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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Culinary School - Session 89: Advanced Sugar Techniques - Poured Sugar

Culinary School: Session 89 (03.23.15)

Advanced Sugar Techniques - Poured Sugar

Pour some Sugar on me...

... at the risk of horrible third-degree burns. After all, this stuff is heated to 160 degrees Celsius (320 degrees Fahrenheit).

Building on the techniques from the Introductory Unit on Sugar, Advanced Sugar is focused on heated Sugar: Poured Sugar, Bubble Sugar, Rock Sugar, Net Sugar, Molding Sugar, Pulled Sugar, Blown Sugar and Straw Sugar.

When it comes to making these products, a few general rules apply.
  1. Beware the heat! Basic table Sugar (i.e. Sucrose) melts at around 320 degrees Fahrenheit. Given that it takes just five seconds at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for skin to suffer a third-degree burn, it's clear that the potential for injury is high. I promise to keep the blister photography to a minimum.
  2. Crystallization, the friend and foe! A critical part of working with Sugar is controlling the crystal structure (much like in Chocolate). Depending on how that crystal structure forms when the melted Sugar cools, the consistency and texture of Sugar-based products will vary dramatically. Certain ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup with its long, tangled molecular structure, are often used to inhibit or mute crystal formation. Other simple techniques, like not stirring melted Sugar as it cools, are strictly followed to prevent setting off a chain reaction of crystal formation. 
  3. There's a time and a place for Caramel... and this isn't it! Caramelization is a process whereby Sugar is heated until the individual molecules break down. The exact temperature varies based on the type of Sugar (e.g. Sucrose caramelizes around 340 degrees Fahrenheit while Fructose will caramelize at a mere 220 degrees Fahrenheit). When melting Sugar for Poured Sugar, Pulled Sugar or any of the other aforementioned techniques, the goal is to reduce the water content (i.e. increase the Sugar concentration) without caramelizing the Sugar. The difference can be just a matter of a few degrees.

Poured Sugar Owl

Cauldron burn and cauldron bubble...

When Sugar is dissolved in water and heated, it is transformed across a number of stages. Each stage is distinct in the concentration of Sugar that is present at a particular temperature range. As the temperature of the mixture increases, more and more water evaporates and the Sugar concentration increases. The effects are most apparent when the mixture cools - higher Sugar concentrations result in harder, denser and more breakable products while low Sugar concentrations yield softer and more pliable products.

Heating Sugar can be tricky. As the Sugar concentration increases, more heat energy is required to reach subsequent stages. However, as less and less water remains, the rate at which the Sugar concentration continues to increase also increases (you got that?). Less of the heat energy being applied to the mixture is going towards evaporating the water simply because there is less water remaining.

The following is a list of the major stages for Sugar including the temperature ranges and Sugar concentrations associated with each stage. The list also details what to look for in an "Ice Water Test": at any given stage, a drop of Sugar syrup will react differently when poured into ice cold water. The Ice Water Tests is a helpful way to determine how concentrated Sugar syrup is at any given moment without the aid of a thermometer. Finally, the list includes popular pastry products that are based on Sugar at various concentrations.

The Stages of Sugar (Sucrose):
  1. Thread Stage:
    1. Temperature: 215F-235F
    2. Sugar Concentration: 80%
    3. Ice Water Test: Forms wispy threads that eventually dissolve
    4. Products: Syrups and Jellies
  2. Soft-Ball Stage:
    1. Temperature: 235F-240F
    2. Sugar Concentration: 85%
    3. Ice Water Test: Forms a soft, pliable ball. Out of cold water, the ball will flatten on its own
    4. Products: Fudge and Fondant
  3. Firm-Ball Stage:
    1. Temperature: 245F-250F
    2. Sugar Concentration: 87%
    3. Ice Water Test: Forms a firm, stable ball. Out of cold water, the ball will retain its shape but is still pliable and will flatten when squeezed
    4. Products: Caramels
  4. Hard-Ball Stage:
    1. Temperature: 250F-265F
    2. Sugar Concentration: 90%
    3. Ice Water Test: Forms a firm ball. Out of cold water, the ball will retain its shape and is difficult to flatten when squeezed
    4. Products: Nougat, Marshmallows and Rock Candy
  5. Soft-Crack Stage:
    1. Temperature: 270F-290F
    2. Sugar Concentration: 95%
    3. Ice Water Test: Forms stable threads that bend when gently pulled
    4. Products: Saltwater Taffy and Butterscotch
  6. Hard-Crack Stage:
    1. Temperature: 300F-310F
    2. Sugar Concentration: 99%
    3. Ice Water Test: Forms stable threads that snap when bent
    4. Products: Toffee, Brittle, Lollipops and other Hard Candy
  7. Caramelization: 340F+. Sugar begins to caramelize after all of the water content has been eliminated

Details summarized from "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee.

Poured Sugar at 160 Degrees Celcius

- Ingredients Running Tally -

Ingredients used to date (03.23.15):
  • Flour: 24,535g
  • Eggs: 16,000g (320x)
  • Sugar: 26,490g
  • Butter: 16,020g
  • Milk/Cream: 16,845g
  • Chocolate: 9,000g (since 01.12.15)

    - The Recipes and Techniques -


    Poured Sugar


    Poured Sugar Owl Project

    Preparing Poured Sugar: Sugar is boiled with water and Glucose. The Sugar dissolves and the water content is reduced. The Glucose helps to prevent crystallization. Around 320 degrees Fahrenheit, the Sugar is sufficiently concentrated, and the mixture can be removed form the heat and carefully poured into molds. 

    Coloring Poured Sugar: Alcohol-based dyes are the best to use with Poured Sugar. The moisture content in alcohol evaporates quickly without affecting the composition of the Poured Sugar mixture. It is best to add colors at the end of the cooking process. Prolonged exposure to the high heat can alter the hue of a dye. Colors should be thoroughly mixed into the Poured Sugar while it is still quite hot or else the Poured Sugar pieces will have a streaky appearance. 

    Filling Poured Sugar Molds: Even if a hot pot of Poured Sugar is plunged into an ice bath to halt the cooking process, the Sugar remains extremely hot for a prolonged period of time. When the Poured Sugar is initially removed form the heat, particularly if it is transferred to another container, it may bubble violently. Before the Sugar is poured into molds, the bubbling should be allowed to settle. This will also reduce the risk of having air pockets in the final project.

    Poured Sugar Mise en Place

    Unfilled Poured Sugar Owl Mold

    Containers of Dyed Poured Sugar

    Silicone Owl Mold Filled with Dyed Pulled Sugar

    Poured Sugar Pieces from Owl Mold

    Assembling the Poured Sugar Owl

    Poured Sugar Owl

    Poured Sugar Owl

    Poured Sugar Owl

    Next - Session 90: Advanced Sugar Techniques - Pulled Sugar

    Previous - Session 88: Chocolate Showpiece (cont.)

    Take a look at the full syllabus

    Questions? Comments? Send me an email or leave a comment.
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