Caster Sugar and cup cakes

9 Aug


Chocolate and orange cupcakes from The Great British Bake Off – Have to Bake cook book

I’ve been busy over the last few days, preparing for the move to Canada amongst a sea of papers, painters and packing crates.  One of things that I’ve been carefully considering is how my baking will have to change once I reach Toronto; I’m not sure how easy it will be to get ingredients that are standard baking items in England.  One of the ingredients I suspect I shall miss the most is caster sugar.  My initial forays in Toronto have already suggested that this is not a sugar easy to find in north America, though I think it’s called superfine sugar in the US so I’ll have to keep my eyes open for that.

Caster sugar is a beautifully fine sugar, giving cakes, biscuits and other baked goods a light, airy texture.  The wonderful Reader’s Digest Cookery Year comments ‘Granulated sugar is the least expensive white sugar; it can be used in rubbed-in cakes, but as it is coarse it may give a spotted appearance to the cake crust.  Caster sugar, being finer, creams more easily with fats and gives a finer, softer cake.’

There have always been good natured debates in the MacCulloch household about the best way to pronounce ‘caster’; is it a good old northern cas – ter, or posh southern cars – tor?  The good old OED favours ‘castor’ as the correct spelling but it’s more commonly found today spelt ‘caster’.  The OED spelling clearly shows how it’s derived from the name for a small container for various powders with a perforated top, so that they can be sprinkled.  Following the alternative spelling highlights the words connection to the act of casting, or sprinkling, as in casting seeds or sprinkling water.  The OED, in its compounds for ‘castor’ describes ‘castor-sugar’ as a ‘powdered sugar, so called from its suitability for use in a castor’; although castor sugar is clearly a granulated sugar and does not have the absolute fineness of icing sugar this description emphasises the fineness of the grain. One website says that ‘at least 950 g/kg of Castor Sugar shall pass through a sieve having a mesh aperture size of 0.599 mm.’ (

The earliest quotation the OED gives to illustrate the use of castor sugar is one fromEliza Acton’s Modern. Cookery from 1855 and a recipe for Morella cherries which are ‘simmered..with three quarters of a pound of castor-sugar.’  I’ve been trying to find other early examples of castor sugar in recipe books but it’s not easy and probably needs a longer search than writing this post. Looking through a few on Project Gutenberg, and given the etomology of the name I wonder if mentions of powdered sugar in 19th century cook books is what we might know as castor sugar?  Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management mentions a plethora of different sugars (pounded loaf sugar, lump sugar, sifted sugar, moisted sugar, pounded white sugar and just plain sugar ) but no caster sugar.  I’d love to know of any pre 1950s mentions of caster sugar that any one comes across.

Continuing my weekly baking experiments I tried another recipe from the Great British Bake Off – Have to Bake cook book, which this time was the chocolate orange cup cake recipe.  It uses a mix of different sugars; caster sugar in the sponge, to give the cakes a light feel, granulated sugar in for the orange syrup and then icing sugar for the frosting.  The recipe also gave me the chance to practise my icing technique; not perfect yet but definitely improving!

Sugar A Bittersweet History by Elizabeth Arnott, 2010


One Response to “Caster Sugar and cup cakes”

  1. maplesyrupandcastersugar August 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Just been looking through my research from The Lady and in the Our Cookery Column from 13 May 1897 came across recipes for Ladies’ Fingers, Silver Cake and Orange Flower biscuits using castor sugar. Be great to know if someone can fine me an earlier reference.

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