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Ask Kirstin: Making Brown Sugar; Rescuing a Salty Dish


Help! I am out of brown sugar. Can I substitute with white sugar for my cookies? — Louise F.

Wait, try making your own brown sugar! Do you have molasses way in the back of your cupboard? These days, most of our brown sugar is just white sugar mixed with molasses. So you can easily make it yourself. For light brown sugar just mix 1 cup sugar with 2 Tbs molasses; for dark brown sugar mix it with 3 Tbs molasses. To answer your question, if you substitute white sugar for brown you might need to rename the cookies as they will turn out different — crisper and lighter in color and flavor.


What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder? — B.U.

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is the little fizzy miracle that adds lightness and air to your pastries. To get so excited that it starts produce carbon dioxide (bubbly air making your batter light), it needs to get in contact with a liquid acid, which could be anything from lemon juice, chocolate, vinegar, buttermilk, even brown sugar or honey (so sweet you would not think they have acid, but they do).

If your pastry already has an acidic ingredient in it, your recipe might just call for baking soda, but if it doesn’t have an acid, or doesn’t have enough, then baking powder comes to the rescue. Baking powder is just baking soda with acid, usually cream of tartar, already mixed into it (you can make your own baking powder by mixing two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda). Both baking soda and baking powder work quickly, then deflate, so be sure to use your batter as soon as you have made it.


I have started baking bread (love your challah recipe in the book by the way) but I keep coming across recipes that call for “packages” of yeast, and I have a big jar of it now. How many teaspoons of yeast are in a package? — Frances B.

Yeast usually comes in three forms: dried in a jar; in 0.25 oz packages; and sometimes you can find it fresh in the form of gray 2 oz “cakes” (in the refrigerated area of the grocery store). 1 package of yeast = 2 ¼ teaspoons from a jar, or 1/3 of a “cake” of fresh yeast.


I am a liberal salter of my dishes, sometimes a bit too much. How do I rescue an over-salted dish? — R.A.U.

Oh dear, yes that is a problem, and the only solution I am afraid is dilution. So you will have to add more unsalted liquid (water, broth) or mass (like more potatoes for mashed potatoes) until it tastes the way it should. You can trick yourself a bit by adding an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, but it is just a mind trick, your tongue and body will know. Sadly the “adding a potato to absorb salt from the soup” trick is just a myth.


Want to “Ask Kirstin” for help in the kitchen? Send your questions to And check out the “Ask Kirstin” Archive.



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