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Spun Sugar

04/14/2013

I ran out of caramel sauce recently, which is a bad thing in this household. Since I was low on simple syrup too, I decided to make a batch of each. What struck me as funny about these two things is how different the results are using the same two ingredients: granulated sugar and water.

First, NO ONE should be buying simple syrup in the store. It takes ten minutes to make and costs less than a buck. If you are paying for fancy syrup in a liquor, coffee, or cooking store, stop and make your own. Really. This is all you need:

SIMPLE SYRUP INGREDIENTS:
equal parts water and granulated sugar
(a cup of each is good for a small bottle’s worth)

In a small saucepan, heat these two things over med-low heat until the granules dissolve and the liquid is clear. That’s it. Just remove from the stove and allow to cool before pouring into the container of your choice.

No wonder they call it “simple.”

The caramel, on the other hand, can be unruly and takes a lot of monitoring and patience. I ruined it the last time and made a brittle/toffee substance instead. For an idea of how different these sugar liquids turn out, take a look at the final products below.

IMG_3882

The recipe I used for the caramel sauce is found in this Vietnamese cookbook, and I detailed a little bit of the caramel-making effort in this post several years ago. The difference between this caramel sauce and a simple syrup is that the caramel requires more sugar, heat, and near-burning. It is particularly challenging to make using an electric stove. I’ve had to add many notes to remember what stage requires what setting, but it’s worth the effort in the end. Here are few few shots of the color stages the sugar morphs through on its way to the dark sauce finale.

Champange bubbly:
IMG_3873

Just beginning to blush:
IMG_3874

A rich, rusted red:
IMG_3875

The final result, shown below, is a thick, dark substance with a bitter, tea-like flavor. It is essential to a number of delicious Vietnamese recipes and also works on ice cream, if you roll that way.

IMG_3877

So here we have two ways to transform sugar: One that is easy, cheap, and yet there’s a store-bought equivalent readily available in many venues. The other is also cheap, but challenging to get right, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a store-bought version. This hardly seems fair. A pre-made caramel sauce would potentially be worth the cost, though it wouldn’t have that homemade freshness.

Meanwhile, don’t pay for that bottle of cocktail syrup. Keep it truly simple and make your own!

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