I really don’t want to write another post about cooking with sugar, mostly because all my carefully honed and lovingly nurtured communication skills fall to ruin after I type the word “sugar.” For some reason, people don’t understand what I’m saying and there’s only one person to blame.
But after a bunch of recent requests for a recipe, I decided to try again. The problem begins with the idea of a recipe because a recipe implies a ratio of ingredients that will give you the proper results. But cooking with sugar is more of a process than a formula.
If I start by explaining that table sugar (or sucrose) is a disaccharide that you want to invert into a mixture of glucose and fructose by way of a hydrolysis reaction, you won’t remember. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter. Trust me on this.
Just think of it this way: when boiling sugar you are changing its format. Instead of little crystals you will get either a smooth and pliable dough (fondant) or a hard candy, something akin to a lollypop. These formats are easier for you to handle—and less likely to be discarded by your dinner guests—than tiny sugar crystals.
To make fondant or hard candy, you simply dissolve the sugar in the smallest amount of water possible and then cook it to drive the water back out. Really. You don’t need any other ingredients, but a little lemon juice, vinegar, or cream of tartar helps to speed up the conversion of sucrose into glucose and fructose.
Beekeepers argue about the amount of water needed to start, but it doesn’t matter. You can put ten pounds of sugar in three cups of water or in five gallons of water—you will get the same thing in the end. But the more water you use, the longer it will take to drive it all off again. The trick is to use as much water as necessary, but as little as possible.
The temperature you cook the solution to determines the consistency of the final product. Boiling until 234°F gives you fondant, boiling to 250°F will give you hard candy. For more on these temperatures, called stages, and for information about calibrating your thermometer, see my previous post, “Notes on cooking with sugar syrup.”
Below are directions for hard candy. I will add fondant in a day or two.
|Prep time||10 minutes|
|Cook time||1 hour|
|Total time||1 hour, 10 minutes|
|Dietary||Gluten Free, Vegan|
|Meal type||Main Dish|
|Misc||Pre-preparable, Serve at Hive Temperature|
- 10 lb granulated sugar
- 1 quart water
- 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
If you are extremely picky, you can wipe down the inside of the pot with a wet pastry brush while the mixture comes to a boil. This will keep any errant sugar crystals from forming more crystals as the mixture cools. I don't do this because the bees don't care.
When the cooking is done and the bubbling has stopped you can add a few drops of essential oil, if desired. I like to add anise oil because the bees seem to find the sugar cakes faster. If you decide to add an essential oil, it may cause the hot syrup to splatter, so be careful. After adding the oil, give a quick stir before pouring the syrup into the molds.
|Prepare molds in advance. I like to use paper plates lightly sprayed with canola oil. Lay them out on a flat, heat-proof surface.|
|Measure the water and the vinegar (or lemon juice) into a large pot and bring to a slow simmer.|
|Pour in the sugar, stirring until it dissolves completely. Keep stirring until you feel no "grits" in the water. If the sugar won't dissolve add more water, little by little, until all the crystals disappear.|
|Once the sugar is completely dissolved, you can gently turn up the heat to medium high and stop stirring. Insert your candy thermometer. (Because the crystals are gone, there is nothing to settle on the bottom and burn; the sugar is in solution.)|
|Boil the mixture until the thermometer reads 250 degrees F, then remove the pot from the heat. If you wish, you can test the candy at this point. Place a drop of syrup into a glass of cool water. Reach in and get the drop. The drop of candy should hold its shape, but you can flatten it between your fingers.|
|Carefully pour the mixture into 8 or 10 paper plates.|
|Allow the candy cakes to cool completely and then pop them out and store between layers of wax paper.|
|You can store the candy cakes for long periods. Just keep them away from insects, mice, and moisture.|