just to see for myself. Thanks again!
-Elizabeth

Mmmmmmm chocolate.


#8 Priscilla

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 12:41 PM

The properties of sugar are fascinating. I understand the chemical makeup of refined sugar whether from cane or beet might be identical, but they do not taste or perform identically in my experience.

As Nightscotman said, here on the West Coast C&H, a cane sugar, is the familiar brand-name. Having grown up with it, and my cooking grown up with it, buying a bag of store-brand granulated sugar in an effort to economize years ago was a shock. Not indicated to be cane on the label and therefore probably beet, the flavor was terrible! And the texture was slightly gummy, compared to C&H. And there was no lovely C&H almost-vanilla aroma, neither. Yuckers. Never again--ever since I economize in other ways.

Priscilla

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#9 Dave the Cook

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 12:44 PM

Just a side note, I did wonder if the ultrafine measured differently, but the package clearly states that it measures and weighs the same--so who knows!  I do not own a scale (buying one tomorrow), so I think I'll measure 1/2 cup of each just to see for myself.

This may be true in the quantities normally used at home--meaning that the difference is not enough to be significant. But as a metter of actual weight, it has to be wrong. I'd be interested in what your scale shows.

Glad I could help, if in fact I did. You should know that I barely squeaked by high school chemistry, and avoided the topic throughout college. It wasn't until I started thinking about cooking that so many chem/physics/biology principles began to make sense and be interesting.You should always take my advice with a grain of salt (ow!)

Please let me know if we're still on the right track after your next experiment.

P.S. I think bubble brownies has great promise as a concept, like tomato foam or mustard ice cream.

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#10 stellabella

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 12:44 PM

my usual chocolate chip cookie recipe.  This recipe is incredible and it yields an big, fat, chewy, dense chocolate chip cookie

omigod, please, would you post your recipe? could you?

your servant,

stella b

#11 Dave the Cook

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 01:15 PM

The properties of sugar are fascinating. I understand the chemical makeup of refined sugar whether from cane or beet might be identical, but they do not taste or perform identically in my experience.


Priscilla, please note that what I wrote applied to refined white sugar. If you were also referring to white sugar, I am very dubious of your claim.

Brown sugar is a different matter.

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#12 Elizabeth_11

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 01:52 PM

I'd be happy to share my recipe! I've seriously perfected this recipe a zillion times, borrowing from Cook's Illustrated and Alton Brown, I finally came up with my own version of what I consider to be the perfect cookie.

By hand, mix together:

3/4 C. butter, melted (not bubbling melted)
1 1/4 C. brown sugar (C&H!!! light or dark, I like dark or at least 1/2 and 1/2)
1/4 C. REGULAR!! sugar

Stir in:

1 TBsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
1 yolk

Stir in these previously combined dry ingredients:

2 Cups + 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Add:

2 Cups high quality semisweet chocolate

Scoop onto parchment paper using 1/4 cup scoop. (they'll be really big!) If you want to make them look really fancy, take the 1/4 cup ball of dough, and using both hands, "rip" the dough apart, then turn the ripped surface area of the dough to face up, and fuse them together again. This was shown in Cook's Illustrated to create a more aesthetically pleasing result.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 10-12 minutes, or until edges are a LITTLE golden. ( I really don't know how long considering my oven is really whacked) The middle should look undercooked...trust me you do NOT want to overcook these babies, they are truly best when a little undercooked and cooled.

**if using the correct ingredients, these SHOULD turn out huge and plump, but like my post shows, ingredients can affect the outcome. So if something should happen and they don't turn out this way, it could be the sugars. Also there have been times that, depending on humidity, I've had to add a bit more flour for them to retain their shape, they should only spread a TEENY bit in the oven** Happy baking, hope you like them!

-Elizabeth :biggrin:

Also, here is my original recipe I posted a while back (got over 200 5-star reviews!!) on allrecipes.com...I found that it wasn't AS thick as my new one, but a LOT of people seem to like it..it has a few subtle differences.....either way, enjoy! http://cookie.allrec...hcltChipCki.asp
-Elizabeth

Mmmmmmm chocolate.


#13 Priscilla

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 04:25 PM

The properties of sugar are fascinating. I understand the chemical makeup of refined sugar whether from cane or beet might be identical, but they do not taste or perform identically in my experience.


Priscilla, please note that what I wrote applied to refined white sugar. If you were also referring to white sugar, I am very dubious of your claim.

Yes by granulated I meant white. And I make no claim of scientific certainty for what I indicated were personal observations.

Seems to me I have read somewhere, do not at the moment remember where, although it could well have been here on eGullet, mention of cane sugar being preferred by at least some pastry chefs.

I wonder if that is so and if so why.

Priscilla

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#14 snowangel

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 04:34 PM

I know that when I've made caramel in the past, one of these sugars boils up much higher in the pan than the other (although the quantity and temperature are the same), I just can't remember which one, which leads me to believe that there is some chemical difference between beet and cane. I know that I also read about this in some cooking booklet I have, but that is packed away (remodelling) right now, so can't check.
Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

#15 nightscotsman

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 04:46 PM

Here's what C&H has to say about cane vs. beet (obviously they are biased, but...):
http://www.chsugar.c...ne_vs_beet.html

The American Sugar Alliance says there's no difference:
http://www.sugaralli.../faqs/index.htm

But this guy at Food Resource says there is:
http://food.orst.edu/faq/sugar2.html

And the Canadian Sugar Institute also says there's no difference:
http://www.sugar.ca/faqGen.htm

#16 ivan

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 05:35 PM

I think the answer must be that, even though beet and cane produce the same exact substance (sucrose), what we get when we buy a bag of refined sugar is not chemically pure. No doubt, the devil's in the detritus that sifts through in the final filtering process. From the Canadian Sugar Institute's site, cited by nightscotsman above, on how sugar is produced:

For sugar cane, this is accomplished by:

1. grinding the cane to extract the juice

2. boiling the juice until the syrup thickens and crystallizes

3. spinning the crystals in a centrifuge to produce raw sugar  

4. shipping the raw sugar to a refinery where it is dissolved, purified and filtered to remove the last remaining plant materials and colour, then crystallized, dried and packaged


Sugar beet processing is normally accomplished in one continuous process without the raw sugar stage. The sugar beets are washed, sliced and soaked in hot water to remove the sugar-containing juice. The juice is purified, filtered, concentrated and dried in a series of steps similar to cane sugar processing.


Notice, first of all, that the process for sugar beets seems more slap-dash. Second, in both cases, the sugar is filtered before drying. These filters would have to be fine on a molecular level to produce chemically pure sucrose, and even so I bet some negligible levels of impurities would seep through. I doubt the filters used in the industries are anywhere fine enough to produce chemically pure sugar.

I've bitten into a sugar beet. Cane tastes better than beet.

Edit -- this from the C&H site cited by nightscotsman: "Cane sugar contains trace minerals that are different from those in beet sugar, and it’s these minerals that many experts say make cane sugar preferable to use."
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#17 ivan

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Posted 01 November 2002 - 06:03 PM

More from the Canadian site:

All sugar sold in Canada must be purified through a series of steps, including filtering, before it is packaged and distributed. Beet sugar is filtered through diatomaceous earth, whereas bone char is used in cane sugar refining. Diatomaceous earth is a filter material made from fossilized shells of ancient single-celled marine creatures. Bone char is a carbon filter, derived from dried purified cattle bones. Bone char is one of the most effective filter agents to attract the yellow colour particles that are associated with cane sugar. But it is important to note that no residues from either diatomaceous earth or bone char remain in the final purified sugar - sugar remains a natural plant product. In fact, the processes using these filter agents is similar to filtering water through a charcoal filter in a home purification system.


So, two very different plants are processed in two very different ways, and the resulting products are identical?
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#18 KarenS

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Posted 03 November 2002 - 01:07 AM

I am a pastry chef who uses ultra fine sugar every day. There is no difference in measuring it. I don't cream butter for cookies on high speed though; I use a low speed for a longer period of time. I also use cool butter, not room temp. My father (a scientist) said the same thing about cane and beet sugars being the same. You are wrong. They perform differently. Beet sugar is more difficult to caramelise. Try them side by side if you don't believe me. Dark brown sugar has more molasses (you are right, more moisture). I belong to a group (Baker's Dozen) as does Fran Gage. We tested both sugars (also we tested what a cup of brown sugar weighed- totally inaccurate measurement, everyone had a different amount).I find cane sugar superior to use in baking.

#19 Elizabeth_11

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Posted 03 November 2002 - 09:44 AM

Thank you all for your replies! All of this information has been very helpful to me. I really enjoy learning about the science behind baking; I love the feeling of knowing exactly why something is happening(or not happening) in my recipes.
-Elizabeth

Mmmmmmm chocolate.


#20 jhlurie

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Posted 03 November 2002 - 11:27 AM


my usual chocolate chip cookie recipe.  This recipe is incredible and it yields an big, fat, chewy, dense chocolate chip cookie

omigod, please, would you post your recipe? could you?

your servant,

stella b

Stella, in your neck of the woods, isn't the proper answer to "Sugar!" "Whatever you say, honey"? :wink:

But those do sound like good cookies.
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#21 tsquare

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Posted 04 November 2002 - 11:16 AM

My father (a scientist) said the same thing about cane and beet sugars being the same. You are wrong. They perform differently.

Thank you for chiming in - I'll take experience over scientific "fact" any day. As I recall from high school physics - you can only assume as fact what you can prove - so science, at least physics, is all about experiential observation. Chemistry be damned.

#22 Adam Balic

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Posted 04 November 2002 - 11:43 AM

Here is some scientific facts for those of you who like that sort of stuff.

While beet and cane molasses has a similar overall composition the type of sugars are quite different. The sugar in beet molasses is almost entirely sucrose, while cane molasses is 2/3 sucrose, these rest being fructose and glucose. Makes sense really, as they are quite unrelated types of plant. Sucrose is a diasaccraride, fructose and glucose are mono-saccarides. I wonder if this diffrence in sugar composition in the molasses is enough to account for the observed diffrences in cooking properties?

Here is a link to all types of cool sugar information. Sadly, it is a scientific institution though.

sugar!

#23 nightscotsman

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Posted 04 November 2002 - 12:09 PM

Cool info Adam. Got me a new sig! :biggrin:

#24 mixmaster b

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Posted 04 November 2002 - 12:14 PM

I recently used super fine sugar in place of granulated sugar for meringues and for a nut brittle. I wasn't happy with the results: the meringue seemed fragile and did not hold its shape well, and the brittle had a strange opaque quality--almost like the sugar had not dissolved properly. The superfine sugar seemed like it had been in the market for ages--it was starting to solidify into big chunks. I carefully sifted it before use, but perhaps it had too much moisture in it? I think I will stick with granulated in the future--it is cheaper, and sells through faster in the market, so maybe the quality/freshness is more reliable.

It was a strange experience, though, because I thought super fine was superior, especially for meringue or for caramel. Oh well...

#25 Priscilla

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Posted 04 November 2002 - 12:29 PM

Mixmaster B, I have read that some people run their regular granulated through the food processor to achieve superfine sugar. I've never done it, but seems sensible enough--would take advantage of the lower price and greater freshness of regular granulated.

Priscilla

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#26 Fat Guy

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 04:39 AM

Note: Dave the Cook's follow-up research to this thread can be found in TDG here.

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#27 Suzanne F

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 07:54 AM

Another excellent article. Thanks, Dave (and FG).

It awoke vague memories of levo- vs dextro- molecular construction. Isn't that the difference between sucrose (levo) and dextrose (dextro, duh)? So it would be interesting to do yet another experiment on cane/beet sugar vs corn sweeteners. (Don't look at me, though! :blink: I barely passed chemistry.)

#28 Suvir Saran

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 11:28 AM

Thanks Dave!
A great article. I shall read it for the second time tonight.
In India we mostly use cane sugar...
Thanks also for the pictures. :smile:

#29 maggiethecat

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 11:57 AM

Dave:

Thanks for your detective fine work, Sweetie( :smile: ) and the usual excellent writing.

I've used all three of the brands you tested, and found no discernable difference. I'm not, of course, a professional pastry chef who has to tame sugar for a living!

And that lego injury brought it all back. Yow!

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#30 Dave the Cook

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Posted 13 January 2003 - 12:25 PM

It awoke vague memories of levo- vs dextro- molecular construction.  Isn't that the difference between sucrose (levo) and dextrose (dextro, duh)?  So it would be interesting to do yet another experiment on cane/beet sugar vs corn sweeteners.  (Don't look at me, though!  :blink:  I barely passed chemistry.)

Do you mean levulose, Suzanne? If so, then you're sort of right. Sucrose can be broken apart into glucose and levulose (also known as fructose, or fruit sugar). But then, glucose and dextrose are pretty much the same thing, and one form of it is called...dextroglucose. :wacko:

I am just chock full of unused facts at this point. An interesting thing I ran across was a controversy about detecting maple syrup adultered with corn sweeteners. Caveat emptor.

I *also* barely passed chemistry, as you can tell. But we both cook, which makes us practical, rather than theoretical, chemists. Also physicists (though not on the order of our esteemed Dr. Johnson. Of course.)

Suvir, the distribution of cane vs. beet sugar cultivation is, as you allude, mostly related to climate. But there is also a long, complicated and sad story to be told about sugar that continues to this day.

Maggie: :wub: Obviously I'm not a pastry chef, either, and I wouldn't presume to advise one. But for most of us, any sugar will do. It might be wise to pick a brand and stick to it, at least for things that are touchy.

I swear, there is no greater pain than bare feet on Legos. Especially the smaller ones.

Thank all of you for your kind words. (BTW, that is my daughter behind the "glasses." Unfortunately, the picture does not do her justice.)

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