On Sugar Craft and Candymaking

Sugar Craft = Candymaking:

One of the most amazing things in the kitchen is the way that sugar moves through several stages of being as it is cooked in a syrup. It reliably transforms into a syrup that is perfect for sweetening iced teas and coffee, then as it cooks to a hotter and hotter temperature it becomes thready, then turns into balls of progressively firmer texture right up to the texture of hard candy. The next thing the sugar does as it continues to get hotter is turn into luscious caramel. At this point some kind of fat, preferably butter and heavy cream, are added to make this rock hard mix into a flowing, sticky concoction.

It took me several attempts to reach an understanding with this element of sugar craft. As long as the standard temperatures are adhered to and care is taken to maintain the integrity of the sugar as it cooks, then my candymaking results were positive and as expected. Here are the standard temperatures as called out by Le Cordon Bleu:

  • Thread: 230°F/110°C
  • Soft Ball: 240°F/115°C
  • Firm Ball: 245°F/118°C
  • Hard Ball: 250°F/122°C
  • Crack: 265°F/135°C
  • Hard Crack 290°F/310°C
  • Caramel: 320°F/160°C

These stages are guidelines, and subject to slight variation due to factors such as proportions, sugar and water quality, elevation, humidity, etc. You know, things over which you have limited or no control!

The most reliable test of your sugar’s consistency is not a thermometer, but a small bowl of water equipped with a few cubes of ice. When curious about the state of the sugar, use a clean spoon to scoop up a few drops of syrup and then drop them in the icy water. The sugar will set instantly and reveal its true properties.

One more important lesson learned: maintain the integrity of the sugar. All of the sugars in the pan must be at the same stage. There can be no loose crystals on the side of the pan, so make sure to put a tight-fitting lid on the pan just as the sugar starts to simmer. Leave it on for about 20 minutes so that the steam can condense and roll back down the inside of the pan and wash down all the sugar crystals into the syrup.

Alternatively, you may “baste” the inside of the pan with water (called ‘washing down’ in most recipes)…a great alternative if you don’t have a pan with a lid. Always use clean utensils when testing the sugar as described above.

A few episodes featuring sugar craft:

We tend to keep any sugar-craft simple in our shows, but knowing the full process will help you create delicious things, no matter how complex or simple the recipe is!

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