I strongly recommend if you intend to play with sugar, get the following tools: wooden spoon, candy thermometer, ceramic pot. When I say ceramic pot, I mean it very seriously. Candy can be very difficult and it is just so much easier to use a ceramic pot because there is no concern about how non-stick it is such as with other types of non-stick cookware. I also recommend to get a large pot. Even though this recipe is very small, sugar boils up before it cooks down. You will want the space.
Sugar fascinates me, obviously. I've seen television shows that follow the process of candy making but until you see it before your very eyes, there are just no words that will convince you of just how magical sugar is. That's not going to stop me trying, though.
Sugar has multiple stages: soft ball, hard ball, soft crack, hard crack. As you move through the stages, the transition of the sugar's state is more than just liquid and solid. There are these gel-like and crumbly phases as well.
In the beginning, there was sugar, butter and syrup. This trio bunked together in the pot as if they were away at camp enjoying whispered giggles from their respective bunk beds. A warmth growing from beneath began to change their tune.
Before long, the syrup has thinned and stretched among the grains of sugar, swirls of melted butter mingling. The heat transfers through the liquids to soften and break-down the structure of each minute sugar cube. Before long, there is enough heat to have the mixture swelling and bubbling. The surface is a silky sheet with just a few bumps of sugar still being absorbed into the syrup.
It is everything I can do to not reach into the put and run a finger along the surface. The candy thermometer on the edge of the pot reassures me: we are creeping past 150 degrees F.
As the glucose chains broke down further and attempted to meld with the buttery syrup, a dispute seemed to occur. Perhaps they were trying to decide who was absorbing who. The result is a crumbly, crackly mess of congealed goop. Mobility was not happening as the battle continued.
Stirring almost didn't happen. I persevered, my only thought “I must keep the heat spreading to end this tiny, silent war.”
Thankfully, this stage does not last long as the crack stages move in. I’m not sure who has won at this point, who absorbed who, or if a peace treaty was signed and love spread among the trio. No matter, the result is a satiny finish of warm caramel slip-sliding around the pot: 300 degrees F.
This was the point when I took the pot off the heat source. The caramel was to cool to 200 degrees F before attempting to curl it around the greased up handle of my whisk.
This was also the point where the cussing began.
Using a fork, as per the provided instruction, I lifted a stab of caramel with the prongs and let it run down in a strand. The whisk handle caught up the strand and I twirled the utensil. There is a timing to this technique that is just utter failure to the inexperienced. The strands dripped at such a high pace that I couldn't get the whisk twirled in time. At a point, the handle had warmed up enough that the caramel just slid right off, laughing at me, no twirl whatsoever.
Time out. Think. What about this can I change.
I mess with the caramel while I think. Maybe the handle is too warm? Or too much additional grease from the caramel transferring to the handle? Did I miss anything in the recipe post...?
The caramel cools as I pace the kitchen in thought; thermometer reads about 120 degrees F and the caramel is almost solid. I put it back on the burner on the lowest heat possible and wait for it to be pliable again.
And that was all it took: let the caramel cool to below 200 degrees F then bring it back up to temp. It is now denser and the strand drips slower, cools faster. Plus, I can wrap the strand of caramel around the whisk - no twirl! I just needed to temper the caramel, apparently.
This was a fun recipe and I ended up with some really beautiful caramel garnishes.
Hard crack is not literal; this caramel snaps easily, especially when in a thin strand such as these little twirls.
If you decide to stop half way through the caramel, wipe a piece of aluminum foil with grease and coerce the remaining caramel on to it to cool. You can either crack it up for pieces to eat or save it to reheat later.
There is a very earthy undertone to this caramel that I believe comes from the high temperature coupled with the tempering. Be sure to taste it before you decide it is candy to hand out at work.
For clean-up: put all your tools in the pot with some water and let it boil about 10 minutes. All clean!
These curls are very thin! If you plan to garnish cupcakes with them, do it just before serving or the moisture of the frosting may melt the curl. (I found this out the hard way and ended up with frosting that looked like it had been slashed by Wolverine.)
For storing: dust the curls lightly with powdered sugar, let set a couple minutes, then put in a tupperware. The powdered sugar will create a layer against the sticky of the caramel and prevent a mess. These little guys keep well in an airtight container for an extended period of time.
All [creativity] is not lost...
Corissa has been an artist her entire life and attended the Art Institute for design after completing a Bachelor’s in Accounting from National American University. She validates the contradicting combination with “I love my art but I don’t have to starve for it.”
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