Making Sugar Syrups and caramel always begins with heating and melting ordinary granulated sugar.
It’s easy to do,and homemade sugar syrups and caramel makes your baking taste great.
During the heating process the sugar first dissolves into syrup. As the temperature gets higher the syrup begins to thicken. As the temperature continues to rise and the water evaporates, the sugar begins to caramelize and turn a darker color.
As long as there is a lot of water in the syrup mixture the temperature will not rise much above the boiling point. As the water begins to evaporate the temperature of the mixture also begins to rise. As the water continues to evaporate, the temperature continues to rise. When most of the water has evaporated the temperature of the syrup will begin to rise rapidly. At 320oF there is no water left, the sugar is melted and begins to caramelize, and the sweetness starts to decrease. The hotter the caramel gets the darker it becomes, and the deeper and less sweet the flavor becomes.
Testing for Sugar and Caramel Stages:
An accurate candy or digital thermometer is the most reliable way to determine when sugar has been cooked to the correct temperature.
Drop a teaspoonful of the cooked sugar into a bowl of ice cold water, and then remove the sugar from the water by pressing gently between your thumb and forefinger.
Eyes and Nose:
Experienced candy makers are able to determine by the look and smell if the sugar stage is perfect.
When cooking sugar it is important to prevent sugar crystals from forming and making a grainy consistency. Any foreign particle such as bits of food from dirty equipment, lint from towels, and stray grains of sugar can cause crystals. The foreign particle acts as a “seed” to which sugar molecules are attracted to and attach to, and as more sugar molecules start attaching to each other they form into large solid crystals. To help prevent sugar crystals from
forming always use clean equipment, avoid sloshing the mixture onto the sides of the pan when initially stirring, and avoid stirring altogether once the sugar is dissolved.
Always use the best equipment you can afford. A digital thermometer will give the most accurate readings.
Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer:
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Gone are the various instant read, candy, and meat thermometers I’ve previously used; instead, I use my Thermapen Thermometer for testing for sugar and caramel temperatures, checking room temperature baking ingredients, melting and tempering chocolate, baking bread, making pastry creams, and candy, along with cooking and barbequing meats and fish, and checking oil temperatures for deep frying. Thermapen Thermometer available here.
A good quality pastry brush is a must, as cheaper brushes tend to lose their bristles. A sugar pan made from copper is expensive, however because they are heavy and distribute heat more evenly they are desirable to use when cooking sugar. If using a non-stick pot or saucepan make sure it is a high quality pot that won’t be damaged by high heat. A heavy duty stainless steel pan with a copper bottom is also a good choice for cooking sugar.
Be Careful: Sugar heated to high temperatures can cause serious burns if you touch it or it splashes on you. Have a bowl of ice water nearby so you can immerse your fingers or hand in case of burns.
Making Sugar Syrup and Caramel:
- Sugar syrup begins with granulated sugar and water heated to boiling. A small amount of corn syrup may also be added. The corn syrup helps to prevent sugar from recrystallizing after it has dissolved, stirring constantly, to dissolve the sugar.
- In a medium heavy saucepan, combine sugar, water, and corn syrup. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stir gently to avoid splashing the mixture onto the sides of the pan. Tip: Rub a drop of the warm sugar mixture between your fingertips to make sure it feels smooth, with no trace of sugar granules. If the mixture feels sandy, continue warming and stirring until the mixture is smooth.
- With the heat still on medium, cover the saucepan with a lid for about 4 minutes. The lid traps the steam and allows condensation to run down the sides of the pan and wash away stray sugar crystals that may have formed on the sides of the pan.
- After 4 minutes remove the lid and increase the heat to high. Stop stirring as stirring from this point on may cause crystallization. As the sugar and water boils, the popping and boiling may deposit sugar particles onto the side of the pan which should be washed away using a good quality pastry brush that is moistened. Sugar particles left on the sides of the pan may fall down into the boiling mixture and cause sugar crystals to start forming.
- Cook to the desired temperature stage using a candy or instant read thermometer, such as a Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer, to gauge the temperature..
- Immediately remove pan from the heat when it has reached the desired stage. Tip: Lower the heat when the temperature reaches a few degrees before the finished desired stage to slow the cooking because at the higher temperatures the mixture will heat quickly and exceed the temperature you want. You can also have a bowl of ice water nearby to plunge the bottom of the pan into to stop the cooking.
- Be careful; Sugar heated to high temperatures can cause serious burns if you touch it or it splashes on you. Have a bowl of ice water nearby so you can immerse your fingers or hand in case of burns.
- Cleanup: Don’t try to scrub the pan and utensils clean after making caramel, you will find this is shear frustration. Instead fill the pan with hot water, add the utensils you’ve used, and let sit for several minutes until the sugar is dissolved, then pour the water down the drain. If any spots of hard caramel remain repeat the procedure. To make cleanup even quicker, fill the pan with water, add the utensils, bring the water to a simmer on the stove top and simmer for about 5 minutes or until all the sugar is dissolved.
Testing for Sugar and Caramel Stages:
|Temperature||Stage||Common Uses||Ice Water Test|
|212°F||Boiling||Simple Syrup||Water Boils at 212F at sea level. Large bubbles rise from the bottom of the pot and break on the surface.|
|215 – 219°F||Thread||Candy, Fruit Liqueur, Icing,||Drop a teaspoonful of hot syrup into a small bowl of ice water. The Syrup should form loose, thin threads.|
|220 – 222°F||Pearl||Candy, Fruit Liqueur, Icing, Jelly, Syrup||The thread formed by pulling the liquid sugar may be stretched. When a cool metal spoon is dipped into the syrup and then raised, the syrup runs off in drops which merge to form a sheet.|
|230 – 234°F||Blow or Soufflé||Sugar Candy, Syrup||The bubbles in the boiling sugar resemble snowflakes. When a cool metal spoon is dipped into the syrup and then raised, the syrup spins a 2-inch thread when dropped from the spoon.A lot of water still remains in the syrup at this stage; the sugar concentration is about 80%.|
|234 – 240°F||Soft Ball||Blown Sugar, Buttercream, Fondant, Fudge, Italian Meringue, Marshmallow, Penuche, Peppermint Cream Candy, Praline, Soft Caramel Candy||Drop a teaspoonful of hot syrup into a small bowl of ice water. The syrup should form a soft, sticky, flexible ball that flattens like a pancake when removed from the water. The sugar concentration at this stage is about 85%.|
|242 – 248°F||Firm Ball||Caramel Candy, Nougat, Soft Toffee||Drop a teaspoonful of hot syrup into a small bowl of ice water. The ball won’t flatten when removed from the water; it remains pliable and will flatten out if squeezed between your fingers. The sugar concentration at this stage is about 87%.|
|250 – 266°F||Hard Ball||Divinity, Gummy Candy, Popcorn Balls, Rock Candy, Taffy||Drop a teaspoonful of hot syrup into a small bowl of ice water. The sugar will form thick threads as it drips from the spoon and should form a hard ball. The ball won’t flatten when removed from the water; it will retain its shape and stay hard but you can change the shape by squeezing between your fingers. At this stage most of the water has boiled away. The sugar concentration is about 92%.|
|270 – 290°F||Soft Crack||Butterscotch||The boiling bubbles are becoming smaller, thicker, and closer together. Drop a teaspoonful of hot syrup into a small bowl of ice water. The syrup should separate into strands that are firm but not brittle and will bend slightly before breaking. The sugar concentration at this stage is about 95%.|
|300 – 310°F||Hard Crack||Brittle, Gingerbread House “Glass,” Glacéed Fruit, Lollipops, Toffee||Drop a teaspoonful of hot syrup into a small bowl of ice water. The syrup should separate into hard brittle threads that break if bent. The sugar concentration at this stage is about 99%.|
|320°F||Lightest Caramel, Clear Liquid; Sugar Melts||The water has completely boiled away and the remaining sugar is pure liquid and beginning to turn clear and light amber color. The sugar concentration is at 100%|
|325 – 338°F||Light Caramel||Brittle, Caramel Shards, Caramel Sticks, Glazes, Hard Candy, Pralines, Toffee||The color of the caramel goes starts to go from clear to brown. Caramel at this stage is light and sweet|
|340 – 345°F||Amber Caramel||Pralines, Nougatine, Spun Sugar, Sugar Cages||The color is light brown. Caramel at this stage is rich and sweet|
|345 – 350°F||Dark Caramel||The color is medium brown. Caramel at this stage is dark and intense|
|360 – 375°F||Very Dark Caramel||Coloring Agent for Sauces||The color is dark brown. Caramel at this stage is dark and bittersweet|
|400°F||Black Jack||None; throw away and start over||The liquefied sugar turns black and then decomposes. Sugar heated to this point is too bitter and is not usable.|