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SIMPLE DISSOLVE TO THREAD STAGE
230°F–235°F (110°C–113°C) Sugar Concentration: 80%
When dropped into a glass of cold water, sugar will simply dissolve. Starting at 230°F (110°C), sugar dropped into water will form a soft thread that will not hold a shape and will dissipate.
At these temperatures, syrups are formed, not tactile confections. In some instances, the syrup itself is the finished product. In other instances, the hot syrup is an integral element in the formation of a more complicated pastry component (macaron shell, pâte à bombe, Italian meringue). When combined with proteins (eggs and cream) in making a custard on the stovetop, such as crème anglaise or pastry cream, sugar delays the coagulation of the protein structures and allows the custard thicken properly. Sugar acts as crowd control, fanning out among the protein molecules that want to clump together and congeal. In meringues, sugar stabilizes the mixture by, again, dispersing the proteins and creating that signature shiny-white, stiff meringue.
At this stage of heating, sugar becomes the great enforcer, bullying ingredients into behaving deliciously when things start getting hot.
I love rock candy. It's pure sugar. That's it. It doesn't pretend it's anything more than an unadulterated cavity maker. Just look at it: Instead of itsy-bitsy granulated morsels that can easily hide, rock candy is a series of gigantic, in-your-face sugar crystals. It's the badass of candies, and yet it's beautiful, too. When I am reincarnated—and you know I'm coming back as something sweet—I want to come back as rock candy.
Approach making rock candy as a lab experiment; it's kind of like shoving toothpicks into an avocado seed, setting it in a jar of water on your windowsill, and waiting months for it to sprout. Rock candy doesn't take as long as the avocado but it is a week-long process—and well worth the time.
(1) Dissolve the sugar in the water by gently heating the two in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Once all the sugar has melted, take the syrup off the heat and allow to cool very slowly and completely. Alternatively, place the sugar and water in a microwave-safe container and stir, making sure to saturate the sugar with the water. Microwave for 3 minutes on high. Stir. Nuke for 3 more minutes and stir. The sugar has probably melted by now but make sure, and nuke for a few more minutes. Allow to cool completely. Run the solution through a fine sieve.
(2) Divide the cooled syrup into two tall glasses. Cut two lengths of cotton or wool cooking string that are just a wee bit shorter than the height of the glasses and dip one into the mixture in each glass. Make sure the strings are saturated. Remove the strings, roll them in extra granulated sugar, and let them dry completely on a piece of wax or parchment paper, at least overnight and for up to 2 days, depending on the humidity. Alternatively, pour the entire batch of syrup in a large, shallow casserole dish and, depending on the size of the vessel, dip as many toothpicks as you can reasonably expect to fit into that surface, allowing for a 2-inch perimeter for each toothpick when it's suspended in the drink. Remove the toothpicks and let them dry completely, as above, at least overnight and for up to 2 days.
* A Note from the Sugar Baby: This is my first warning about sugar and moisture but certainly not my last. Moisture is the bane of sugar work—perfectly executed brittle on a rainy day can turn into a sticky, malleable mess in under an hour. The whole point of heating sugar is to evaporate the moisture hidden within the granules; the hotter the sugar gets, the more moisture is sloughed off. In the case of rock candy, we're only heating the sugar to melt in water. Plenty of moisture there, right? So what's the big deal about drying the sugar-saturated string before dipping it back into the drink? Well, it's a big deal because no sugar granule wants to stick to a soggy string. And you'll find it virtually impossible to dry your string on a humid day. But unlike brittle or caramel, you can do something to save the day when that sticky little string refuses to dry. Place your sugar-saturated string(s) on a parchment-lined sheet pan and let them dry out in a very low-heat oven, about 200°F (90°C) to 220°F (105°C), for about 20 minutes. Pinch the string with dry hands to make sure it's no longer tacky to the touch before dipping it back into the sugar mixture. For more rock candy troubleshooting tips, go to www.sugarbabycookbook.com.
(3) Resubmerge the now dry strings into the sugar water, weighing each end down with a non-lead fishing weight, a washer, or something equally heavy to keep the string straight. Tie the top end of each string to a pencil placed across the lip of the glass so that the string suspends gently in the liquid. If you've chosen the shallow-dish method, secure a piece of parchment or plastic wrap tautly across the top of the dish with a rubber band and poke the toothpicks through so they are suspended in the liquid and held tightly in place by the parchment or plastic.
(4) No matter your method, let your experiment sit for at least 7 days. I usually keep my experiment going for a few weeks for maximum rock-candy goodness, and I've found the process is much speedier in the cool, dry winter months. It's worth gently wiggling your strings or sticks every few days to keep the ends from adhering to the bottom of the glass or dish.
(5) Remove the strings or sticks when you're satisfied with the amount of crystal growth. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
If you're feeling particularly fancy, replace the 2 cups (480 ml) water with 2 cups (480 ml) coffee to produce java-infused bonbons.
GF: In the food world, it doesn't stand for "girlfriend." It means "gluten free," girlfriend. And you'll find that most of the recipes in this book are just that (gluten free, that is, not girlfriends—but if you're in the market for a girlfriend, making something from this book for a nice lady person might get you closer).
Gluten allergies have become rampant. Allergies in general, for that matter. I can't remember anyone in elementary school having any food ailment—or if they did, they suffered their gastrointestinal discomforts in silence. But once I started to bake professionally, the litany of allergies for young ones and older folks alike made for a long list of allergen-free treats I had to have on deck. Thankfully, I've always had a healthy arsenal of gluten-free desserts on call, not for any particular reason other than I liked them. So whether you've got a slight wheat aversion or full-blown celiac disease, know that this book is going to be a very handy guide to allergen-free treats.
How plain and simple is a plain simple syrup? Take a cup of sugar, pour it into a cup of water, heat the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, and voilà! Simple syrup. You may ask yourself, "Why bother?" Well, have you ever wondered how fancy pastry shops keep their cakes so moist? No? Okay, let's try this: Have you ever wondered how to keep your own cakes moister, longer? If so, then simple syrup is the stuff for you. Once the syrup is cooled, simply brush a bit of it on top of each layer of cake. You don't want to soak it through and make it soggy; just dip a pastry brush into the syrup and gently apply a small amount.
You may add extracts—lemon, ginger, peppermint, lavender, almond, and the like—to the simple syrup, not only to moisten your cakes but also to heighten their flavors. If you're so inclined, you can also replace the water with coffee. I use coffee syrup on chocolate cakes, since coffee is a lovely enhancer for cocoa flavor. The list could go on, but you get the idea: This stuff is versatile.
And it's not just for cakes. At Gesine Confectionary, my former pastry shop in Montpelier, Vermont, we always kept a bottle of simple syrup at the coffee station for sweetening iced coffees or fresh-brewed iced tea. No more stirring and stirring, waiting for those pesky granules to dissolve and infuse your icy drink with sweetness. A couple pumps of plainand-simple and you're ready to rumble.
(1) In a microwave-safe container, microwave the sugar and water for 5 minutes. Stir to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Nuke for a few more minutes, until all the sugar is dissolved into the water. Allow to cool before using.
(2) If you're making this on your stovetop, simply heat the water and sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Again, cool before using.
(3) The yield can easily be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled, as the ratio is always 1 cup (200 g) sugar to 1 cup (240 ml) liquid. Store in refrigerator until needed.
OPTION 1: COFFEE SIMPLE SYRUP
For a delicious variation, replace the water with an equal amount of coffee and follow instructions for simple syrup above.
OPTION 2: LEMON SIMPLE SYRUP
In the summertime, I'll squeeze piles of lemons and make a pitcher of lemon simple syrup. The ratio remains the same: 1 cup (240 ml) lemon juice to 1 cup (200 g) sugar. One thing I add to the syrup is the rind of the lemon—the quality of the juice is deeply enhanced by cooking with the zest. Using a Microplane, zest the rind into the juice. Heat the zest along with the juice and the sugar according to the instructions for simple syrup above. Allow the zest to steep in the syrup until it's completely cooled, pour the syrup through a fine sieve to remove any bits of zest, and refrigerate.
I whip out the lemon syrup to make homemade lemonade whenever the summer heat creeps into my bones. The syrup alone tends to be too sweet and concentrated, so I just add water and ice to taste. Often I add sparkling water for a nice fizz. Sometimes I'll add a few sprigs of mint to jazz it up. And at cocktail hour, a generous splash of vodka will put some swagger into your sunset.
OPTION 3: LIME SIMPLE SYRUP
Follow instructions above for lemon simple syrup, replacing the lemon juice with an equal amount of lime juice and the lemon zest with lime zest. Great in spritzers and margaritas.
OPTION 4: LAVENDER SIMPLE SYRUP
Making lavender syrup is easy—what's not so easy is keeping the stuff around. Lavender Italian sodas were so popular at our bakery in Montpelier that we had trouble matching supply to demand! Add 4 tablespoons (25 g) crumbled dried lavender to the pot before you start heating the water and sugar according to the instructions above for plain simple syrup. Allow the lavender to steep in the syrup until it's completely cooled, pour the syrup through a fine sieve to remove any dried lavender bits, and refrigerate.
It takes very little of the syrup to animate a drink; lavender packs a potent punch. A few spoonfuls added to sparkling water make a lovely lavender spritzer that lends a whisper of Provence to my day. My friend Ann makes a sublime lavender martini by combining lavender syrup, lavender liqueur, and vodka. She even rims the glasses with lavender sugar (she mixes dried lavender and granulated sugar in an airtight container and waits patiently until the lavender has infused the sugar with its aromatics). And for a luxurious aperitif, add a squirt of lavender syrup to the bottom of a champagne glass and pour in some bubbly.
OPTION 5: A MELLOW JITTER (COFFEE SYRUP WITH VODKA)
What we have here is essentially a homemade Kahlúa. This is a delightful way to mellow a caffeine buzz—or to put a little buzz into your vodka mellow. Combine ¼ cup (60 ml) coffee simple syrup with a shot (or two, or three—I'm not your keeper) of vanilla vodka, and pour over ice.
OPTION 6: DOMAINE DE CANTON GIN(GER) FIZZ
Domaine de Canton is a ginger liqueur, and it's delicious. This is a lemony-sweet cocktail with just a hint of ginger. Warning: This isn't for the hard-core martini drinker who can't stand a froufrou libation, but the tonic water does give the drink a hint of bitter to make it an adult beverage built for fun. Into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, pour 2 ounces (60 ml) Hendrick's Gin, 1 ounce (30 ml) Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, and 1 ounce (30 ml) lemon simple syrup (page 22), and shake shake shake! Pour into two Collins glasses filled with crushed ice. Pour 5 ounces (150 ml) tonic water into each glass, give a good stir, and add a lemon wedge to each glass. Cheers!
OPTION 7: MARGARITA
I don't know why tequila gets such a bum hangover rap. It's the nectar of the gods, in my book. A margarita on the rocks, with salt on the rim and a little tequila floater to give it that punch of extra goodness—there's nothing better on a summer night. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine 2 ounces (60 ml) tequila (Gold Patron, baby!), ½ ounce (15 ml) Cointreau, and 2 ounces (60 ml) lime simple syrup (page 22), and shake shake shake! Gently moisten the lips of two margarita glasses and dunk them, one at a time, in a saucer of coarse kosher salt. Fill each glass with ice and divide the contents of the shaker between them. Add a wedge of lime to each, and if you're feeling a little racy, top each glass with an extra splash of tequila.
I've already told you that you need to get yourself a candy thermometer. Yes, you can do the water method, but I'm advising you: Go get a thermometer—now. There are plenty of options out there; that's why I have a drawer full of them. There's the flat, traditional Taylor thermometer with a trusty black handle and a clip on the back. This is the thermometer I use the most. I do have two problems with it, though. The first is that I use it so much that the writing wears off and I can barely read the numbers. The second is that it has a gap at the bottom to keep the working end of the gauge from touching the bottom of the pan. This is a handy feature, as you want to get the temperature reading from sugar itself and not the pot. But sometimes there's so little sugar syrup in the pot that the wee nubbin that's meant to be suspended in the drink is hovering just above it. That's not going to help you. In those cases, I use a digital instant-read candy thermometer. Most are just a long spike with a bulb at one end (containing the working parts) and the temperature display on top. You'll have to hold the thermometer in the sugar yourself to make sure it doesn't rest on the bottom of the pot, unless you can find the kind that has a really convenient clip and an adjustable reading display. The good news is that since this is an instant-read, you don't have to sit over a steaming cauldron and melt your hand off, because it's pretty fast and usually comes with an alarm that starts beeping when you get close to temperature. I must warn you, though, that the "instant" part is a bit of a misnomer. While the digital does read temperature faster than a traditional candy thermometer, it still takes a few seconds to go through its paces and get to the right mark.
There's a third option, but I would advise against it: the laser-gun thermometer. I have one of these. It looks like a phaser from a 1980s sci-fimovie. You even pull a trigger, and it has a little button that lets loose a red laser beam so you can see exactly where the temperature is being read on the surface. And therein lies the problem. It reads the surface temperature, and what we want is the temperature in the middle. Surface temperature can be considerably cooler than the interior, and that can throw you off quite a bit in the world of sugar. So save your money and get the old-fashioned kind for a couple of bucks.
Excerpted from Sugar Baby by Gesine Bullock-Prado, Natalie Kaire, Tina Rupp. Copyright © 2011 Gesine Bullock-Prado. Excerpted by permission of ABRAMS.
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Posted October 24, 2011
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