Brown sugar shortage causing headaches for bakers

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
As Christmas inches closer, bakers up and down the country are desperately waiting for supermarket shelves to be restocked with brown sugar.

A major product recall last month, over fears of low-level lead contamination, has left people scratching their heads about what to do instead, if a recipe calls for sugar of the soft brown variety.

While shortages of baking products have become all too familiar amid Covid-19 lockdowns, this one has caused Samantha Kay a few headaches.

"It was badly timed for me because I'd just started an online baking course so it wasn't so much a disaster as anxiously checking the level of my brown sugar tin every time I needed to make something with brown sugar in it.

"I think it got down to about 30 grams left when I finished the course."

Kay volunteers for Good Bitches Baking too, and is back on duty this weekend.

"I've very strategically selected things for my Christmas baking, that don't need brown sugar because I'm a little nervous about some of the substitutes," she said.

"I hear that the molasses and caster sugar one works well, and it looks pretty good, so in a pinch I'll try that one."

For blogger and cake enthusiast Becs Peters, things are starting to get desperate.

"I have been searching high and low for brown sugar always ringing before I go, if I can," she said.

"If I can get someone on the phone, maybe at Farro or one of the little shops, it's worth calling before you head in."

With no brown sugar to be found, Peters has had to put some of her pre-Christmas baking plans on hold.

"At the moment it's the gingerbread, we want to decorate the gingerbread cookies, make a gingerbread house for Christmas.

"We haven't done that yet with not being able to find any brown sugar. So I'm hanging on, hopefully we'll be able to squeeze that in before Christmas."

And you might not always want to experiment with substitutes.

"The last thing you want to do is pull something out of the oven that is just in a giant big puddle, or has gone really brittle that is a complete disaster."

But Peters has been making her own brown sugar, with some success.

"I'd start with one cup of white sugar and one tablespoon of molasses and then just get in there with a spatula or wooden spoon.

"Just mix it up and it's literally that simple. If you want to make it a little bit darker, just add a little bit molasses at a time and roll and voila, your own brown sugar."

There is just one sugar refinery in New Zealand, which is why so many brands have been caught up in the recall.

New Zealand Sugar said it's maximising production to get stock back on shelves as quickly as possible.

The company expects it'll become more readily available the closer we get to Christmas.

Food Safety New Zealand has launched an investigation into the handling of the recall, after three incidents where recalled products ended up back on supermarket shelves.

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