I need to warn you: As soon as you read about how easy it is to make spun sugar you'll be setting a pot on the stove and trying it yourself. So don't read any further unless you're prepared to become a spun sugar master this instant.
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 asshead who doesn't know how to spin sugar. Best to always be prepared.
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.
Table of Contents
How to make spun sugar
In a nutshell, spun sugar is just thin strands of melted sugar that have been formed into a ball, nest, ribbon, or whatever. To get the strands you have to melt the sugar, let it cool a tiny bit, then use a spun sugar whisk or something to pick up the sugar syrup and fling it around. Once it reaches the cool air it starts to harden, creating thin strands of gold.
What's a spun sugar whisk?
To pick up the melted sugar and fling it around you need a spun sugar whisk, which has lots of little tips, unlike a regular whisk which has no tips at all.
You can make a spun sugar whisk by just cutting the loops on your own whisk.
I made the one below. 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.
The only things you need are sugar, water and either corn syrup or cream of tartar.
The water, sugar and cream of tartar get combined and brought to a 300 F boil. NO STIRRING!
Once it's reached that temperature you turn the heat off, let it cool a minute or two and then dip your whisk in it and very quickly flick the whisk in long strokes to create long strands of gold sugar thread.
You can also wind the sugar around utensils to create coils of gold.
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.
You can flick your whisk faster and wider, but doing that is going to create more mess. Better sugar strands, but more collateral damage.
It. Is. SO. Much. Fun. I don't even know what I'm doing and I can make it look good.
It'd difficult to be great at sugar art, but easy to be good at it.
The one thing to keep in mind, the real downfall of this whole spun sugar situation is it really does need to be made the day you're going to use it. Preferably right before.
If it isn't humid it won't be as much of an issue, but if there's any humidity in the air your sugar will lose its form and get soft and weepy.
Spun Sugar Technique
- Stainless steel or copper pot
- A couple of wooden spoons
- A whisk with the ends clipped
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 2 Tbsps Corn Syrup or ¼ teaspoon Cream of Tartar
- Set your burner to medium low.
- Pour ¼ cup of water into pot, followed by 2 Tablespoons of corn syrup (or ¼ teaspoon 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Tips Learned by Making Spun Sugar for an Entire Day.
- I first made it with only sugar (hardens too quickly, isn't pliable for long).
- Then I made it with sugar and water (same pliability problem, but totally doable if you don't have corn syrup or cream of tartar).
- Next I made it with sugar, water and corn syrup. (this worked the best along with ...)
- Sugar, water and cream of tartar (worked just as well as corn syrup)
- 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, Coolio. Just put down the newspaper damnit.
HI I'm making fancy halloween cupcakes for a wedding. I'm curious if you can add black food coloring to this?
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!
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.
I just noticed that you updated a few days ago! Just making things More perfect? I’m making a Buche de Halloween for my friend’s birthday tonight. (Started last Thursday, I’m not insane!). Today is decorating, got the mushrooms around the log, it’s sitting on cedar and old sedum flowers. I’m ecstatic because the Italian meringue for the frosting came out perfect. So now I’m procrastinating by reading everything I can find about spun sugar. So happy that I ran across your article! I really don’t trust anyone else.
I’ll let you know what happens. 😁
Fun thought for when I get ambitious enough to spin some sugar... line largish box with parchment, lava sugar inside, have homemade sugar whisk attached to my cordless drill and see what magic happens.
Hey Karen, Is it just me, or are your videos not visible to other people too>. Both safari and chrome, no cool video to watch.
sobbing because I would prefer to watch you than what is happening on the news tonight.
I don't see a vid either! I'm on Safari.
But, I did see it on Chrome! Cool!
Hey Eco Teri: I can't eat sugar, I'll never spin sugar, but I'd cry too, if I couldn't see the videos; Karen just adds so much fun to these crazy days! So since I do some webwork, I looked for the underlying source code, and found this link works to view the video:
making this a better day for ALL of us!
Yeah, I'm not seeing the video on Firefox either. :-(
Hi Irene. Do you have some sort of ad blocker on your computer? If you do you won't see the video. If not, you can try another browser like Google Chrome. ~ karen!
I am fairly new to your web site and enjoy it immensely. Love your quick wit and wry sense of humor.
Regards from Panama City, Florida,
You’re ready for the Great British Bakeoff now.
I make a 'cheater's croquembouche' by stacking M&M mini cream puffs in a pyramid, then whipping spun sugar all around it - impresses the hell out of people. I've never thought to cool it for a couple of minutes - maybe that will help with the burns I get from hot liquid sugar sticking to my hands during the flinging!
I am going to do a dry run today since humidity is extremely low.
Don't you have a vacant lot nearby to do this? Or better yet, at a neighbor's house.
You think it might work if you take the sugar outside?
Karen - is the video still available?
Just a heads up for those living on the coast or near large bodies of water...unless it is a crystal clear bright day, you live in a place that's too humid for sugar crafting. Those little sugar molecules suck up water like nobody's business and make your chance of success like Slim Left Town.
(Always wanted to make an authentic croquembouche but it's a no-go.)
I have such a love-hate thing with this site Karen. Something very cool to try, but I sure don't need another project! But I keep reading and bust out LOL, literally cackling. And my husband says "what"? So of course I have to read the passage, sometimes cracking up again and unable to speak...so of course by the time I spit it out something is lost. I keep reading and it happens all over again. Some of your fans' comments are great too. Love this site. Keep kicking little asses!!!
I shall Millie! And thanks. :) ~ karen!