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.

Advertisements

Limeflower cordial – sirop de tilleul

linden 012My very favourite period of summer in London is just about to begin……when the lime trees (linden) come into flower and the perfume wafts down the street – you can see the bees going literally crazy, getting tipsy in a massive honey fest. Different trees come into bloom over a period of 2 or 3 weeks, mainly depending on how much sun they get, but there are different varieties. Some of the later flowering trees seem to have a muskier perfume, which I’ve never used for this syrup.

Continental Europeans have being using the flowers for tisanes and syrups for eons but it’s not quite so commonly used in the UK, so I originally got this recipe from
http://cuisinesauvage.blogspot.co.uk/2007/06/sirop-de-tilleul.html
(which is a really good site for forage recipes – it’s in French, but the recipes are so simply written that even a web translation usually comes out reasonably understandable, if you’re not fluent) – over the past couple of years, I have changed the quantities a bit ( less water, more flowers), but I’ve used the same process, which is the same as I use for elderflower cordial. As ever, you want freshly picked, newly opened blossoms – if you live somewhere with lots of trees, there’s less need to be quite so responsible about foraging, because there are so many blossoms and mature trees are so, so big and tall, you’ll spend half your time finding a tree with low hanging flowers 🙂 As far as I know, there aren’t any of our fellow creatures that depend on the seeds for food.

Ingredients – for every litre of water
250-300 grams of limeflower clusters – this translates as half a carrier bag, loosely packed, when you’re out collecting
500g sugar
5-10 grams of citric acid

Method
Lime flowers grow in clusters on a stalk with a pale green, paddle shaped bract. Remove the stalk and bract and put the flowers into a bowl big enough to take the amount of water you’re using. Boil the water, pour over the blossoms, cover with a teatowel and leave to infuse overnight or for at least 8 hours.
Strain through a sieve lined with muslin. Leave this to do it by itself, don’t try and squeeze the cloth to hurry it up.
Bring the infusion to a simmer with the sugar and 5g of the citric acid until the sugar has dissolved, then boil for 5 minutes. Taste and add more citric acid if desired. It keeps fine for a month in the fridge – I freeze mine in small containers – but if you’re going to bottle it to keep, use the hot water bath method and definitely use 10g of citric acid per litre of water.
The syrup has a flavour that most reminds me of honeyed pears, and it’s lovely as a drink, made into a sorbet or poured over icecream.
I also make a version which includes a sprig or two of lavender at the boiling stage, which was inspired by the ‘tranquility’ chocolate by the Belgian chocolatiers Newhouse.

London gets totally transformed in summer, at least on the side streets and in the parks, when it seems like the whole world has burst into bloom with cascades of sweetly scented roses, jasmine, lavender and honeysuckle.
On some roads, even the litter on the streets gets partially hidden by fallen petals, their colours sundried and scattered like the confetti of a thousand fairy weddings. I LOVE my city 🙂

Caffè alla Nonna

Translated, this means Grandma’s coffee. My lovely friend Stefania taught me how to make this when she came to live with us for a year from Italy. If you have one of those espresso pots that you put on the stove, they make very nice coffee, but it never looks the same as you get in an Italian café – this simple method will make your coffee look like a proper espresso from a Gaggia machine.
Ingredients – makes enough for 4 espressos
A pot of strong coffee
1 tablespoon of sugar – castor if you have it, but granulated is fine.
Method
Put the coffee pot on to cook, and place the sugar in the bottom of a mug. Pay close attention to the coffee, and as the very first 4-5 drops (literally!) come through, pour this first dribble onto the sugar and return the pot to the stove. Beat the dribble of coffee vigorously into the sugar with a fork until it becomes a pale creamy foam – this takes 3 or 4 minutes. Put a teaspoon of this in the bottom of an espresso cup, top up with coffee and stir.

Elderflower sorbet

Last time I’m going to post anything about sugary wickedness for a while, I promise.

It may seem strange to add even more sugar to the elderflower cordial recipe, but to make sorbets and water ices, you need a certain balance of sugar so you don’t end up with an iceberg, especially if there’s little fruit content. The ‘secret’ ingredient in this recipe to make it more scoopable is liquid glycerine, which replaces the egg white used in some other methods. You can buy it in larger supermarkets, in little bottles.

If you don’t have a icecream maker, (I don’t) then the process does take a bit of time and patience, but it’s not too arduous.

Ingredients
200g sugar
½ litre water
250ml elderflower cordial
2 teaspoons liquid glycerine

Method
Heat the water and sugar and stir to dissolve. Take off the heat and stir in the glycerine and the cordial. Leave to cool, then chill for a couple of hours. Place in a flattish container and freeze for 1½ hours. Take it out and put it through a food processor (if you haven’t got one, you can do this with a fork) and refreeze. Repeat every 1½ hours for another 4-5 times. It may seem like it’s one step forward and two steps back, but keep the faith! The idea is to introduce air into the mix, break up large ice crystals and encourage the formation of smaller ones.
Transfer final mix to a tub style container so there’s less surface area. Will keep for months. Take it out of the freezer about 15-20 minutes before serving.

Elderflower fizz

elderflowerWhile making this fizz isn’t particularly complicated, it can go wrong, mainly if the equipment isn’t totally sterile. Mildly alcoholic, it depends on the natural yeasts that appear on the flowers, so you have to a) collect the flowers early in the morning on a dry day when they have most pollen and b) collect perfect freshly opened heads and check for insects before you cut them…(the freshest heads often have a slightly concave shape). This is because you can’t wash the flowers – lay the flowerheads out on some paper when you get home, and any wee beasties will crawl away.

As I said in the post for Elderflower cordial, please forage responsibly 🙂

Ingredients

30 heads of elderflowers

1kg sugar, preferably castor

3 unwaxed lemons, zested and juiced

3 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar

8 litres of water

You need a very clean bucket, or a stainless steel or enamel pan of 10 litres capacity,

and very clean ex fizzy drinks bottles to take 8-9 litres.

Method

Pick over your flowers for bugs, remove as many flowers as you can from their stalks, then snip away as much stalk as possible. Add the sugar and 2-3 litres of water to your receptacle, and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Add the rest of the water, then elderflowers along with the juice, zest and vinegar. Cover with a clean piece of damp muslin and leave in a cool place for 2-3 days, stirring once a day with a sterile utensil.

If, after the 2nd day, it is not starting to gently bubble/show some signs of (subtle) effervescence you can add a pinch of yeast and stir again, but you shouldn’t need to do this. If you do, cover again and leave for another 2-3 days, allowing it to ferment and brew.

Strain the liquid carefully through a sieve lined with double muslin and funnel into strong fizzy drinks plastic bottles. The potion can produce a lot of gas, so you need to check and release some gas out – don’t take the screwtops off completely, as this might let in unwanted bacteria in the air. This is known as ‘burping the bottles’!

If you forget, the bottles will fall over – which is the great advantage of using plastic over glass, which could just explode. I keep mine in the bathroom, just in case I end up with an overflowing bottle and a sticky mess.

It is ready to drink after 2-3 weeks. It is only mildly alcoholic, but it is very moreish.

Elderflower Cordial

This is so easy to make. Because I haven’t got a reliable way to sterilize my bottles, I freeze mine – which also helps me stop myself from guzzling it all in a couple of months.
Pick the elderflowers on a sunny, dry day – you want perfect heads with flowers just opened, no brown blossoms. Before you pick a head, check it’s not too infested with greenfly, and don’t take all the heads off any one tree (please). Obviously, choose trees as far away from busy roads as possible.

Ingredients
25-30 elderflower heads
1.75 litres boiling water
1kg white sugar
4 unwaxed lemons
NB if you are bottling your cordial, you may want to add 20g of citric acid

Method
Wash your flowerheads, drain, shake dry(ish)and then place them in a plastic bag in the fridge overnight or for several hours – this helps the flowers come off the stalks. Peel one lemon very finely – you don’t want any of the white pith. Shake as many flowers free as you can, then snip away as much of the remaining stalks as possible, and place flowers and zest from the lemon in a bowl large enough for them and the water. Pour over boiling water, cover with a teatowel, and leave overnight or for at least 8 hours. Strain liquid through a fine sieve or piece of muslin. In a non reactive pan, add the infused water, sugar, the juice of the lemons and the citric acid if you’re using it and over a gentle heat, bring up to a simmer until the sugar has dissolved.
If you’re bottling it in glass, decant while still hot into your sterilized bottles, leaving 2cm at the top (to allow a mini vacuum to form as it cools), and seal straight away. If you’re freezing it, allow to cool and then transfer to your containers, again allowing some free space as it will expand a little as it freezes.
Dilute to taste with still or fizzy water, 1 part cordial to 4-5 parts water.

Rhubarb, banana and ginger smoothie

My friend Cathy used to make this flavour combination into a crumble, in an effort to cut down the refined sugar she was feeding her kids – ‘cos rhubarb does need quite a bit of sweetening…however, the pulp I used here was already pretty sugar heavy.

Ingredients for 2 big smoothies
Pulp left over from last recipe
2 bananas
1 level teaspoon of freshly grated ginger pulp
Water – about half a mugful, at first, then more to arrive at your desired consistancy
a few drops of beetroot juice – optional

Method
blitz in a whizzy machine, serve straight away