The other day, I was reorganising my overcrowded kitchen cupboards, trying to make it easier to find things. I was surprised by the number of sugars I had: there was granulated, two types of icing sugar, brown lump sugar, muscovado, soft brown sugar, gula melaka (palm sugar) and chouquette sugar.
Some might say that that's too many types of sugar. They'd be wrong. Yes, I could use regular sugar rather than lump sugar in my coffee, but chouquettes need chouquette sugar - without it, they'd just be unfilled cream puffs.
I have specific uses for the other sugars, too. Granulated sugar is the one I use most often in baking, jam-making and cooking. The type I use is made from sugar beets, rather than sugarcane. Many cooks say that sugar made from sugarcane is better than that made from beets, claiming the latter gives a coarse texture to baked products. I've never done side-by-side comparisons, and besides, it's so difficult to find sugar made from sugarcane (plus it's much more expensive), so I'll continue to use what's widely available.
There are many types of icing sugar (also called confectioner's sugar). The most common contains a small amount cornstarch (or another type of starch) to help prevent it from caking and turning lumpy. This is fine for most purposes, but for some reason, it really affects the texture of macarons. For these delicate French cookies, you need to use pure icing sugar, made without starch; but this type is also hard to find. There's another type of icing sugar that is usually called decorative icing sugar, and it contains ingredients that prevent it from being absorbed when sprinkled on top of cakes and other baked products.
I use muscovado and soft brown sugar because they have a deeper, richer flavour than white sugar. While I wouldn't use brown sugar when making a white cake or pastry doughs, because it changes the colour and flavour of these products, brown sugar is good for crumble toppings and for certain types of cookie dough. Because brown sugar has more moisture than granulated sugar, it can become hard and lumpy unless it's well-wrapped in cling-film then stored in an air-tight container.
Gula melaka is a delicious sugar to use for some savoury and sweet dishes, although you need to take into consideration its strong, distinct flavour. Gula melaka becomes very hard over time (even if securely wrapped) but it can be softened by heating it briefly in the microwave. Don't heat it too much, though, or it will turn into a molten liquid.
Truc (tryk): noun, masculine, trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chef's secret