how to – spin sugar

I’m putting up this how-to guide now because I’m going to use this method in one of the (savoury) recipes I’m posting later today for a selection of Chinese cold and cooling ‘grazing’ dishes…..plus I hopefully will be posting a link to lots of very pretty pictures later on…;-)
I will add actual pictures of this recipe later today or tomorrow – but it’s a bit too hot to be cooking caramel in the daytime at the moment.
So, a bit of basic science – this is pasted from http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/cotton-candy1.htm
‘….Caramelization is what happens when sugar melts. A crystal of granulated sugar, scientifically called sucrose, is held together by chemical bonds, but energy from heat can break these bonds, splitting the crystal into its two component sugars, glucose and fructose. These sugars break down further, freeing their atomic building blocks: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen and oxygen atoms reunite to form water, and the carbon clusters in increasingly larger clumps. Eventually the water evaporates and the carbon starts to burn.
However, if you stop this process while the sugar is still a liquid, you can make spun sugar. ‘
There’s a couple of things that it’s good to think about before you start. By all means use a sugar thermometer if you have one, but you don’t need one. It is actually v. easy to make with no fancy kit- I made my first spun sugar when I was 13, when I was bored and I’d been left alone in the house for a few hours….and we had no gadgets at all.
If you have a pan with a light coloured inside, it will help you catch the syrup before it starts turning golden, but it’s probably more important to use your heaviest bottomed pan to stop it burning too quickly.
Sugar gets very hot – in fact, you’re taking the syrup up to ‘hard crack’ stage, which is about 155 degrees celius/315 degrees Fahrenheit, so do take care and make sure small curious children are out of the way. You can make caramel baskets/shapes without the cream of tartar, but the strands will be thicker and the caramel will be dark(er).
As well as your pan, and a clear work space, you will also need a small glass of cold water (especially if you have no thermometer), plain vegetable oil for greasing handles of wooden spoons (for making curls and spirals) and greasing the outside of a metal bowl (for making cups and baskets)…..you can also make free-er form shapes on greaseproof paper. For spinning fine strands, I use a fork.
If your pan is not particularly thick bottomed, it’s quite a good idea to half fill the sink with cold water, so that you can take the pan off the heat and place it in the sink to arrest the cooking before it burns.
Finally, something I always used to do was make too much – the ratio is always 2:1 sugar to water and a pinch of cream of tartar – 100g of sugar and 50ml water makes loads.
Ingredients
100g granulated sugar
50ml water
Pinch of cream of tartar – it can be a meanish pinch for this amount, a normal pinch if you’re making more.
Glass of cold water on the side.
Method
Place water and sugar in a pan and stir before you put it on the heat. Place over a medium to high heat to dissolve the sugar – DO NOT stir at this point as you’ll make the sugar recrystallise and go all grainy. Bring to a hard boil, and after a couple of minutes, drop a little droplet into the water in the glass with a teaspoon – when this goes hard straight away, it is done. Hopefully you will be able to catch this before it starts going golden – unless you want it to be golden.
Take off the heat and add the cream of tartar, stir a couple of times and then you are ready to spin. Dip a fork in the syrup and swirl around your greased mould or gently swirl onto greaseproof paper, touching already formed strands from time to time to create your desired shape. The quicker you swirl, the thinner the strands. Leave to cool and harden before gently prising off the mould.
Don’t make this too far in advance or put it in the fridge, as the moisture will soften the structure.