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Caramelizing Sugar: simple fix

Dear Dish Diary:

Apparently, I have forgotten the simple skill of caramelizing sugar.  As many recipe followers know, some recipes are very clear and walk you through making a dish with ease and then there are others that assume you, the cook, know what to do and not do in order to execute a successful dish.  Well, as embarrassed as I am to admit my own errors, I think it is important to share that even I, who has some training, and have been cooking for over 30 years make some of the simplest of mistakes. 

I confess to burning my sugar! 

There I was finally back from vacation and in the kitchen. Family members were busying themselves, so I had the space to myself for food play! Yay! Things were going great until the recipe I was following said, “…then add the remaining sugar to the pan to caramelize the sugar, then coat the wraps.” Hmm, I thought okay well I don’t want to just add the sugar to the pan full of fry oil. I got out a new pot, added the sugar and placed it on low heat. I kept stirring the sugar with my wooden spoon in fear of burning the sugar. It never really melted… it got clumpy, so I turned up the heat and tried not stirring it just twirling the pot to move the sugar around. It already looked like a few burnt spots were popping up. I knew I was defeated. I let it cook because it never really looked like it fully melted only burnt in areas. Finally, I turned off the heat, stir the mess, to get an even consistency… super thick. Unable to drizzle anything, I pushed a wrap into the pot attempting to coat it on all sides. After a few of these sloppy and sticky wraps were coated, I let them cool. Thank goodness, I didn’t do all of the wraps. Knowing that they were covered in burnt caramel, but wanting to make sure, I had to taste the coating to confirm my disaster. Even the tiniest piece was unpleasant and kind of a mean move on my taste buds. Good thing the remaining wraps were delicious all on their own.

Banana and Jackfruit Turon

Caramelizing sugar, for your next sweet treat, does not need to be a burnt mess. What I did wrong was to use a small, thin bottom pot, which gave me less temperature control and caused my sugar to burn before it even melted. Although, there are a few different ways to complete this process, I do prefer the simpler DRY method. The dry method is quick with less steps. All you need is a heavy bottom pot (ideally 3 quarts), a spatula and sugar. For the WET method, you need sugar, a heavy bottom pot, a spatula, and water. Some people also add cream of tartar or lemon juice, which I learned helps in preventing crystallization of the sugar. Crystallization tends to occurs when then sugar is melted and you stir the solution dropping the temperature.

An optional tool and method to consider would be a candy thermometer and ice bath. If using a thermometer that clips on to the side of your pot, make sure to set it up so that it is suspended and not touching the bottom of the pot. Sugar melts at 320 degrees Fahrenheit and begins to caramelize around 340 degrees F.

  • Light Caramel- 340F
  • Medium Caramel-355-360F
  • Dark Caramel- 375-380F

Depending on what you are using the caramelized sugar for, will determine what temperature or color to aim for. If you are wanting a light color this would be good for a syrup. A medium color is good for darker syrup, as seen in the photo of the crème caramel and for spun sugar. The darker color makes a great caramel sauce for ice creams and candies.

“Don’t be afraid to fail. A sweeter ending comes from trying again.”

Kitchen truths

Caramelized Sugar

Sweet and simple methods for caramelizing sugar.
Prep Time2 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time12 mins
Course: Dessert
Keyword: sugar work
Author: Emely

Equipment

  • 1 3 quart heavy bottom pot
  • 1 Spatula
  • 1 Candy Thermometer optional

Ingredients

  • 1 C Granulated Sugar Can use other sugars except for confectioners sugar.
  • 1/4 C Water Optional if using wet method
  • 1/8 tsp Cream of Tartar Optional if using wet method

Instructions

Dry Method* this method is quick

  • Add sugar to heavy bottom pot in a thin layer warm on medium-low heat.
  • Stir with spatula occasionally until melted then stop stirring.
  • Watch for the desired color and or temperature at least 340°F and no more than 380°F. You may swirl (not stir) the syrup around in the pot for consistency.
  • Remove from the heat once you have your desired color or temperature.
  • Use immediately in desired recipe.

Wet Method* this method takes longer

  • Add sugar and water (if using cream of tartar add it here) to heavy bottom pot stir to combine then warm on medium heat.
  • Stir with spatula occasionally until dissolved and melted then stop stirring.
  • Watch for the desired color and or temperature at least 340°F and no more than 380°F. You may twirl (not stir) the syrup around in the pot for consistency.
  • Remove from the heat once you have your desired color or temperature.
  • Use immediately in desired recipe.

Notes

Optional: you may like to have a large bowl of ice and water to slow the cooking process if need.  If you see your caramel is on the verge of burning, place the pot into the water bath to slow the cooking process and use the caramelized sugar immediately as directed in your recipe.
 
Photo by Yulia Khlebnikova on Unsplash

This dish diary confession is aimed at improving our skills in the kitchen so that the next time a recipe calls for caramelized sugar, we will be ready to impress and enjoy the sweet treat of caramel. Wish you some sugar and spice and things nice!

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