Substituting syrups

Last week I shared two recipes for Sweetened condensed milk, which is used in a lot of Asian recipes. On the other side of the map there's also plenty of ingredients that aren't available here. Think of American recipes: you'll suddenly find yourself needing shortening, pumpkin pie filling, a can of frosting, gingerbread oreos or peanut butter&jelly ice-cream. And sometimes you need syrup. You'd be amazed at how many syrups exist: maple syrup, golden syrup, corn syrup, light syrups and dark syrups. Syrup syrup syrup, I could go on.

As close as England they sell most of these syrups, but here in my tiny, wet and windy country they're not available! (aww, we're such poor people) And then comes the inevitable: you have to make it yourself. Or just quit baking.

Below, you'll see 3 different kinds of syrups. After each recipe you'll find a bit of ranting on the recipes itself or the use of the syrup. Here's all of them explained really short:
(Simple/Plain) Sugar syrup - most versatile recipe. The thickness can range from runny (used for drinks) to very thick (used in some sweets)
Golden syrup - A byproduct of sugar that got a life of it's own. Store-bought versions can vary greatly in taste and thickness depending on the sort of sugar and processing used. The substitute is a caramelized, slightly lemony, simple syrup
Maple syrup - originally tapped from maple trees and then boiled to a syrup. The substitute is made from sugar, but comes as close as possible in terms of flavour

!! Remember these are all substitutes and they can differ from the store-bought versions!!
They will not differ in texture (because you control this part) and only slightly in the effect they have in baked goods (in the end its all sugar, it will do what sugar does).

(Simple/Plain) Sugar syrup
about 500 ml - by Keuken Liefde

250 grams sugar
300 ml water
zest of 1 (small) lemon

1. Put all ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
2. Reduce the heat so the syrup only just keeps boiling and leave to boil for another 20-30 minutes. The idea is to thicken the syrup: this process can take up to an hour depending on things like how high the heat is. *
3. As soon as the syrup has reduced to half, take off the heat and pour into a jar.

* Simple syrup used in drinks is not thickened. You can skip step 2 completely if you need the runny kind of syrup.

Despite how simple this recipe is, I feel it needs a little explaining and honestly I have no idea where to start. Basically, you'll find lots of recipes for 'Simple syrup' all over the internet, none of which require the syrup to be reduced to half. This is because the (flavoured) Simple syrup is most often used in drinks such as cocktails or iced tea. However, there is also a thick version: let's call it Plain Sugar syrup. I've seen this thick, barely pourable (think honey) kind of syrup used only twice: in several Dutch "breakfast cake" recipes and in a Turkish treat which is like a cross between baklava and churros.

With the option to reduce the syrup to half or leaving it slightly runny, this recipe is very versatile. Substitute the water for any kind of juice, flavoured water or even tea or coffee. Or substitute the lemon for any kind of flavourings or spices. This leaves you with an endless variety of syrups to use in drinks, cakes and onto your pancakes. Depending on how thick you need the syrup, leave to reduce to half, three-quarters or not at all.

Golden syrup
1/2-1 cup -inspired by Christines Recipes and TWRK

400 grams sugar *
200 ml water
3 tablespoons to half a lemon juice

1. Put the sugar into a pan with 2 tablespoons of the water. Bring to a boil and then caramelize over medium to low heat. This is the tricky part: you want a lovely caramel colour: anything too light will be too sweet and anything too dark will turn bitter.
2. In the meanwhile boil the water - or just measure another 200 ml in boiling water.
3. Once the sugar has caramelized add the boiling water and lemon juice.
4. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium so it keeps boiling that tiny little bit, and leave on the fire for another 20-30 minutes.
5. Test if the golden syrup is 'syrupy' enough by dripping a bit on a cold spoon. Hot syrups are always runny, but once it's cooled down you should notice it has the honey-like consistency of syrup. If it turns rockhard on your spoon: add more water and lemon juice. If it's still runny you can choose to keep boiling for another 5 minutes.
6. Pour into a jar and it's ready to use!

* I found using (half) palm sugar here enhances the depth of the flavour and the caramel colour.

This recipe looks a lot longer, but it really is the same thing as Plain Sugar Syrup, the difference being the caramelizing of the sugar. You really need to watch this process! I have quite a powerful stove and the whole caramelizing thing has gone wrong way too often. If you have troubles with it as well: I found a non-stick frying pan gives the best results. And some extra bags of sugar along with endless amounts of patience. Does that help any? (Also, using a darker sugar will make it look lots more carmalized, shhh!)

Vanilla (/Maple) syrup
about 750 ml - as seen by Lucynda, onegoodthing and WikiHow

1 cup regular sugar
1 cup light or dark sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon maple or vanilla essence

1. Bring the water to a boil.
2. Add the sugar and keep boiling and stirring until everything is dissolved.
3. Take off the fire and stir in the maple or vanilla.
4. Pour into a jar and leave to cool.*

* I couldn't make this simpler. No wait: Boil, stir, jar & cool. Level of easyness: 100%.

There are several (more complicated) recipes out there. Mel's Kitchencafe has a promising recipe with honey, but as it yields 10 cups, I haven't gotten around to trying it. I have tried this recipe, which caramelizes the sugar and adds butter and I think it's especially good for pancakes. The Vanilla (/Maple) syrup recipe above, however, is the easiest one I could find. It doesn't need to be stored in the fridge and will keep for a very long time. As do the other two syrups.

I've used up almost all my syrups already (why do you think you're looking at spoons and not entire bottles?), so I can tell you that each and every one of them work in baked goods. They may not be exact copies, but when you incorporate it with other ingredients, these taste just as fabulous. I promise.


  1. What a great tutorial! Always so good to have substitutions in your back pocket ... whether because you live somewhere that such products are hard to find ... or because you just forgot something at the grocery store! :D

    1. Yup, I completely agree! I'd also add "cheaper" and "you're in control of what's in it" to the list as well.. ;)


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