In my kitchen/pantry, I have several kinds of sugar...
- powdered/confectioner (or 10X as my grandmother called it)
- brown (usually dark)
- and a cone of something hard/dark that I bought on a whim
How interchangeable can they be? I switch out the white in chocolate chip cookies for all brown... for flavor and chewiness (I think??). Powdered has corn starch in it, I think?... could it be subbed for regular in a DIRE emergency?
Why is plain white granulated cheaper than sugar "of color"?? Isn't that what white sugar starts as?
there are any number of sites that will video you through the sugar refining process if you really want lots of details.
keep in mind, things change over time . . .
the refining process starts, you get brown sugar - depending on how that may be 'dried' you get raw/turbinado/(more names for similar...)
continuing the refining you get white granulated sugar - names varies by country / crystal size.
a by-product of sugar refining is molasses. various grades.
today, molasses is added back to white granular sugar to make light/brown sugar. once upon a time brown sugar was made by not pushing the refining process quite so far.... white is cheaper (today) based on economies of scale.
confectionery sugars (multiple names for the nX varieties) are simply white granulated sugar that is mechanically ground to a fine powder.
as to substitutions, depends a lot on the item & recipe.
I agree substitutions depend on the recipe.
Subbing varying amounts of white and brown sugar in most recipes will produce the same overall product but with differences in taste and texture. Most notably, like you said, in cookies they'll turn out chewier. If you think about your classic sugar cookie, they are made with all white sugar, and their texture is usually stiffer, more shortbread-like, and lighter in color. Using 50/50 white and brown will produce something akin to a classic Nestle Tollhouse cookie. And using all brown sugar will yield a chewy, darker colored cookie with molasses undertones. Google "brown sugar cookie recipe;" they are delicious!
You can also usually fiddle with the brown/white sugar ratio in cakes or quick breads, but you run the risk of drastically altering the texture of a cake. I often find quick bread or muffin recipes which call for all white sugar but I prefer to use 50/50 brown. It adds flavor and IMO makes a more tender bread. Cakes may turn out gummy though, especially cakes that should be light and airy (like a white cake, chiffon cake, etc) and I wouldn't recommend it with those.
Subbing in powdered sugar can work in cookies but I would never do it in cakes or pastries. I think the measurements would just be too far off. I don't think such a small amount of corn starch would really make a difference, but rather the density of the sugars...? Some cookies specifically call for powdered sugar to produce a "melt-in-your-mouth" sandy type texture. So yes, they will turn out, but they will not be exactly what you were going for. I have a recipe I make often which calls for almond flour, powdered sugar, and nutella as its base and produces a chewy brownie type cookie.
As for turbinado, I see it subbed into recipes often on healthy cooking sites. I only usually use turbinado when specifically called for, or as a garnish. My fear is that subbing it in a regular recipe would not work, as I don't think it would cream properly into butter (for a cookie or cake, for instance). But I could be totally wrong. I have some rather expensive turbinado I bought last year which has strong caramel and almost maple tasting notes. I like it sprinkled atop scones and use it exclusively as a sanding sugar.
If you're subbing powdered for granulated, you'll need to weigh the sugar rather than using volume measurements, otherwise the amount can be very different.
For delicate baking - cakes, pastries - I wouldn't sub, because it could change the end result unpredictably. As others have said, in cookies it affects the crispy vs chewy texture. To sweeten a liquid where the sugar dissolves (like a cooked custard) you might change the flavour, but the recipe should work.
Subbing granulated for powdered usually *doesn't* work, because for recipes that call for powdered sugar, you'll usually end up with something very grainy. Think of the difference between icing made with icing sugar, and what you get when you beat butter and sugar for a cake. In a pinch, you can use a coffee grinder or food processor to make powdered sugar from white granulated.
Actually the piloncillo (little pylons) is the raw sugar, cast in that shape from cane juice that has been boiled down. Granulated sugar has to be ground from a solid form like this.
At one time white sugar was created by filtering the sugar syrup, and then casting it into cones or 'loafs'. The molasses was allowed to drain out of the mold (over the coarse of days), leaving behind a whiter sugar. Something approximating our white sugar required multiple refining steps.
Free flowing granulated sugar is a relatively recent invention.