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Cooking sugar

Cooking sugar

Cooking sugar, which is one of the basics of patisserie and sweet-making, is a delicate operation in which sugar is heated from 100°C or 212°F to 180°C or 356°F. Here is some information on this tricky subject.

[Translator's note: the terms used below correspond to the French tradition, as often used by English-speaking chefs, but there are other stages and terms in other traditions. Best to use a thermometer, and be guided by temperature, as the English terms commonly used in domestic cooking cover less precise stages, broader temperature ranges, and so could lead to confusion.].

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Last modified on: October 13th 2010

You will need:

How long does it take?

PreparationCookingStart to finish
5 min.38 min.43 min.
At what time?When will I finish if I start the recipe at a certain time?
When should I start for the recipe to be ready at a certain time?
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Step by step recipe

1 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #1You will also need a sugar thermometer ( up to 200°C or 392°F) or even better, an electronic thermometer.

Pour water, a few lemon juice (or vinegar) drops, and sugar into a pan.

The exact volume of water doesn't matter, because sugar starts to cook only when all the water is evaporated. So it's not necessary to use very much water.
5 min.
2 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #2Put the pan on high heat with thermometer in, and bring to the boil.

You will notice that for quite a long time, the temperature will stay around 100°C or 212°F, that will be the case as long as there is still any water remaining with sugar.
10 min.
3 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #3For the following stages, you will probably see some impurities coming out of the sugar that will stick round the sides of the pan.
4 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #4As they heat they will eventually burn and might add a bitter taste to the sugar. You can remove them with a brush dipped in clean cold water.
5 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #5Stage 1: 106°C or 223°F, sugar is cooked to "thread" stage (used for some jams for example). 5 min.
6 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #6Stage 2: 110°C or 230°F, sugar is cooked to "pearl or soufflé" stage (used for other jams and blackcurrant liqueur for example). 3 min.
7 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #7Stage 3: 118°C or 244°F, sugar is cooked to "soft ball" stage. 3 min.
8 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #8Stage 4: 125°C or 257°F, sugar is cooked to "hard ball" stage, (used for Italian meringue for example). 3 min.
9 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #9Stage 5: 135°C or 275°F, sugar is cooked to "soft crack" stage (it sticks to your teeth). 3 min.
10 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #10Stage 6: 140°C or 284°F, sugar is cooked to "crack" stage (no longer sticky and it snaps). 3 min.
11 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #11Stage 7: 155°C or 311°F, sugar is cooked "hard crack" stage (it snaps like glass). 3 min.
12 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #12Stage 8: 160°C or 320°F, sugar is now "light caramel" (straw-coloured). 3 min.
13 Cooking sugar : Photo of step #13Stage 9 (and final): 180°C or 356°F, light caramel becomes "dark caramel" (it's coloured). You should cool it and use it immediately, because it will continue cooking a little further, even off the heat.

Be careful: beyond 190°C or 374°F, caramel starts to smoke, burns and is spoiled.
2 min.

Remarks

Cooking sugar is a delicate operation due to the high temperature, working with caramel at 180°C or 356°F can be very very dangerous. This why this is one of the only recipes on the site that you should make without any children around you.

In former times (not so long ago) patissiers had no thermometer, so to know the temperature of the sugar they dipped two fingers in water then in the cooking sugar, and then by touching their fingers together then releasing, they could tell by the behaviour of the sugar what stage it was at: thread, soft ball, hard ball, etc. That's the origin of the strange names of the stages.

Lemon juice drops are there to prevent sugar from brutal not wanted crystallization. I thougt it was a legend, so I don't put in, until it really happen to me when I was preparing a red sugar :

crystalized sugar

Pretty, but not usable...

Nutritional information

Whole recipe
CaloriesProteins CarbohydratesFats
8000 gr200 gr0 gr
40 %0 %19 %0 %
Per 100 g
CaloriesProteins CarbohydratesFats
3270 gr82 gr0 gr
16 %0 %8 %0 %
% are calculated relative to a Recommended Dietary Intake or RDI of 2000 k-calories by day for a woman (change to a man).

How much will it cost?

For : 0.16 €

Note : These prices are only approximate.

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Source: Gaston Lenôtre.
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More recipes?

This recipe use (among others)
Caster sugarCaster sugar: You can get more informations, or check-out other recipes which use it, for example: Crusty pistachio, almond and apricot flan, Tarte Normande, Apple Strudel, French croissants, Coconut-vanilla cream for Elsa , ... All
Lemon juiceLemon juice: You can check-out other recipes which use it, like for example: Tomato ladybirds, Nanou's tuna tart, Cubed salad, Sautéed pears with custard and orange syrup , Cretan salad, ... All
WaterWater: You can get more informations, or check-out other recipes which use it, for example: Pistachio powder or paste, Natural leaven, Benoîton, Pilau rice, Quick chicken curry, ... All

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