If you've ever enjoyed gingerbread or Boston brown bread, you've probably tasted the results of what molasses can add to certain baked goods. Molasses is a favorite ingredient used to sweeten and flavor many recipes, especially those around the holidays. The type of molasses is also a factor, and the product you choose can either give your baking a rich taste or a bitter flavor.
A Natural Sweetener
Molasses, or treacle as it's called in England, is the liquid left behind after refining sugar from sugarcane or sugar beets. Once extracted, the juice is boiled up to three times to concentrate it into a thick, dark syrup. Molasses adds the same type of flavor as brown sugar without making it too sweet. Molasses is also like honey in that it attracts moisture and allows baked goods to keep their moisture longer. Some molasses products use the preservative sulphur dioxide, which can alter the flavor. Many recipes specifically call for unsulphured molasses because of this.
The Type of Molasses Matters
The stages of boiling create the different types of molasses. The first boiling is called Barbados and has the sweetest and lightest flavor. The second boiling, called dark or second molasses, is darker, thicker and not as sweet. The third boiling produces a mineral-rich syrup called blackstrap, with a distinctive earthy taste. If not specified, you can use any of the types in a recipe. However, light molasses is best for delicate cookies, and dark molasses for gingerbread and spice cakes. Due to the somewhat overwhelming taste of blackstrap, use it only when the baking recipe specifically requires it.
Tips and Techniques
Using molasses when baking whole-grain bread will give it a rich, dark color. Light molasses is also interchangeable with maple syrup in recipes. You can substitute molasses for other sugars in baking by using 1 1/3 cups for every cup of sugar. However, you will also need to add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda to the recipe and reduce liquids by 1/3 cup. Sweet sorghum is actually a different sweetener made from the sorghum plant, but it has a similar flavor and can be used the same way as molasses.
Other Savory Uses
Molasses doesn't just add flavor and richness to baking, it's also popular in classic baked beans recipes. Molasses is also used in many barbecue brines, rubs, bastes, glazes and sauces. Many recipes use molasses as a glaze for pork tenderloin or pork chops, or combined with Dijon mustard for chicken or lamb. Middle Eastern cuisine uses a combination of pomegranate juice and molasses as a marinade for lamb and goat or in oven-baked veal meatballs.