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Elizabeth_11

Troubleshooting Caramels

265 posts in this topic

well if were talking about compounds that have formed under heat then there is no more excess h2o in the solution meaning as long as the solution is heated properly and evenly that it would not matter to what degree you heated it under.

so once again my statements stand.

and yes, add as much water you want to a sugar solutionand by the time it gets to 230degrees you will still have the same ratio of water and sugar no mattter if you have an ounce of water or a gallon, it will just take a lot longer to boil the water out.


Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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I have two types of hand-dipped caramels in my current chocolate selection, which means, of course, that I find myself making caramels fairly often. One thing I've noted over the past year or so, is that the speed at which I bring it up to temperature seems to affect the firmness of the caramel - the longer it takes, the firmer the finished candy. What I don't understand is why this should be so. Is it an evaporation issue? Something else? And what is the ideal length of time I should shoot for anyway? I know there must be someone around here who knows.

Does anyone know anything about what compounds or reaction products are formed de novo during the caramelization process? Rank speculation of course, but maybe there are compounds that have a hardening effect on finished caramel that ony form in a narrow temperature 'window,' in which case the more slowly the sugar passes through that temp window, the greater the production of these hardening compounds, and the harder the resulting caramel? Or conversely maye the longer cooking results in the destruction of 'interfering agents' (which interfere with crystallization) which would otherwise causes the sugar to take a more haphazard, less orderly structure?


Edited by Patrick S (log)

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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Hello!

Well, I have a caramel question for all of you who have made it. The question actually pertains to a meal I've been trying to make, not a dessert, but I think it still applies to this section of eGullet.

Basically, the recipe has you cook sugar (1 cup) with a minuscule amount of water (about 2 tablespoons) in a skillet until melted and browned. No stirring, just a shake here and there to get things moving.

Well, I'm not sure how I can mess up such easy directions, but I am. I heat the skillet (and everything in it) to medium heat, and after a little bit the sugar seems to melt. But before it ever browns, it dries out!

Am I heating it to high? Or am I supposed to wash down the sides of the skillet with water (using a pastry brush) as I have read before?

I know this is kind of a dumb question, so thanks to all who will offer a newbie some advice! :)

Bryan


Bryan Ochalla, a.k.a. "Techno Foodie"

http://technofoodie.blogspot.com/

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."

Orson Welles (1915 - 1985)

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dumber question...what type sugar are you using?

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Did you try to keep it cooking, because someday when I was doing caramel from sugar and water and cristalized, instead of throwing it , I kept on the heat and then it turn to caramel.

best wishes

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My understanding with caramel was that the only purpose of the water was to dissolve the sugar. Caremalisation doesn't actually start until all the water has evaporated. Your meant to stir the sugar at the beginning to get it all dissolved, it's only afterwards when all the water has disappeared that you should be careful shaking the pan as the sugar can spontaneously crystallise with agitation.


PS: I am a guy.

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highchef: I'm using regular granulated (white) sugar.

Another note from me: if the water is supposed to be used to dissolve the sugar, it seems the amount called for in the recipe isn't enough. Maybe I should add more? Can that hurt the carmelization process?

Thanks to those of you who have responded already!


Bryan Ochalla, a.k.a. "Techno Foodie"

http://technofoodie.blogspot.com/

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."

Orson Welles (1915 - 1985)

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It does seem very scant but it is enough to dissolve the sugar. I am guessing more won't hurt, hell sugar and water are cheap, just try it. I've also heard some corn syrup will help prevent crystalisation and would probably help in dissolving.


PS: I am a guy.

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Keep heating. If anything, I think you're either not using enough heat, or not allowing enough time for the sugar to heat up. The sugar cannot resist-- once you get it hot enough, it will turn syrupy, and it will brown once you get it it to the right temp. Water is not even really necessary -- I've made caramel (e.g. for creme caramel dishes) using only sugar, no water or corn syrup.


Edited by Patrick S (log)

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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highchef:  I'm using regular granulated (white) sugar.

Another note from me: if the water is supposed to be used to dissolve the sugar, it seems the amount called for in the recipe isn't enough.  Maybe I should add more?  Can that hurt the carmelization process?

Adding more sugar won't hurt the final product -- it will only increase the amount of time it takes for the temperature of the sugar solution to pass ~212F. The solution will not go much further than 212 until all the water is boiled off.

EDIT: I meant to write that adding more water won't hurt the final product.


Edited by Patrick S (log)

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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Ah! Now this is the kind of help I was looking for! Sounds like I might not have heated it high enough. I have to admit I was a bit "shy" about it - worrying that I would burn it - so I probably just didn't heat it high enough. I'll try again tonight and see what happens.

Thank you!


Bryan Ochalla, a.k.a. "Techno Foodie"

http://technofoodie.blogspot.com/

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."

Orson Welles (1915 - 1985)

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For that little bit of water it's easier to just dry caramelize it. But the key is to add your sugar in small amounts, starting with a couple tablespoons. As soon as that starts to melt then add in some more, continuing until you have the full amount added in. Then just get it to the color you want.

It might clump up a bit but if you keep working it, it will all melt.


Josette

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More great advice - thank you, JSkilling! I'll try this tonight - here's to some carmelized sugar!


Bryan Ochalla, a.k.a. "Techno Foodie"

http://technofoodie.blogspot.com/

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."

Orson Welles (1915 - 1985)

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Put the water first then add the sugar and let the water absorb most of the sugar for a minute. Then heat. Sometimes I put a lid on it for a few secs when it's boiling so I don't have to use a pastry brush. Foolproof. :biggrin:

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Bochalla, you already gotten correct answers. I'm hoping that I can explain this one step further..........

There are MANY ways/methods to make caramel/to caramelize sugar:

You can cook sugar alone in your pan to make caramel. Plain sugar goes thru a process while it's melting. Small amounts of melted sugar bind to still unmelted grains of sugar and it gathers into clumps. Those clumps can very hard clumps. If you continue heating the clumps of sugar the over all temp. will rise and the clumps will break down and melt. BUT sometimes those darn white clumps of unmelted sugar don't break down by themselves nicely. Sometimes they remain clumps and ruin your texture. So we've come up with other methods to help avoid that from happening. (this is what you saw in your pan, partically melted sugar that formed into dry clumps, if you had gone further you'd have achieved caramelization) JSkillings technique of slowly melting the sugar is a method that works for her and many others if done correctly. But some people struggle following that method until they master it.

You can add a liquid to your sugar (it can be liquids other then water like fruit juices too) that will help the sugar grains dissolve more evenly so it's less likely to form clumps. But if you don't have enough liquid to sugar proportions the liquid really doesn't help you. It will go thru the same process described above. The liquid will evaporate out of your sugar too quickly and not aid it in dissolving. The sugar will become hard and dry as part of the melting process identical to melting sugar alone.

The easiest way to melt sugar into caramel is to add more liquid. If you have more liquid your sugar will dissolve completely in the liquid. With enough liquid, it will not evaporate out of your sugar until the sugar has melted smoothly. This will take the sugar longer to reach the temp. where it turns into caramel, but the beauty of it is it doesn't make your sugar go thru that dry clumping stage.

A "trick" I learned thru innumerous recipes for making caramel is that if you add lemon juice as the "liquid" into your granular sugar (just a few drops, enough so when you stir it into your grains of sugar before attempting to melt it, it will be a sand like texture just barely able to retain it's shape if pressed into a shape) the sugar doesn't develop into clumps while it melts. The lemon juice helps the sugar grains melt evenly. So it's quicker then using more liquid and more fail safe then not using liquid. This is the method I use almost all of the time, ignoring what the recipe in front of me says.

If you going to finish cooking your caramelized sugar into a caramel syrup (of sorts) I've also learned thru practice that what ever liquid your using (cream, water, juice or broth) if you heat the liquid before you add it into your hot caramel the caramel syrup will be less likely to sieze in clumps...which can happen if you pour a cold liquid into a hot caramel.

Another thing to look out for while making caramel is sugar crystalization, which got touched upon earilier. If grains of unmelted sugar cling to the sides of you pan and become intoduced into your melted sugar the melted sugar will grow crystals of sugar rapidly and you'll end up with a grainy texture. So you should wash down the sides of your pan and utensils while melting caramel so no sugar grains remain unmelted in your pot. A simple way to achieve this is to place something on top of your pot (like a lid or a bowl that fits snuggle on top) while the sugar is melting into caramel. The lid will for condensation to happen inside your pot and that condensation will wash down the sides of the pan for you.

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Hi Bochalla,

SO much good information! I know this concoction as burnt sugar. I make it to add to cake and frosting for my Dad's favorite from the old days, Burnt Sugar Cake.

Wendy DeBord, great explanation. Thank you!

I learned the hard way about adding more liquid and cooking it down: I had made burnt sugar painfully from dry for years. One day, I was making peanut-crusted chicken with Thai dipping sauce.

I had the sauce (sugar, water and hot peppers. etc.) heating on low when I was called away. I returned in a panic a half hour later to find the dipping sauce cooked down to a spicy burnt sugar sauce. My guests absolutely raved about it as they dipped their garlicky, peanut-crusted chicken wings. But I was excited because I had finally discovered (by accident) how to make burnt sugar with ease! :cool:

The lemon idea is worth trying, too. Would it flavor my cake, though? I don't like lemon flavor except where it's supposed to be.

Catherine


Edited by Peachpie9 (log)

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Hello again!

Well, I had bad news from my carmelization effort last night. First, let me give a bit of background on the recipe.

It's not a baked item, but a main course meal. The sauce is just sugar (and a little water, according to the original recipe), soy sauce, and ground black pepper. You're supposed to melt the sugar until it's a bit brown, add the soy sauce and then the pepper - and voila! it's supposed to be ready for the rest of the ingredients (tofu and sliced onions). Simple, no?

Well, last night, after reading the first few pieces of advice from this thread, I tried caramelizing the sugar "dry." Started with just a few tablespoons, which melted and started to brown. Yay! I was excited :) Then, as I continued to add small amounts of sugar, it melted, but also rapidly browned. By the time the whole cup of sugar was melted and I added the soy sauce - well, it was a mess (that's an understatement). A second attempt was marginally better, but still horrible, and by that time I was frazzled.

I'm guessing that I was cooking the sugar over too high of a flame. Since it seemed last time that I wasn't cooking it hot enough (at medium temp), I upped it passed medium - to about "6" on our electric stove (nearly med-high?).

Did I misunderstand the advice - should I have cooked it at a lower heat for a longer amount of time?

Also, when I added the soy sauce the mixture seized up horribly. I'm guessing next time I should take someone else's advice and heat it a bit to keep this from happening?

Sorry if this seems like it should be in the "Cooking" forum on this site. When I first started the thread I thought I would just get pointers on the caramel part and then figure out the rest myself.

Thank you to all of you who have offered advice so far!

Bryan


Bryan Ochalla, a.k.a. "Techno Foodie"

http://technofoodie.blogspot.com/

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."

Orson Welles (1915 - 1985)

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Bryan,

Don't be afraid to add water to your sugar for making caramel or burnt sugar. It cooks down pretty fast and is nice and smooth and delicious.

One important point: when you add liquid to your caramel, be very careful. If it's very hot, it can explode, but I'll bet you knew that.

Catherine

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Hello!

Well, I have a caramel question for all of you who have made it.  The question actually pertains to a meal I've been trying to make, not a dessert, but I think it still applies to this section of eGullet. 

Basically, the recipe has you cook sugar (1 cup) with a minuscule amount of water (about 2 tablespoons) in a skillet until melted and browned.  No stirring, just a shake here and there to get things moving.

Bryan

Bryan,

The concept of what you are trying to do is use sugar to darken and flavor your sauce and then proceed with the rest of your recipe.

You can also use caramelized sugar sauce to flavor and color a recipe. I think the proportions of 2 tablespoons sugar to 1 cup sugar in your recipe are way off. I like to use the following proportions:

Combine 1/3 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon water (or 2/3 cup sugar and 2 tablepoons sugar for your recipe) in a small, WIDE saucepan. Place the pan over medium to medium-low heat. Make sure the flame does not reach over the side of the pan or the sugar solution can burn easily. Stir mixture constantly with a wooden spoon, until it turns GOLDEN/AMBER in color, about 12 to 15 minutes. Take from heat and use immediately over your stir fry. Do NOT not let the sauce turn dark amber/brown and burn. It happens really fast, so watch the mixture carefully.

When you drizzle the caramel sauce over your stir fry, it will sizzle and clump. The caramelized sugar will dissolve as you stir it into the recipe, about 1 to 2 minutes.


Edited by Sarah Phillips (log)

Happy Baking! Sarah Phillips, President and Founder, http://www.baking911.com

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Sarah Phillips,

Your technique looks great. The only thing I would add is that if your recipe calls for sugar, and that sugar is to be caramelized, you will get a very different result by only caramelizing part of the sugar and just adding the rest of it to the other ingredients.

When sugar is caramelized, its flavoring power is INCREASED, but its sweetening power is DECREASED, at least by half. If your recipe calls for 1/3 cup of sugar, caramelized, and you only caramelize a couple tablespoons and just add the rest of the sugar to your recipe, your dish will be about TWICE as sweet as it was meant to be. *gag*

Catherine

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Catherine,

...Our posts crossed paths...I had taken out my part about caramelizing a small portion of sugar and then adding the rest...(because it would sweeten the recipe too much)....then after removing that part of my post, I noticed yours.....My post was edited at 5:02 and your post was at 5:05!

So, Bryan, just read what I have posted above which is what I intended to write......caramelize all of the sugar at once....2/3 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons WATER! (Don't use 1 cup sugar).


Edited by Sarah Phillips (log)

Happy Baking! Sarah Phillips, President and Founder, http://www.baking911.com

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Bryan,

My first attempts at caramel resulted in fine looking rock candy! Once you get the feel for this you'll be able to do it regardless of the flame or method. I dry caramelize the sugar and just get it to a nice golden stage so it tastes like caramel, not burnt sugar. Then I add my cream and let it seize right up. A few more minutes of vigorous stirring will get it all to even back out. You might just have to try this several more times until you get the feel for the speed at which this melts and then have your next ingredients ready and at a hotter temp so they'll incorporate in. I also find that if I add just a little of the cream first and mix that in, it's easier to start adding the rest and I get less seizing. But even if it does, now I know it will come back once I stir and get it back up to temp.

Sugar is not easy. It's hot, it's dangerous and goes south in a heartbeat. But once you get it, you'll have far more successes than failures.

Why don't you half this recipe and work with a smaller amount to see if that helps you out? Turn down your flame just a bit after the sugar starts melting and then add the sugar a few T at a time. It will go fast here once the initial melt happens - each bit you put in will get incorporated fairly quickly and will essentially be the correct color almost as soon as you get the last bit of sugar in and melted. So have your soy sauce hot and ready to go. See if that helps out...


Edited by JSkilling (log)

Josette

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You have to really step back and think about what is happening here. Normal cooks are used to dealing with 2 liquids, water and oil. Water has a freezing point of 0C and a boiling point of 100C, oil has a freezing point around the same range and a boiling point higher than 300C(500F) which is irrelevant because it smokes anyway.

What we are doing with caramel is creating a 3rd type of liquid with significantly different properties. Sucrose has a freezing point of about 160C and boiling point higher than 200C which doesn't matter because it burns at that point anyway. Sugar has the additional interesting property that it's physical properties change depending on the maximum temperature you take it to. What your aiming to achieve, is to first melt this mass of sugar by raising it about 160C and then to stop overbrowning it by keeping it below around 180C or so which is amber. But since sugar is such a poor conductor of heat and mechanical agitation is something you try and avoid as much as possible, then things get a bit tricky.

Using water is a good way to safely get it up to around the 150C mark since it dissolves the sugar and increases conductivity. At 100C, the water starts boiling off. A water and sugar solution can keep increasing in temperature up to about 150C as the water slowly boils off the sugar-water solution. By 160C, you should be looking at pure sugar in it's melted form. However, while water is nice, all it's doing is making sure your entire sugar solution reaches 160C at about the same time. Dry melting sugar can mean that some sugar might get appreciably hotter than other parts which can lead to burning.

Now, your challenge is to get the entire mass to about 180C without having significant parts of it go above, say, 200C when bitter flavours start appearing. The advice about a wide pan is good since it means the sides of the pan are relatively cool, alternatively, you could use a low flame or a pot with very good conductivity like an unlined copper pot professional pastry chefs use. How you do this is up to you but you need to be aware of all the different temperature variations and how it will affect your caramel.

As an aside, I hope by now you realize why sugar can sometimes sieze on the side of a pan. To the sugars perspective, your pan is ice-cold, any sugar that hits the side of the pan is essentially freezing instantly.

Now, once you have this mass of 180C liquid, what you want to do is to form a gastrique essentially. The problem is, how do you introduce a liquid that boils at 100C to a liquid that freezes at 160C succesfully. Theres really no easy way to do this, you can let your caramel solidify and drop down to 100C first and then add the liquid so it doesn't boil but that takes time.

Alternatively, you could try dump the 2 things together. The caramel will essentially flash freeze into littly chunks of candy and the soy will boil as if it hit a hot pan, but, once the two things come into equilibrium, the candy bits will slowly dissolve back into the soy for a smooth solution of sugar water.


PS: I am a guy.

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I tend to favour the wet caramelization, simply because I'm doing a whole bunch of other things while I make caramel and it reduces the amount of attention I need to give it.

All of the above explanations are excellent, but I'll take one thread of this discussion and amplify on it; that being the role of the lemon juice.

Adding acid to your sugar converts part of the sucrose (ie ordinary granulated sugar) into invert sugar, which resists crystallization. There are other ways to do that; you could use cream of tartar or vinegar in similarly small amounts, or add an already-extant invert sugar such as corn syrup or glucose (you'll see recipes calling for these). You'll still want to watch out for buildup of crystals on the side of your pan, but the acid makes things a bit easier.

If you should wind up with a pan full of nicely caramelized sugar, but somewhat marred by undissolved lumps, just add the rest of your liquids in their due course and stir vigorously. Often they'll dissolve, if not you can just strain the s.o.b. when nobody's looking (blushing as I reveal a guilty secret). This doesn't apply to straight caramelized sugar, of course, which will just turn your strainer into non-functioning sculpture.

An important point to remember, as Wendy pointed out upthread, is that this all boils down (sorry) to the laws of physics. Heat sugar to the appropriate temperature, and it *will* caramelize. Candy thermometers aren't necessarily expensive, and can save you a lot of aggravation. Even a fully-crystallized skillet full of sugar will re-melt as the temperature comes up. You want to get your sugar to - but not past - the desired fashion. The slower you go, the richer the colour will be and the less likely you are to burn your sugar. Of course, this presupposes that you have time to do it slowly. :hmmm:

If you do overcook your sugar, don't throw it away. Dilute the tarry-looking stuff with a bit of water and store it in your fridge; it's a great browning agent for sauces (or rye bread). I make this deliberately on occasion, it's sometimes called "blackjack." A handy cheat to have in your arsenal.


Fat=flavor

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I agree wholeheartedly with Chromedome. And he's not alone in the occassional straining of caramel. Sometimes it seizes and there's just no other way to get the little lumps out. That said, it took me ages to realize that one of my pans works so much better than any of the others. It's nonstick calphalon and is set like a pan but has a slightly higher sides. I don't use anything else these days.

I use the dry method because I have the attention span of a gnat and will wander off if it takes too long. I rarely add lemon juice but sometimes add a drop or two of glucose depending on the recipe. When adding other ingredients to the melted sugar I always make sure they are warmed a bit and usually add the butter before the cream to grease the sugar crystals.

Learning to work with sugar does take a little time even though recipes make it sound simple.

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