Gallery: Sweet Technique: Spun Sugar

  • Dress to impress

    spun sugar

    Spun sugar is a sweet decoration that instantly transforms everyday desserts into those fit for a special occasion.

    Setup: secure dowels

    taped down kitchen utensils

    Organized setup is key when making spun sugar. To begin, tape 3-4 wooden dowels to a table with at least 1 foot of clearance in front of it. I like to use the handles of my cooking utensils. It is important to use wood because it prevents sticking.

    Setup: cover surfaces

    covering kitchen surfaces with aluminum foil

    Cover the table, including the taped dowels, with foil. This will protect the table from sugar, which is very difficult to remove. Protect your floors by covering them with newspaper or foil, too. Line a dry sheet tray with parchment and set aside.

    Setup: Make ice bath and prepare tools

    ice bath

    Choose a medium sized saucepan with a heavy bottom, and pair it with a large bowl that can accommodate the saucepan. Fill the bowl two-thirds of the way with ice and very cold water and set near the stove. Also gather a clean pastry brush, an instant read candy thermometer, a small bowl of water, and a small, fine strainer.

    Carefully add the ingredients

    spun sugar ingredients

    Put the ingredients into the pot in this order: water, corn syrup, and sugar. When you add the sugar, pour it low and into the dead center of the pot, taking care not to let it touch the sides. Slowly mix the sugar into the water until it is all wet, taking care not to get sugar on the sides of the pot. This will help prevent crystallization, which causes the mixture to seize up. Set the pot over medium-high heat, taking care not to slosh the contents of the pot. It is very important that the mixture be allowed to melt over the meat without any stirring.

    Wash down the sides

    washing down the sides of the pan

    Once the mixture starts to bubble, begin periodically washing down the sides using the pastry brush dipped in plenty of cold water. This helps prevent crystallization.

    Skim the surface

    skim surface of bubbling mixture

    Once the sugar has completely dissolved, skim any impurities from the surface of the bubbling mixture. This will remove any impurities present in the sugar, which can cause crystallization.

    Monitor the temperature

    checking temperature of mixture

    Once the sugar is completely dissolved, you will want to begin monitoring the temperature carefully, waiting for it to reach 293°F (6-12 minutes). A great way to prevent steam burns is to place the end of a fish spatula over the edge of the pot and stick the thermometer sensor down through the holes. Stay close to ensure that the setup doesn't slide and fall in.

    At 293°F, plunge into ice bath

    put pot into ice bath

    One the thermometer reads 293°F, immediately remove it from the heat and plunge the pan into the waiting ice water bath for five seconds.

    Cool and thicken

    sugar mixture

    Once you've removed the pot from the ice bath, allow it to cool a bit, until it is the consistency of honey. This takes less than a minute.

    Begin "pulling" the sugar strands

    pulling sugar strands on kitchen utensils

    The syrup hardens as it drips down, forming thread-like strands. To get the thinnest strands possible, dip the fork into the pot and stretch the fork over the pot and allow the larger drips to fall, then rapidly move the fork back and forth over the dowels. Repeat if necessary.

    Loosen the strands

    feel spun sugar

    As soon as the strands are cool enough to touch without burning yourself, gently push up on the them to loosen (don't worry if a few crack and break) them from the dowels.

    Gather strands into a ball

    spun sugar strands in a ball

    Using cool, dry hands and a light touch, carefully form the strands into a loose ball.

    Store finished pieces

    spun sugar on baking sheet

    Keep the finished pieces on a dry baking sheet lined with parchment.

    Reheat the mixture as you go

    reheat sugar mixture

    You will notice that the mixture in the pot will harden as you work. When this happens, return it to the stove and melt the syrup over medium heat until it is a liquid. Once it is liquified, plunge into ice bath, cool slightly, and keep working. You will notice that the sugar will take on an amber color, which is from caramelization. The more you reheat, the darker it will become.

    Easy clean-up

    cleaning sugar off utensils

    Hardened sugar is a pain in the neck to scrub off pots and tools. Make it easier by filling the pot most of the way with water, submerging the tools, and setting the pot to boil until the sugar has dissolved.

    Use as soon as possible

    spun sugar

    I reserve sugar work for special occasions because it's labor intensive and volatile. It's important to use the spun sugar as soon as possible, because humidity will cause it to turn sticky and white, and eventually melt away. Storing in an airtight container with silica gel packets to absorb excess moisture will slightly prolong shelf life, but only for a day at best.

    spun sugar on a cupcake