Simple syrup is used as a quick way to sweeten and add liquid volume to everything from cocktails to sorbet. It also works as a glaze over baked goods. Simple syrup is sometimes favored over granulated sugar because sugar does not dissolve well in liquids and can add an unwanted grainy texture. Simple syrup, which is made by heating sugar and water, provides a sweet flavor and a smooth texture to recipes because the sugar has been dissolved. Whether you're out of what you need or you want a healthier option, there are many substitutes for sugar when it comes to making simple syrup.
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To make thick simple syrup, cook equal parts sugar and water over low heat, simmering until the mixture is clear. Add more water as needed for a thin syrup and let the mixture boil gently until its desired thickness is reached. Allow the mixture to cool completely before pouring it into a bottle for later use.
Simple syrup made with honey has a sweet and earthy flavor. Use equal parts honey and hot water to create an average syrup with a sweet, but not overly sweet, flavor. Adjust the water ratio as needed to achieve your desired thickness or sweetness. Honey dissolves easily in hot water, so all you need to do is stir it into the heated water until it is fully dissolved. Honey also dissolves in cold water, but it takes more mixing time, so hot water is easier to use. Let the syrup cool and pour into a bottle for later use. Honey does have a light flavor, so it may work better with some recipes than others. For example, honey would work well in an apple tart, but might throw off the clean flavor of a lemon and vodka cocktail.
Agave nectar is a very sweet syrup that is made from the sap of a Mexican plant. The nectar comes in two styles, light and dark. Light agave nectar works better than dark as a sugar substitute because it has a less imposing flavor. Like honey, you mix equal parts nectar and hot water to create a simple syrup. However, agave nectar has a stronger flavor than sugar, so you may want to use less nectar-based simple syrup in a recipe than you would sugar-based simple syrup. Even light agave has a flavor, so it will alter the overall taste of the recipe.The flavor of agave works well with fruit recipes, such as a raspberry sorbet, but may clash with rich flavors, such as a chocolate cream soda.
Maple syrup has a rich, sweet flavor that works well as a substitute for sugar in simple syrup. Like honey and agave, you mix equal parts maple syrup and hot water, altering the ratios as needed, to create simple syrup. Maple pairs well with many recipes, from glazed raisin buns to lemon iced tea. However, the maple taste can clash with more unusual flavors, such as cold strawberry and rhubarb soup.
Like other syrups, corn syrup may be mixed with hot water to create a simple syrup. It provides a very sweet taste without any added flavor, just as sugar does. However, corn syrup is sweeter than sugar, so you may need to use less corn-syrup-based simple syrup in a recipe than you would sugar-based simple syrup. Since it has such a light flavor, the corn-based syrup goes with anything you could pair with sugar, from caramel cake to champagne cocktails.