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mkfradin

Spun sugar: Tips & Techniques

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I've been trying to master spun sugar for a while now, and am having soming trouble with it. Does anyone make it frequently? Are there any "tricks" to it that I don't know?

I'm cooking the sugar to a medium caramel (I'm not measuring temperature, but it starts out medium and ends up amber by the time I'm done) with some cream of tarter to make the threads a little more flexible, and then I'm dipping the fork in and waving it back and forth. I get a few little threads and then the sugar starts to harden on the fork and eventually turns into a huge lump of hard candy while I'm collecting 3 threads at a time.

Needless to say, I'm not getting nearly enough for what I want to do, which is wrap a cake (actually, to do the cake, I will use isomalt, but I don't want to practice with it--too expensive!) in spun sugar. Do I wrap it as I go along? I saw Ewald Notter make a huge pile of spun sugar a few years ago, and naturally he made it look so easy that I figured I could do it too, and didn't write anything down! Oops.

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Sugar and isomalt are two different things and behave differently--if the idea is that you are practicing to do a task--this cake--you should practice with what you're actually going to use, regradless of how expensive isomalt is. That way you have the confidence you can deliver, you have your timing down, etc. That said, you can't dilly dally with this process--and one of the tricks for doing this in volume is to cut off all the splines of a whisk. I've also seen a special tool for this sold with lots of nails imbedded--but an old snipped whisk works just fine.

When and how you wrap the cake depends on many things--how humid the room is, whether you do it on site or transport it, how big the cake is. If it is at all humid, even with isomalt, you probably should crank out all your strands and then keep them in a separate closed container with some dessicant until set up. And don't forget--isomalt doesn't caramelize a la sugar--so unless you want white spun sugar for your cake you'll need to color your pan of isomalt with a drop of yellow or brown before you make the strands to simulate caramel.


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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1. use a part cornsyrup part sugar formula, maybe 1/4 to 3/4

2. try cooking the sugar a touch less, stop right before light amber starts and then shock it briefly, in an ice water bath, to stop the cooking

3. a fork really doesn't do the job well, you could use a whisk that you have the ends cut off of or they sell special tools that do the job.


nkaplan@delposto.com

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i've personally never had a problem making lots and lots of spun sugar with just a large dinner fork.

i agree with nicole on the corn syrup. you can also use glucose. these additives make the sugar a little more pliable, easier to work with.

a lot depends on the viscosity/temperature at which you are using your cooked sugar...it should run off the fork slowly, sort of like room temperature glucose. it shouldn't be too runny but it also shouldn't be too hard. sounds to me like you're using it too cold.

also, you should be rather quick with your movements. if you're just waving your fork back and forth over your greased sticks, you'll have a problem...as they always say, it is all in the wrist :biggrin: .

what about the environment you're working in? is it humid, is it very dry? here in new york when it is very dry (winter), it is very difficult to work with spun sugar because it becomes very brittle. you might want to wet your hands when gathering it up (have a damp towel nearby to wipe your hands on).

and finally, if it becomes too firm while you're working it, heat it back up. sugar is imminently re-usable. you'll get a feel for how long to heat, and again to what viscosity.

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Thanks for the help--I'll try everyone's suggestions and let you know how it goes.

Alanamoana--I'm in Chicago, which is also very dry in the winter (and incredibly humid in the summer, a la NYC), which I thought might make practicing with the sugar easier (and maybe the suggestions of corn syrup or glucose will help with the brittleness).

And Steve, I do have a stash of isomalt in the basement (aging?), which I will crack out and start using. I'm always conflicted when I put it on food, since I find it so unpalatable, but if my cakes are going to stand for hours, I don't think sugar would be a workable alternative.

MKF

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Some sugar notes from school

Here's some notes from the sugar and chocolate artistry class I took at J&W. It's a little more involved than just boiling sugar and water. I used to look at stuff the fulltime students were making and despair that I would never be able to do it. But when my turn came, my sugar stuff came out pretty good too. But you need to follow the directions.

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Just an aside, go check out Neil's (nightscotsman) creations here. They are pretty incredible.


What's wrong with peanut butter and mustard? What else is a guy supposed to do when we are out of jelly?

-Dad

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Ok, we all have our weaknesses. Mine is sugar work.

A) Because molten sugar is hot and scary

1) I'm a klutz

2) When I was first learning sugar work I burned myself too many times, creating unusual

phobia (see (1))

B) Never had much of an opportunity to do it either. When I did, I was scared (see A) and ran away.

My New Year's resolution is to conquer my fears. Fear number one, sugar work.

I have decided to do a Croquembouche for our New Year's Party at work. I have only made

one Croquembouche before......and that was an all-night nightmare that I tried to do on

3 hours of sleep and after a 12 hour bread shift. One of the worst nights of my life.

Not only that, but it was probably the worlds WORST Croquembouche. Too ashamed to take a picture, but I probably should have, just to document how much I can suck at something!

Wanna know how much it sucked?

*Ok, first, I had only 3 hours of sleep and just finished a 12 hour bread shift. Shows you my state of mind. Or lack of it.

*Only had one small cooking pot and had no idea that I was gonna need a LOT of caramel for this thing.

*Croquembouche was supposed to feed 300 people. I figured 3 puffs per person....times 300...um, equals, yes, 900 puffs. You see where I'm going here?

*Had no idea there was such a thing as a Croquembouche mold. Or that the shop I worked in actually had one.....in plain sight. I was REALLY green (this was about 12 years ago) and I'd always wondered what that huge metallic pastry tip was on top of the walk-in. :laugh:

Never thought to actually question the customer's request and make several smaller Croqs instead of one large one. In my mind, the customer gets what the customer wants. They

wanted one large Croq to feed 300 people. How hard could that be? Ha-ha.

*I did have the presence of mind to bake all the puffs in advance, and make the pastry cream.

I figured all I'd have to do is finish the bread shift, boil up a pot o' caramel, fill the puffs, dip 'em, stick 'em together, and spin a little sugar, and I'm done. HA!

You do the math. I've got one little pot of sugar going. I'm filling 900 puffs. Take my first pot of sugar too far. Have to start over. Wait for sugar to caramelize again. Start dipping. Sugar cools off really fast.....and I've only dipped about 20 puffs. At this point I realize I'm in big trouble when I realize how many pots of sugar I'm going to have to boil up to finish this puppy. And how long it's going to take. And how freakin' huge this thing is going to be, and that it just might collapse under it's own weight. I start to cry and freak out, but I try to remain calm and stick to the original plan. It was too late for plan B....especially since I didn't have a plan B, and I was too panicked to think of one.

So I frantically work as fast as my newbie greenhorn little hands can, and end up with the biggest, most lopsided, clumsy cone of puffs, one has ever seen. My fingers were burned to a crisp from touching too much hot caramel and I was beyond tired. At that point I decided to

bag the spun sugar because I wasn't up to boiling up my millionth pot of caramel, and besides,

it would be like putting lipstick on Quasimodo. NOTHING would make that monster look any better. I have taken to referring to it as Jabba the Puff. Horrid. Absolutely horrid.

I was certain my customers would want their money back once they saw it. But you know, I never heard back from them. They paid the money....they ate it......talk about miracles.

If I were them, I would have taken one look at it and said, "What the HELL is THIS????"

But they didn't.......whew!

Horrible experience.....but a damn funny and humbling story.

ANYWAY......this probably should have been on the Croq thread, but here's the point of my topic.....I have learned enough from reading the Croq thread, and from watching other Croqs

being done, and from having a heck of a lot more experience under my belt to try this again.

Of course, it's only 30 people this time, and I know what a Croq mold is :laugh:.

I want all your tips on how to spin sugar. I've only seen it done once. Can you believe it?

I'm not sure I remember exactly how to do it. I know you all have plenty to offer on the

subject, so I'm all ears!

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I recall when I began making spun sugar I struggled too. Once I found a recipe for spun sugar that wasn't just caramelized sugar my struggles were over.

I now use:

14 oz. sugar

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

8 liq. oz. h2o

The addition of cream of tartar made all the difference. There's really no need for a thermometer, when it's caramel color it's done. The darker almost burnt you take it the deeper golden color your spun sugar will be. This works fine also with isomalt, but it doesn't caramelize, instead you can color it.

If I need to make a fair amount of sugar for a bigger project I boil several pots at once, starting them at different times so I continuously have sugar ready to go. If it's beginning to caramelize before I see I'll be ready for it, I turn the heat off. It doesn't suffer from stopping it's cooking process. I also reheat my pot of sugar to constantly manipulate it's temp..

After I've brought my sugar to the right level of caramelization I plunge my whole pot in a sink of cool water to stop it's cooking. I know many chefs pour their sugar into a glass bowl (and microwave it to rewarm it but I don't have microwavable glass at work) and work from that.

To spin the sugar into thin threads/strands you have to be a distance away from your dowels so the sugar strands stretch as they are falling. I put plastic on the floor and drape a couple dowels across the lower shelf of my tables (from one table to the next). I cover my dowels with foil to ease the clean up. I've used a nail bed made for spinning sugar, a cut off whisk and forks and I find I prefer a smaller utensil like the whisk or forks. It's not really the quantity of the sugar on your thines it's the quality of it, having it at just the right consistency makes the nicest and most volume of strands. I'm most comfortable using a smaller size pot of sugar which I hold in my left hand and a whisk in my right. But in time (depending upon how much you have to make) it does kill your arm.........and I've gotten blisters on my fingers from waving the whisk so if you do a lot, wear gloves.

Besides having the right formula and your dowels low to the floor (You can stand on a chair too if you like. Whatever you want to get some distance between your arm and your dowels) your last issue is using your sugar at the right temp./consistancy. When sugar is very hot it's very thin and it quickly drops off your dipping utensil, you can't spin hot sugar. You can wait until the sugar cools down naturally.....but that takes a while. That's why I plunge my pot in cold water, to speed up the process. You have to stir your pot of sugar very well while your cooling it or the outside edges will cool too much and you inner area will remain too hot.

The process of spinning sugar happens as the sugar falls off your utensil mid air between the two dowels. At the right temp. you can get a surprising amount of spun sugar from each time you dip it. If it's too hot the first drip off your utensil will be a drop of sugar that's undesirable to look at and eat. So I test the consistancy of my sugar by letting the first drip happen over the pot, then I move my arm over the working area. The faster you wave your arm the thinner your strands will be. They will catch anywhere and everywhere. The way I move my arm close to my body I always get spun sugar coming from my pant leg. But I'd rather spin it quickly and get very thin threads then worry about my pant legs.

You have to stop every now and then and gather up your sugar and remove it from the dowels. If you spin too much before moving it, it will mat down and become very heavy........loosing the lightness of the sugar. With the amount of sugar in the recipe I posted above I have to stop about 5 times to clean off my dowels.

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In the sugar showpiece lab at J&W we used to boil up enormous amounts of stock sugar syrup to use for pouring. 50 lb bags of sugar at a time. It always had a lot of glucose in it. I don't know that you would need to caramelize it to stick the choux together, and maybe not even for making spun sugar. These notes present a more scientific method of approach. I'm not much of a decorative artist, but even I was able to make a showpiece that actually came out and looked good, until someone putting away the heat lamps smashed it.

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Ditto everything Sinclair wrote. One variation: When producing spun sugar, I have had great success cooking a mixture of 50% glucose and 50% sugar. It works beautifully and the sugar is a little more flexible as well.

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The glucose or acidic ingredient (cream of tartar, tartaric acid - the same but stronger - or, at home, vinegar or lemon juice) helps prevent crystallization and keeps the sugar a little more supple.

A good dodge for keeping your multiple pots of caramel at a working temperature, if your workspace favours it, is to use the door to one of your ovens. Just open a currently-unoccupied oven and put your spare pots on the door. Freshly-heated pots can go towards the edge, where they will cool only slowly; just-used pots can go back more towards the oven deck, where the sugar will reheat gently and without burning. This is what we did in the pastry lab at school, a long narrow room with workbenches in front of us and ovens behind us (at several stations, anyway).

Ewald Notter uses an interesting gizmo to generate large quantities of spun sugar. Rather than using the time-honoured cutoff whisk with two dowels, he has a square piece of sheet metal with a handle on one side, and about three dozen nails on the other side (I'm pretty sure it was six-by-six anyway, might have been five-by-five). With one of these, you can generate insane quantities of spun sugar in a relatively short time. Apparently you can buy these gizmos, but my instructor (who takes a masterclass with Notter every summer) improvised his own. It's a pretty cool idea.


"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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Ewald Notter uses an interesting gizmo to generate large quantities of spun sugar.  Rather than using the time-honoured cutoff whisk with two dowels, he has a square piece of sheet metal with a handle on one side, and about three dozen nails on the other side (I'm pretty sure it was six-by-six anyway, might have been five-by-five).  With one of these, you can generate insane quantities of spun sugar in a relatively short time.  Apparently you can buy these gizmos, but my instructor (who takes a masterclass with Notter every summer) improvised his own.  It's a pretty cool idea.

I find the bigger your utensil, the more strength you need in you arm. I've had wooden blocks just like described above with a handle on one side and many prongs on the other. Your done in like 3 waves of your arm. But then my arm is burned out for the rest of the day.

I've heard of using glucose instead of cream of tartar but I never knew the right proportions.........so it's 50/50? thanks.

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Thanks for all the replies so far, everybody!

Wendy, your detailed specifics on spinning were exactly what I needed. I need all the help I can get. I sort of remembered it was a bit of a messy job.....I'll be putting down some plastic on the floor for sure. Also, since I face carpal tunnel surgery in about two weeks, I certainly don't need to toast my arm anymore than it's already toasted. It'll be a cut-off whisk for me!

This time I don't have access to a croquembouche mold, but I do know some people in the city transportation dept. who will let me use a traffic cone. I know they're gonna say, "You want it for WHAT?" Hee hee.

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When I make croquembouche I get the styrofoam cones in various sizes and cover them with gold foil which makes a nice base and looks fine even when some of the puffs have been served.

It makes it much easier to transport them as I have a thick, high-density styrofoam base into which I stick 1/2 inch dowels onto which the cones fit and that keeps them from tipping in transport.

I invert a tall Cambro container over the cones and secure them to the base so they won't shift.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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I'd like to make some simple spun sugar nests/crowns to go atop some cakes. Can I make these spun sugar nests now, freeze them. and when the time is right take them out and let them defrost at room temperature? Or will this ruin my nests?

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any kind of moisture will melt your lovely nests - i would not recommend freezing them.

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there is no defrosting sugar, thats like defrosting metal.

Unfrotunately sugar absorbs water (humidity/moisture). To put any sugar work in a refrigerating (or lower) enviroment is worse than leaving it at room temperature. Your nests will last much longer if you seal them tightly with a dessicant at room temp.


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 actually disagree. I know some chefs do indeed freeze caramel decorations for service. They tend to melt faster once out of the freezer, but you don't have to worry about them melting during service.

I'm not suggesting this is the ideal method, but its an option in very hot kitchens. If the pastry station is right by the line, your caramel decorations are going to melt with silica gels or not.

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How best should I store spun sugar creations? I need to make them ahead of time. Maybe a week ahead of time. Is there anyway I can store them so they dont melt? Also my spun sugar nests will be sold outside in a farmers market. Is there anyway to keep them from melting?

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I am not sure why you would want to sell spun sugar nests outside in a farmers market.

Why dont you make them out of marzipan or chocolate if the temp doesn't get very high where you are.


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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How best should I store spun sugar creations? I need to make them ahead of time. Maybe a week ahead of time. Is there anyway I can store them so they dont melt? Also my spun sugar nests will be sold outside in a farmers market. Is there anyway to keep them from melting?

Get some Silica Gels or desiccants to pack with them in airtight containers at room temp. They still may not last a week. If they are in a room 80 degrees or higher they may not last 24 hours.

If you HAVE to sell these outside or make them last a week, you should purchase some Sucraset, which is a foodsafe powdered desicant you can add to the caramel that should give it a little exta shelf life.

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Thank you so much for your suggestions!

Is there a place online where I can buy sucraset? Or a place online I can buy food safe desiccant?

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