Caramelization of Sugar
Sugar is caramelized when it is melted into a clear golden to dark brown syrup, reaching a temperature from 320 to 356 degrees F. It goes through many stages which are determined by the recipe being made. Using a pure copper sugar pan will allow total control of the sugar and avoid crystallization of sugar.
At 338 degrees F, the sugar syrup begins to caramelize creating an intense flavor and rich color, from light and clear to dark brown. Depending upon when the cooking stops and it cools and hardens, caramel textures can range from soft to brittle. A soft caramel is a candy made with caramelized sugar, butter and milk. Crushed caramel is used as a topping for ice cream and other desserts. When it cracks easily and is the base for nut brittles.
To start, add some water to dry sugar in a pure copper sugar pan, stirring, until it reaches the consistency of wet sand. An interfering agent, such as lemon juice will help prevent re-crystallization because of the acid in it. Instead of using lemon juice, you could add acidity with vinegar, cream of tartar or corn syrup. Always start with a very clean pan and utensils. Any dirt or debris can cause crystals to form around it.
Heat the pure copper sugar pan over a medium flame. As the sugar melts, you can wash down the sides of a pan with a wet brush, which also prevents crystallization by removing any dried drops of syrup that might start crystals.
As the caramel heats, it colors in amber shades from light to deep brown. Remove from the heat immediately when the desired temperature is reached.
Stages of Sugar Syrup
|TEMPERATURE: Varies with altitude and weather (low or high pressure)||Recipes||COLD WATER TEST: Remove pot from heat. Use a clean wooden spoon to place a few drops of the sugar syrup into a small amount of ice water. Use fingers to form a thread or ball.|
|320 - 356 degrees F||Flan, caramel cages||Caramel: Syrup from tan to brown. Do not use cold water test. Mixture coats metal spoon and forms light caramelized mass when poured on a plate.|
|320 degrees F||Barley sugar candy||Clear Liquid: The sugar liquefies.|
|338 degrees F||Light caramel||Brown Liquid: The liquefied sugar turns brown.|
|356 degrees F||Praline, spun sugar, caramel cages, nougatine||Medium Brown Liquid: The liquefied sugar darkens.|
How Sugar Works when Carmelizing
When the sugar water mixture begins to boil, add the corn syrup here, if using. (If using lemon juice, add at the beginning -- it all depends upon the recipe)
To pale amber:
The mixture will thicken and change color. This could take as long as 40 minutes.
Then dark amber:
The mixture very quickly turns from pale to dark amber. When this occurs, remove the pan from the heat and quickly transfer it to the water bath for 10 seconds to stop the cooking. (To clean the pan later, add some water and return it to the heat to soften the caramel.)