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Whether you need simple syrup for cake, cocktails, coffee, or lemonade and beyond, it’s one of those foundational recipes that everyone should know. Here’s how to make the basic recipe and some popular variations.

simple syrup for cake and cocktails in a small carafe with a measuring spoon
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Why we love this recipe

Like butter, I almost think of simple syrup more as a tool than as an ingredient. It’s the go-to choice for sweetening cold beverages like cocktails, iced coffee, and lemonade, since regular and even superfine sugar don’t do a great job of dissolving in cold liquid.

It’s also a fabulous way to infuse cakes with long-lasting moisture. Truth be told, the cake recipes on Umami Girl don’t tend to need it, since I really only feature baked goods with a beautiful, tender crumb. But the classic British sponges and cakes derived from those recipes can really benefit from brushing with basic or flavored syrup.

Or make homemade maraschino cherries, sweeten homemade frozen yogurt, and more.

I first published this recipe here way back in 2009. I’ve since updated the post for clarity and added lots of variations to the recipe, but the basic formula remains the same.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients in bowls
  • For basic syrup, you can use use good old granulated sugar. This is what I do virtually always. See below for additional suggestions. Note that not all sugar is vegan-friendly, so if you’ll be serving vegans, you may want to check the label.
  • The only other ingredient you need is water. Tap water is fine as long as it tastes good. (And a great tip if it doesn’t is to let it sit overnight so that some of the impurities have a chance to settle to the bottom, then gently pour off and use all but the last inch or so.)

A note on measurement

Basic simple syrup is called 1:1 and is made with “equal parts” water and sugar. Technically this means equal parts by weight, so for example you would weigh out 125 grams of water and 125 grams of sugar on your kitchen scale. Since most Americans don’t cook with scales, it’s totally fine to use volumetric measurement in this recipe. 1 U.S. cup sugar weighs a little less than 1 cup water, but — especially after a little bit of evaporation during simmering — it hardly matters.

How to make it

Here’s an overview of what you’ll do to make a perfect batch of simple syrup for cake, cocktails, and more. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  1. Pour the sugar into a small pot.
  2. Add the water.
  3. Heat over medium, stirring frequently, until fully dissolved.
  4. Let cool completely before using or storing in a glass container.
French 75 Sour Cherry Cocktail in a coupe glass garnished with homemade maraschino cherries

Suggested variations

Rich simple syrup

For a more concentrated sweetener with a more viscous consistency, use two parts sugar to one part water.

Demerara simple syrup

Demerara sugar is a minimally processed sugar that retains a light amber color and a more nuanced flavor with hints of molasses. You can use it instead of regular granulated sugar for a more richly flavored syrup. Turbinado sugar is similar (but a bit more finely textured, lightly flavored, and less sticky). You can also use that if you like.

Steeping dry ingredients

It can be really nice to steep tea, dry spices, and other dry ingredients in your simple syrup for cake or beverages. To the sugar and water, you can add a couple of tablespoons of looseleaf tea (like Earl Grey), a couple of broken cinnamon sticks, half a vanilla bean pot split open with a knife, a few cloves or star anise pods, dried hibiscus flowers or lavender — you name it.

Let the ingredients steep for 24 hours, then strain before using the syrup. These additions do not shorten the shelf life of the syrup.

Steeping fresh ingredients

You can also use fresh ingredients to flavor your syrup. Try a big handful of torn basil or mint leaves, a sliced jalapeño, the peel of an organic lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit removed from the fruit with a vegetable peeler, or a cup of fresh strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or cranberries.

Let the ingredients steep for 24 hours, then strain without pressing down on the solids. Syrup made with these fresh additions should be used within a week or so.

Incorporating extracts

For the easiest flavoring of all, you can stir in a little bit of your favorite good-quality extract. For milder flavors like vanilla and orange, start with about a teaspoon of extract per cup of syrup and adjust to taste. For stronger extracts like almond, start with 1/4 teaspoon and work from there. Extracts do not shorten the shelf life of the syrup.

a slice of sour cherry cake on a plate with the rest of the cake on a stand behind it

Storing simple syrup

Once cooled, pour the syrup into a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and place it into the refrigerator. Plain syrup or any variation infused with long-lasting or dry ingredients (such as cinnamon or vanilla) will keep for a month. If you’ve steeped a fresh ingredient like mint or basil leaves, use the syrup within one to two weeks.

Expert tips and FAQs

What is the cold method?

Some people make simple syrup with cold water, stirring the sugar in over a period of 20 minutes or so, or blending it for at least 60 seconds until the sugar dissolves. This method theoretically makes the syrup ready to use sooner, since you don’t have to let it cool. It can also help avoid changing the flavor of delicate additions such as basil or mint. I don’t bother with it, but you’re welcome to give it a try!

Can you freeze simple syrup?

You sure can. A standard ice cube from a tray is about one fluid ounce, (30 ml) (two U.S. tablespoons). You can pour leftover syrup into a tray, freeze until solid, and then transfer to an airtight container like a zip-top freezer bag. That’s an easy way to keep what’s essentially measured doses of syrup on hand. You can defrost in the fridge overnight, at room temperature, or with a quick spin in the microwave.

How to use it

This recipe is ready to use to sweeten drinks, to give cakes an extra dose of moisture, or to create other sweet treats. Try it in:

simple syrup for cake and cocktails in a small carafe with a measuring spoon

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simple syrup for cake and cocktails in a small carafe with a measuring spoon
5 from 8 votes

Simple Syrup for Cake and Drinks

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
Whether you need simple syrup for cake, cocktails, coffee, or lemonade and beyond, it's one of those foundational recipes that everyone should know. Here's how to make the basic recipe and some popular variations.
Cook: 5 minutes
Total: 5 minutes
Servings: 1 cup
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Ingredients 

  • 1 cup (198 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (237 ml) (237 grams) water

Instructions 

  • Place the sugar and the water in a small pot.
  • Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Cool completely before using.

Notes

  1. If you have a kitchen scale and want to make a truly 1:1 syrup, weigh your ingredients and use an equal amount of water and sugar by weight. It doesn't make a perceptible difference in this case, but weighing ingredients precisely is a good practice.
  2. Once cooled, pour the syrup into a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and place it into the refrigerator. Plain syrup or any variation infused with long-lasting or dry ingredients (such as cinnamon or vanilla) will keep for a month. If you've steeped a fresh ingredient like mint or basil leaves, use the syrup within one to two weeks.
  3. Or freeze it for longer-term storage. A standard ice cube from a tray is about one fluid ounce, (30 ml) (two U.S. tablespoons). You can pour leftover syrup into a tray, freeze until solid, and then transfer to an airtight container like a zip-top freezer bag. That's an easy way to keep what's essentially measured doses of simple syrup on hand. You can defrost in the fridge overnight, at room temperature, or with a quick spin in the microwave.

Suggested variations

  • Rich simple syrup: For a more concentrated sweetener with a more viscous consistency, use two parts sugar to one part water.
  • Demerara syrup: Demerara sugar is a minimally processed sugar that retains a light amber color and a more nuanced flavor with hints of molasses. You can use it instead of regular granulated sugar for a more richly flavored simple syrup. Turbinado sugar is similar (but a bit more finely textured, lightly flavored, and less sticky). You can also use that if you like.

Steeping dry ingredients

It can be really nice to steep tea, dry spices, and other dry ingredients in your simple syrup for cake or beverages. To the sugar and water, you can add a couple of tablespoons of looseleaf tea (like Earl Grey), a couple of broken cinnamon sticks, half a vanilla bean pot split open with a knife, a few cloves or star anise pods, dried hibiscus flowers or lavender — you name it.
Let the ingredients steep for 24 hours, then strain before using the syrup. These additions do not shorten the shelf life of the simple syrup.

Steeping fresh ingredients

You can also use fresh ingredients to flavor your syrup. Try a big handful of torn basil or mint leaves, a sliced jalapeño, the peel of an organic lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit removed from the fruit with a vegetable peeler, or a cup of fresh strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or cranberries.
Let the ingredients steep for 24 hours, then strain without pressing down on the solids. Syrup made with these fresh additions should be used within a week or so.

Incorporating extracts

For the easiest flavoring of all, you can stir in a little bit of your favorite good-quality extract. For milder flavors like vanilla and orange, start with about a teaspoon of extract per cup of simple syrup and adjust to taste. For stronger extracts like almond, start with 1/4 teaspoon and work from there. Extracts do not shorten the shelf life of the syrup.

Nutrition

Serving: 1tablespoon, Calories: 48kcal

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Cocktails
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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Subscribe to Umami Girl’s email updates, and follow along on Instagram.

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Carolyn Gratzer Cope Bio Photo

About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

5 from 8 votes (8 ratings without comment)

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5 Comments

  1. The easiest method for Simple Syrup, just a 1 cup measuring cup:

    Summary:

    I store it in the fridge, in an 8 ounce ex-agave nectar bottle. My method makes just enough to refill the bottle, and it is designed to be as quick and as easy as possible.

    Ingredients:

    1/2 cup water
    4 ounces sugar

    Directions:

    1. Use an 8 oz Pyrex measuring cup.
    Add water to the container.
    Add sugar to 7 ounces total volume.
    (should be 4 oz wt sugar)

    2. Microwave 1 min 15 sec
    Stir until clear. May take a minute.
    Let it cool and pour it into the storage bottle.