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Q&A

How much honey do I substitute for granulated sugar in bread?

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I have a recipe for a whole-wheat sourdough bread that works pretty well, but it's not very exciting -- it's a basic bread. I've had honey-wheat bread that I've liked, so I'd like to adapt this recipe. At what ratio can I substitute honey for white sugar, and are there any other changes I need to make for the chemistry to be right?

I tried to answer this question by looking for recipes, but all of them are different enough from mine that I'm having trouble isolating variables. Recipes I've seen generally call for two tablespoons of honey, give or take, for a loaf that uses around 500 grams of flours. The recipe I'm starting from uses one tablespoon of granulated sugar. (I'm then adding a bit more to make up for the sugar that would be in the milk I'm not using.)

The ingredients in the recipe I'm starting from are:

  • 240 ml levain
  • 240 ml water (recipe called for milk)
  • 1 tablespoon oil (I add a bit more because of the milk substitution; recipe called for butter)
  • 1.5 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (I add a teaspoon more, as above)
  • 210 g whole-wheat flour
  • 280 g bread flour

An answer to a question about substituting brown and white sugars links to a conversion guide for various (dry) sugars, but it doesn't include honey.

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2 answers

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Based primarily on Wikipedia: Honey has 82g of sugar per 100g of honey. Sugar has (duh) 100g of sugar per 100g of sugar. Almost all the rest in honey is water. There are variations depending on the source, and there are other things in honey that affect the flavor. But if we just treat is as "sugar" + "water", then a substitution could be made on that basis.

I would definitely not substitute based on volume: Sugar has quite a bit of air in it. Professional bakers (as I understand it, and I once wrote software for a donut company, but I digress) measure almost everything by weight for consistency. So one way to look at it is:

  • Figure out how much sugar the recipe requires.
  • Since most ordinary cookbooks measure dry ingredients like sugar by volume, convert that to weight. According to a couple of sources, granulated sugar weighs ~ 200 grams per cup.
  • Calculate how much honey you need to get the same amount of sugar.
  • Calculate the amount of water in the honey, and subtract that amount from the water in the recipe.

Simple example: Recipe (first one I found) uses 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of sugar.

  • 1/2 cup of sugar = 100g
  • 100g sugar = 122g of honey = 0.36 cups (according to a couple of sources) - I would round that to 1/3 cup for simplicity's sake.
  • 122g honey = 22g of water = 0.09 cups - or a little more than 4 teaspoons.

In the end, that isn't all that much difference. But it does seem pretty clear that if you substituted honey for sugar by equal volume, the result would be too sweet. 1/2 cup honey = 170g honey = 140g of sugar = 40% more than the original recipe. Keep in mind that with any recipe involving yeast, the sugar is not just for flavor but also affects how fast/how much the yeast rises, so with typical bread recipes, changing the amount of sugar can have major impact on the final product.

I would start with the exact (or very close) weight-based measurements/calculations, and then experiment a little the next time - more or less honey, more or less water, etc. IMHO, baking is a science, so measurements really do matter. (Cooking is much more of an art.)

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Thanks. I do have a kitchen scale. I'm puzzled by recipes that give some ingredients by weight and others by volume (like this one), but I'm happy to work by weight. (I agree on science vs. art. I'm a good cook and an adequate baker; there's a difference.) Monica Cellio‭ about 2 months ago

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According to this site, white sugar and honey are interchangeable one to one [in bread dough].

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3 comments

1 to 1 of what? Mass, volume, something else? Mass versus volume matters significantly, since honey is much more dense than granulated sugar. Olin Lathrop‭ about 2 months ago

Good question. I assume volume, or the bread changes size... __shiva_c‭ about 2 months ago

The changing size part doesn't make sense either. Granulated sugar has low density because of all the air between the grains. That doesn't apply once the sugar has been dissolved into the batter. And volume of the final bread has much more to do with how much it rises than the volume of any dissolved sweatener. Olin Lathrop‭ about 2 months ago

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