A couple of years ago, we made a bunch of cooked sugar fireworks to top our 4th of July cupcakes, which were originally inspired by a volcano that we made for Randa's birthday. Once you get the hang of it, cooked sugar is so fun to work with.
This year, we did a cake.
We used this Lollipop recipe from the Science of Cooking Website to create the sugar mixture.
The entire process if fairly simple.
-Cook the sugar solution on the stove (sugar, water, corn syrup and cream of tartar) to the Hard-Crack stage. This takes less than 10 minutes.
-Then mix it with gel food coloring.
-Drizzle onto Silpat or parchment paper lined cookie sheets, reheating as necessary to keep it thin.
-I let Joey (9 years old) do some of the drizzling, but you should definitely be super careful with this stuff. It is molten. And will stick to you. Which hurts. A lot. So, use your best judgment.
-During this project, we learned about mono and disaccharides, crystallization and interfering agents.
-We also learned that all the different stages of cooked sugar (at least from the Soft-Ball to the Hard-Crack) are just variations on the amount of water still left in the solution.
Which brings me to my most recent Don't Do What Donnie Don't Does- Don't rely on temperature alone to determine whether the sugar solution has cooked long enough. My first batch was way droopy because I adjusted for high altitude (like instructed) and only cooked it to 290 degrees. And the second batch still wasn't quite done at 300.
Use the Cold Water Test when you think you've made it to the right stage. If the strands of sugar are brittle and not at all pliable, you're there, otherwise, keep cooking.
Jenny took some fun pictures of the drizzling process.
-Have all the cookie sheets covered with parchment paper or a Silpat BEFORE you start to cook the sugar solution, because once it's ready, you've got to move quickly.
-I suggest mixing up the colored batches in heat resistant, microwave safe bowls, with handles, if possible. It's best to have these ready, as well, before you start cooking the sugar.
-A thermometer really comes in handy for this project. Though, it doesn't need to be a candy thermometer. Just one that goes up to 300 degrees.
-If you're using a thermometer that doesn't stay attached to the side of the pan, make sure to clean and dry it completely before returning it to the pan each time. Dried sugar on it will act as a seed and make the whole thing harden up into crystals.
-I would suggest turning down the stove as you approach the correct temperature. It'll take longer, but it will also give you enough time to do the Cold Water Test without too much worry that you'll over cook it.
-I like the Silpats because they're reusable, but unless you already have one, parchment paper works perfectly well.
-Don't bother letting the sugar solution cool to 275 like the recipe says. Just immediately mix with the coloring and drizzle, and it will be a nice thin consistency.
-The unpoured sugar will start to thicken as it cools, though. Put it in the microwave for a few seconds at a time and stir it thoroughly to soften it back up to a drizzleable consistency.
-If you're going to stand them up on the cake like I did, make sure to drizzle a good, thick base.
-You could also just make them without the base and lay them flat against the cake (either on top or on the sides) after they've cooled.
Happy Almost 4th of July!
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