Last week was a pretty sweet week. I had phone calls and mail sprinkled with sugar.
First, a caller: A young mother using a recipe from a magazine was trying to make meringue cookies for her daughter's class and she could not get the dough to the right consistency. The recipe had both granulated sugar and confectioners' sugar, and every time she reached the point of adding the confectioners' sugar, the dough would get like marshmallow. Baking did not firm the dough into a meringue cookie. After consulting several cookbooks with similar recipes, none of which used confectioners' sugar, I suggested she find another recipe using just granulated sugar. She gets an A for perseverance.
Meringues are a mixture of stiffly beaten egg white and granulated sugar. For the best meringues, sugar is added slowly. A soft meringue is used for a swirled topping for pies and desserts such as Baked Alaska. The meringue is baked at high heat just until the peaks are lightly browned.
Hard meringues are usually piped into cookies or dessert shells. Many people like these because they are low in fat. No matter what type of meringue you are preparing, be careful not to over-beat or over-mix, according to Nick Malgieri in Cookie's Unlimited (Harper Collins, $35).
Store baked meringue cookies between sheets of parchment or wax paper in a tin with a tight fitting cover. Even though stored properly in humid weather meringues can get soggy. Mr. Malgieri advises baking them about 30 minutes at the oven's lowest temperature to make them crisp again.
Second, my mail: By Wednesday, I had received a sample of the new Domino Certified Organic Sugar, which "is grown without the use of pesticides and is minimally processed using a single-crystallization process." It has a light blond color and a hint of molasses flavor and is a product of Paraguay. Domino Organic Sugar is 15 calories per teaspoon. Recommended price is $2.29 for 24 ounces. The package has recipes for cookies and advises that the organic sugar is perfect for cooking, baking, beverages, and for sprinkling as a topping.
On Domino Sugar's Web site, I found information on confectioners' sugar (organic sugar info will be added). Note that confectioners' sugar should not be substituted for granulated sugar. Confectioners' sugar has a much finer texture and contains a small percentage of cornstarch to prevent caking; substituting it can give you unexpected results.
Confectioners' sugar is granulated sugar that has been crushed to a fine powder. To prevent clumping, a small amount of cornstarch is added, according to the Food Lover's Companion. Because confectioners' sugar dissolves so quickly, it's used to make candy and frostings.
Both sugar and confectioners' sugar are versatile; both are used in frostings and candy. When cooked, sugar caramelizes and imparts color and flavor. It becomes a syrup.
I use confectioners' sugar to make fudge. It can also be used to make mints. In the Ultimate Candy Book by Bruce Weinstein (Morrow, $15), caramel apples are made with light corn syrup. For homemade marshmallows, brittle and lollipops, light corn syrup and granulated sugar are used.