If you’ve ever tasted an authentic Belgian waffle (yes, one from the Wafels & Dinges truck counts), you know the one-of-a-kind magic of pearl sugar. That’s what makes the waffles extra fluffy with pockets of crisp sweetness baked throughout. But that’s not the only perk of using pearl sugar. In fact, everyone’s baking could use a sprinkle of the stuff. If you’re searching for a shortcut to giving your desserts a professional vibe, look no further. Here’s the lowdown on pearl sugar, plus tips for making your own in a pinch and ideas for what to bake with it.
What Is Pearl Sugar?
Pearl sugar, also called nib sugar and hail sugar, is made by compressing tiny sugar crystals together to form bigger cohesive pieces. It’s coarse, hard and white. Because of its size, pearl sugar doesn’t fully dissolve into baked goods, but rather caramelizes in place. It’s also frequently used as a pretty topping for cinnamon buns, breads and pastries.
It’s a big deal in Europe, especially in Sweden, Finland, France, Germany and Belgium. Belgian pearl sugar, a larger-sized kind that can tolerate higher temperatures, is primarily used in the batter for authentic Liege waffles. This star ingredient makes the waffles soft and pillowy, while also giving them bursts of crispy caramelization. This is different from Swedish pearl sugar, which is smaller and mainly used as a topping or garnish. You can order either one online or find it at specialty stores that carry European goods.
How to Make DIY Pearl Sugar
Don’t have any in your cabinet but want to give those cookies a special flair? No problem. Use one of these methods to take your dessert’s finishing touches to the next level.
(Psst: While DIY pearl sugar will work as a visual, crunchy garnish, it won’t create those pockets of sweetness that make Liege waffles famous.)
Method One: Take a handful of sugar cubes and seal them in a plastic bag. Smash them with a mallet, rolling pin or other hard object until they break down to the ideal size Larger pieces are better for using in batter, while small pieces work best as toppers.
Method Two: Add ¾ cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of water to a pot on the stove. Turn the heat down as low as possible and mix until small sugar clumps form. Add a pinch more water if you don’t see clumping. Simmer it for 30 minutes or until the clumps are hard enough to move without disintegrating. Let them cool until solid.
Ready to bake? There are tons of treats just waiting to be sprinkled with this chic finishing touch.
- Swedish Cinnamon Rolls
- Liege Waffles
- Apple Tart with Soft-Pretzel Crust
- Coconut Choux Bites
- Blood Orange Eton Mess
- Pumpkin Brioche