Sometimes the simplest things can have the greatest effect and spun sugar is just such a technique. The recipe is simple but the appearance of well-constructed spun sugar forms is magical and gravity-defying.
Spun Sugar Tips and Hints
There’s nothing easier than making the syrup for spun sugar work, but temperature control is essential to achieving the best effect.
Spun sugar is made of sugar syrup that reaches the ‘hard crack’ heat. This is a temperature than can cause severe burns and permanent scars to the skin, so before you start, ensure you have cleared away any impediments that could make you trip, fall or spill the sugar syrup and have a first aid kit handy, just in case.
Spun sugar is also very messy! Specialist kitchens have areas that are set aside for this work and which are lined with removable oilcloth that can be machine washed when the syrup has been spun. If you’re new to the technique, you can either put down greaseproof paper on your work surfaces (including the walls) and newspaper on the floor, or oil your work surfaces and put paper on the floor. Remember that the spun sugar will probably end up in your hair and on your clothes, and be prepared for this.
Moisture is the enemy of good spun sugar so don’t try to use it with fruit or fresh flowers unless you are going to serve it immediately. Spun sugar is best assembled just before display to an amazed audience, but you can store your spun sugar shapes in large plastic boxes once they are fully cool to transport to the venue where you will use them.
- 250g (9oz) white caster sugar
- 225g (8oz) water
Using a heavy based saucepan, preferably copper-bottomed, pour in the water and sugar. Using a bristle or silicone pastry brush and some cold water, brush the inside of the pan with water to stop the sugar crystallising as it heats. Repeat this action as you bring the ingredients to a simmer, without stirring as agitating the sugar can make it the crystals form too largely, which in turn prevents good spun sugar work. To encourage swift melting though, you can tap on the outside of the pan with a wooden spoon to ensure all the sugar crystals are fully underwater and don’t have air bubbles which can stop them reaching the correct temperature.
Use a sugar thermometer to heat the syrup to around 155°C or hard crack stage. Visually this is a golden stage of heating when the surface is slow moving and seems a little viscous or ‘oily’. To perform a manual check for temperature, use a long handled teaspoon to lift a spoonful of the syrup and drop it into a glass bowl filled with cold water. At the hard crack stage the syrup sinks and then forms a hard shape that can be cracked with your hands.
When ready, remove from the heat immediately. Some cooks sink their syrup pan into a bath of cold water to halt the heating process but this can be risky if water spills or splashes into the hot syrup and becomes hot steam, also it can mean you have to reheat your syrup if it cools too fast.
Spinning A Nest Or Ball
The do-it-yourself method is to hold two large forks in one hand, with their backs together. Alternatively you can buy a spinning ‘brush’ which is a square or rectangular head with 18 or 24 metal spikes set in it. Dip the forks or brush in the syrup and whisk in the air over an oiled broom handle or rolling pin to cause long hair-like filaments to fly off the tool. These filaments or strands cool as they travel through the air. Now use your hands to gather up the strands and mould them into a ball, nest or cone shape which can be filled with crystallised flowers or small inedible gems or other tiny items that can be used as party favours such as earrings and key charms.
A Spun Basket
Using a similar technique but with the handle of a wooden spoon as your tool and the oiled back of a ladle as your form, drizzle and flick the hot syrup over the upside down ladle to create a basket shape. Allow to cool for 30 seconds and ease away from the form.