Learn how to make Spun Sugar.

silver-tray-spun-sugar

 

There are a couple of reasons why you want to make some spun sugar this holiday season and a couple of reasons why  you don’t.

Let’s go through the list of why you DO want to make it first.

1. Being able to spin sugar lets everyone know you’re better than they are.

2.  You never can tell when a food critic’s car might break down in front of your house.  You don’t want him/her to think you’re some sort of asshole who doesn’t know how to spin sugar.  Best to always be prepared with some on display just in case.

 

Now the list of why you DON”T want to make spun sugar this holiday season.

1.  No one likes a show off (but who cares).

2.  It can make a mess, splattering sugar all over your kitchen and hair and it’s entirely possible the food critic will never leave your house because he will be forever stuck to the floor (but who cares).

O.K.,  now that that’s settled, let’s talk about how we’re all going to spin sugar this holiday season.

The best part about spun sugar is it’s easy to make. Much easier than the look of it would imply.

Materials

Stainless steel or copper pot

A couple of wooden spoons

A whisk with the ends clipped

 

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

2 Tbsps Corn Syrup or 1/4 tsp Cream of Tartar

 

In a nutshell, all spun sugar is, is thin strands of melted sugar that have  been formed into a ball, nest, ribbon, or whatever.  To get the strands you just have to melt the sugar, let it cool a tiny bit, then use a whisk or something to pick up the syrup sugar and fling/drizzle it. Once it reaches the cool air it starts to harden, creating thin strands of gold.

Here’s that whisk with the ends clipped I mentioned in the materials list.  It’s just a regular whisk that I’ve cut the end off of with wire cutters.  This lets you have many tips for the sugar strands to come off of when  you’re flinging it.

 

whisk

 

Steps

1. Set your burner to medium low.

2. Pour 1/4 cup of water into pot, followed by 2 Tablespoons of corn syrup (or 1/4 tsp cream of tartar) and finally 1 cup of sugar. Make sure you slowly pour the sugar into the pot, keeping it in the centre so none of if touches the sides of the pot.

3. Now LEAVE it. Don’t stir it, swish it or move it. (if you stir the mixture it will crystallize) Allow the sugar to melt into the water on its own.

4. Heat the sugar mixture at medium low until it reaches 300 f degrees. That’s bordering the hard crack stage. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, 300 f degrees is when the sugar has just started to become a light amber colour. If it’s taking more than 5 minutes to get to this stage, turn up the heat a little bit.

*hint* To keep your spun sugar a nice light colour use a pastry brush that you constantly dip in water to brush down the sides of the pot as it simmers. Any little bits of sugar stuck to the side of the pot will turn DARK and discolour your sugar.

 

boiling

 

5. Once you’ve reached temperature take your pot off the heat and let it cool down a bit. (a lot of cooks say they dunk their pot into cold water for a few seconds to stop the cooking of the sugar but I find when you’re just doing a small amount like this, you’re better off not dunking the pot into cool water because it cools it too quickly.

6. Take either 2 forks in your hand or a wire whisk that you’ve cut the ends off of and dip it into the sugar and lift it up. If you see tiny strands (as opposed to drips) coming off the tines, your sugar is cool enough to fling.

 

pulling-sugar

 

7. Set a couple of wood spoons over a bowl and just flick your whisk back and forth over it. The higher you hold the whisk the better and the stronger you fling it the better. BUT you’ll also get spun sugar all over your kitchen. I just slowly pull the sugar back and forth across the bowl. The upside? Not as much sugar around the kitchen. The downside?  The strands are slightly thicker than if you fling the sugar.

8. Lift the spun sugar and form it into whatever shape you want. You can place it over a greased bowl or cup to get a rounded look. Or you can lift the strands as a long ribbon, wrap them around a straight sided glass or mason jar to make a big circle.

(basically once it’s spun and still pliable you can form it however you want)

 

*hint* If your sugar doesn’t hold its shape and stays soft, you haven’t cooked it to a high enough temperature (borderline hard crack).

 

spun-sugar-collage2

 

 

9. Once your sugar starts to get a bit too cool to fling, you can make your twirls. Take a spoon or knife and dip it into the sugar. Let the ribbon of sugar hang down and using a dowel or the handle of a wood spoon, just twirl the ribbon of sugar around it. I like these even more than the spun sugar and they’re way less messy to do because you aren’t flinging anything around.

 

twirling-sugar

 

10. If your sugar gets too cool to work with just put it back on the stove and reheat it remembering not to stir it while it heats up. Each time you reheat your mixture it will get darker and darker making your spun sugar more and more caramelized. So you’ll start off with spun sugar that is a light amber and end up with spun sugar that’s more of a dark amber colour.

Here’s a tip for you.  If you do this, line your floor with newspapers.

You’re supposed to line your floors with newspaper if you make spun sugar.  The first time I did this I didn’t line my floors with newspapers because I’m super-cool.  And super-cool girls don’t need to line their floors with paper.   Super-cool girls are also stupid.  And sticky.

Confused? Watch this quick video of me making spun sugar and sugar spirals.

butter-tart-collage

tarts-from-abovecrown-butter-tartssugar-flamespiral-butter-tartGif-final

I spent an entire day making spun sugar every way possible.  I made it with only sugar (hardens too quickly, isn’t pliable for long).  I made it with sugar and water (same pliability problem, but totally doable if you don’t have corn syrup or cream of tartar).  I made it with sugar, water and corn syrup. I made it with sugar, water and cream of tartar (no difference between either as far as I could tell).  So an entire day of making spun sugar fills you with more tips than you thought possible. Here are a few more.

* To clean your pot once the sugar syrup has hardened in it, just fill the pot with water and put it on the burner.

* Don’t even attempt to make this on a humid day.

* If it’s winter and really dry in your house, the sugar will last a day or two on the counter  before it gets weird. (melts, gets sticky). If you want to store it longer apparently you can put it in Tupperware with as many of those silica packs as you can scrounge up in your house.

* Lay down the newspaper.  Just put down the newspaper damnit.

 
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65 Comments

  1. Gerri says:

    Wow! The spun sugar looks so pretty and delightful and ethereal-looking! I just may try this with my bonus-kids so that I come off looking ultra-cool. Or sticky. One or the other. But hey, last year’s Salted Trees in Mason Jars project was a huge hit with them, so I have the courage to try this too.

  2. Cynthia says:

    I was going to write a smart comment about how you are cheating and I can tell that is a coil of copper wire in one of the photos….but I got scared you would say I am an asshole. BTW, I spell it arsehole, but what the hell would I know? I like asshole better and will promptly change my ways.

  3. danni says:

    I can’t remember which formula I used, but the thing that stuck with me was this….. when I went to retrieve the perfect golden/ambery spheres from the top of the washing machine, where I put them for safe keeping…. they had melted into sticky brown goo that looked like nothing so much as spilled honey. And I had wasted HOURS on them. Oh, one other thing I remember is that the next time I fooled with sugar, I made hard candy syrup and ‘poured’ letters for everyone’s dessert for a dinner party. Yours Karen, would have had a giant “K” stabbed into it. Gorgeous, but when people stopped oohing and ahhing and tried to eat them, someone broke their letter and then stabbed it thru the roof of their mouth. The stuff is crazy sharp, like glass. I was cut off from the sugar arts by my husband, fearing lawsuits and ants.

  4. Cynthia says:

    I had better change my ways, cos I just realised after checking the earlier photo of twirling it, it really is spun sugar. What an asshole I am.

  5. Cynthia says:

    I know….Bwwwahahah! (not sure how that really goes). 🙂

  6. Sherry says:

    I once watched Julia Child do this on her cooking show years and years ago for a yule log. It was and remains THE funniest television I have ever seen. I admire your courage, but ain’t no way I’m doing this in my house! Hell no.

  7. Stephanie says:

    ” Don’t even attempt to make this on a humid day.”
    LOL, thanks for the warning! We’ve had 109 inches of rain so far this year in Hilo, and that’s BELOW average. Even a “dry” day is humid here. I can’t make merinques, either, for the same reason. Although it’s nice I can blame it on the humidity, not on my culinary skills. What I really got from this post was the urge to grab my wire cutters and snip away at my whisk… that part really looks like fun.

  8. Pam'a says:

    One super-helpful hint comes to mind here for keeping the floor clean, and you don’t have to spread newspapers: Do it at a friend’s place. Heh.

  9. SeaDee says:

    Really pretty. Love the video.

    How about laying down a shower curtain or some painters plastic on the floors and counters?

    • Tigersmom says:

      You wouldn’t think so (I know because I tried it while painting), but plastic on the floor becomes incredibly slippery and dangerous. This is why painters still use fabric drop cloths and not plastic even though paint can seep through the fabric.

      I speak from a near-concussion experience on this one.

  10. Grammy says:

    That actually looks like fun. But so does performing on a trapeze. I’m not trying either of them. My idea of kitchen magic is teaching a five-year-old how to make Pineapple Upside Down Cake, which I’m going to do next week. I guarantee he will be as impressed with the cake as the rest of us are with your beautiful spun sugar. So you are better than I am, but I won’t have to spread newspaper on my floor.

    • Deb J. says:

      You’re lucky. Any time I tried to bake with any of my 3 kids, I usually wished I’d spread newspapers:)

      • Grammy says:

        This is my grandson, Deb, and that would be true for him, too. But over the years I’ve kind of developed a system where I anticipate where the worst mess will be and assign the kid to do one of the things that is least destructive and most fun. For an upside-down cake I’m counting on him not minding me making the batter this time while he spends an inordinate amount of time arranging the maraschino cherries in the design.

  11. Meg says:

    this is AMAZING.
    it’s like Pele’s hair.

    I am guessing cotton candy is some really THINNER version of this. Like why they have the big drum where you collect the sugar in…

    I can’t wait to try this on this year’s gingerbread house. (which I WILL HAVE TIME FOR if I FINISH my pledge, dang it.)

    • Karen says:

      Hi Meg. Yup. This is exactly what spun sugar is. Just pure sugar cooked to a certain temp and then flung into tiny threads. ~ karen!

  12. Ev Wilcox says:

    Very cool, and yes, you are better than us! Until we make spun sugar too, that is. Thanks for a fun tutorial. Trying to figure out who’s house to use to make this ….

  13. Tigersmom says:

    It is beautiful and ethereal and golden. All things I love. And all things I will appreciate from a distance as I have an open kitchen with upholstered furniture in flinging range.

    Really beautiful, though.

    Oh, and are those individual pumpkin pies made with real, not-canned, pumpkin that they are gracing?

    • Karen says:

      ha! No those are little butter tarts. (it’s all I had around to display the spun sugar. Well … it was between the butter tarts and a bowl of chili) ~ karen!

      • pat says:

        Mmm, butter tarts, but no raisins? My family hates the raisin version, but I like them. They prefer my Christmas version which has dried cranberries. It’s almost time to break out the tart shells; if I make butter tarts too early, they get found by my family and I never have time to make more before Christmas.

        Spun sugar looks hard; pretty, but hard. I’m more of a “it’s really easy to make, but impresses the pants off people” kind of baker / cook.

  14. Tigersmom says:

    Ha! I thought it was just my computer but as I scrolled back up to admire them again, I noticed the reappearing one in the last photo. You have become quite the photo effects whiz!

  15. Heather says:

    Food porn! These photos are really, really, REALLY good!

  16. Jody says:

    I will never in a million gazillion trizillion years try this. But it does look beautiful. I just really like looking at the photos.

  17. LazySusan says:

    What a brave woman you are to do that in such a nice sweater. I’d be head to toe (and especially on the elbows) spun sugar, with about an inch of it on the spoon handle and the rest on me. It does look like fun, though, and would be a nice touch for a fancy dinner party. I can see small sugar nests at Easter dinner with small chocolate birds eggs in them.

  18. Melissa in North Carolina says:

    Thanks for sharing this amazing technique, but I will admire from afar. I must admit, it would be fun to be able show off to my youngest daughter, a true foodie. VERY COOL Karen!!!!

  19. Mary Werner says:

    LOVE that spurtle spool coil!

  20. Elen Grey says:

    Hey. I’m just trying to get through the Christmas Pledge here, Karen. LOL I love, love, love that first image.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Elen! As long as you’ve gotten through most of the pledge, or some of it, maybe just one thing … I think you can do the sugar. ~ karen!

  21. Julie says:

    i hope you were wearing an old time-y moustache when you were making that video…that music _demanded_ it! 🙂 i can’t wait to try this…

  22. Valerie says:

    I am impressed.
    but
    I will not be making spun sugar in my kitchen.
    I finally realized the connective between spun sugar and the angel hair that we would sometimes put on the Christmas tree, years ago.

  23. Kristin Ferguson says:

    When I spin sugar I take the pot of hot caramel outside and fling away–no mess in my kitchen. I usually spread the (clean) newspaper on the patio and spin the sugar directly onto the paper. I did this for a croquembouche I made for my daughter’s sixteenth birthday, and I got lovely long swaths of fine strands. The non-flingy parts I do inside after the initial whisk-spinning.

    • Karen says:

      That’s a great idea! (wouldn’t work here most days in the summer because of the humidity and the day I made the spun sugar it would have frozen and cracked in mid air, lol.) But there would be a few days it would work. I’d love to be able to really and truly FLING it. ~ karen!

  24. Pati Gulat says:

    You’re amazing, Karen…is there ANYTHING you won’t try ? I’m adventurous in the kitchen ( hee-hee-hee 😉 …) but this I ain’t doing. I’ve tried something similar to this before and it didn’t work out in the humidity in Louisiana. And to the commenter above who posted on the sugar shards, I made those too and stuck them in cupcakes and adorned them with “blood” for Halloween one year. They eventually melted and didn’t “cut” anyone but they were a HUGE hit !

  25. Nancy says:

    Newspaper notwithstanding, you shoulda said that in order for this to work, you need to do it with background music. Loved the Rag. And you’re not bad, yourself! 🙂

  26. Adrienne in Atlanta says:

    1. I’ve been awaiting this post since I saw the sneak peek on your IG. Happy to see that you included a video! Helps with my visual codependency.
    2. Butter Tart recipe, please? I need some good individual desserts for my holiday parties. I see a few recipes on Google, but I love a tried and true one more. A Canadian dessert, it seems?
    3. Most importantly, I LOVE that you’ve started doing the black box pictures. They are so stunning. Very well done. 😉

  27. Cyn says:

    At first I thought your whisk was one of those tingly head massage tools. Maybe that’s how they came up with the idea! Lol!

  28. jainegayer says:

    I would love to try this but I am too busy caring for the cold sore I got from not doing the Christmas Pledge.
    Dagnabit!!
    They are beautiful pictures, Karen.

  29. barbee says:

    I tried this once-epic fail

  30. Marti says:

    So… when you did NOT put down the newspaper and you made the spun sugar, on your lovely heated floors, how fun was THAT to clean up?

  31. Ella says:

    Whoa! AMAZING. This may be my favorite post. And I’ve read every one you have ever written!

  32. Janet says:

    You know how sometimes when you want to spontaneously buy somethng and if you just walk away and think about it enough, it almost gives you the satisfaction of buying it,so in the end you don’t really need to buy it? Well just watching you make spun sugar did that for me today…I no longer feel the need to make spun sugar. Thank you.

  33. Mindy says:

    I’m diggin’ the fact that, instead of black, your nails are gold to match the sugar.
    The spirals are my favorite.

    • Karen says:

      I did that on purpose! And am highly impressed that you not only noticed the nails but the correlation to the photos. That’s a freakish talent you have there. I bet you understand the underlying themes in novels too. And all of the plots twists and turns on The Sopranos. ~ karen!

  34. As a person who abhors sticky hands, I’m thinking this one is not for me. But it’s pretty!

  35. Diana says:

    FAN
    TAS
    TIC*****

    Saw it on Pinterest and always wanted to try it. But with only one Picture and the most informations missing, i wasn`t brave enough.

    Now
    I
    am!!!!
    Thank you

  36. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I love the little springy swirly ones..they are really pretty..they look like they could bounce off the counter..

  37. Bobbi says:

    Long ago, I watched Martha S. make spun sugar. She was flinging it onto a wooden laundry rack. I thought, well, it is far too tricky if Martha S. is doing it. Now you have brought the art to the masses. I trust you. I guess it is really doable. Maybe my sister down the street will volunteer her kitchen.

    • Karen says:

      If you don’t really fling it and just pull it back and forth like I do in the video it really doesn’t make a mess. And the spirals make no mess at all! But … maybe ask your sister just in case. 😉 ~ karen!

  38. Cappy says:

    So I wanted to use these to make a cheesecake look fancy, but if I store the cheesecake in the fridge are these curls going to melt into oblivion after a few hours?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Cappy. Just don’t store the curls on the cake in the fridge. Leave them off and store them in a plastic container with a lid. Then when it’s time to serve the cake put them on. They curls will stay fine anywhere from a few hours to a few days in the plastic container depending on how humid it is where you are. ~ karen!

  39. Cussot says:

    Shoot, I almost missed the VERY cool animated GIF at the end …

  40. Thank you for making this instructional easy! Sometimes, when you come from a restaurant background, it’s difficult to do proper ‘civilian’ instruction…Just can’t find the words. Thanks for helping me help my friends, you kick a little ass.

  41. Annie says:

    HI I’m making fancy halloween cupcakes for a wedding. I’m curious if you can add black food coloring to this?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Annie! I’ve never done it myself but yes you can add food colouring. You would do it while the sugar is melting. Keep in mind though it sometimes takes a lot of black food colouring to get a good looking black. I’m not sure how the plain sugar will take the colour, but the only way to find out is try. 🙂 Just do a practice run. ~ karen!

  42. Mel Bohrer says:

    How cool it is for you to be getting comments on a post you wrote a long time ago, huh? 😉 I like this idea, Karen! Though I would recommend to anyone trying this who has young children, pets, or anyone else they might not want to injure, to get them out of the room before doing this. Though most of those with young children would probably not even attempt to spin sugar.

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