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burnt sugar syrup help!

I make burnt sugar syrup often for a caramel-flavored cake, but every time I do it I'm left with clumps of sugar on the bottom of the pan, and the syrup gets very dark and bitter before the lumps dissolve. I should add that I am using organic, "unrefined" sugar so maybe this is what is complicating things.

This is my procedure:

Melt 2c sugar over very low heat, stirring occasionally
add 1 1/3c boiling water, stirring while pouring
give up stirring when sugar becomes a sticky lumpy nightmare
Allow to simmer 5 min to try to dissolve sugar lumps, but ultimately just use whatever I got, leaving much of the sticky sugar to its demise in the dish sink

If anyone has advice, or has ever come across a video or burnt sugar being made properly, I'd really appreciate it!

Thanks :)

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  1. I think one issue is the stirring. You're encouraging crystallization of the sugar. Just leave it to melt. Swirl the pan if you need to, and if you get sugar on the sides of the pan, use a wet pastry brush to clear it off.
    I have never used unrefined organic sugar, but I know that 'bits' or impurities in the sugar can give the sugar crystals something to grab on to and form around, so I wonder if that might also be contributing to things.

    1 Reply
    1. re: tacosandbeer

      Good to know about the stirring! I will try that. Thanks!

    2. dont use unrefined organic sugar, use plain pure cane sugar. You can get caramel with unrefined, but the amount of impurities complicates it. Also try squeezing a bit of lemon or acidic in it before you put the sugar on heat and mix it in well. in additon to using a wet pastry brush, you can cover it partially and the condensation will keep it from clumping/crystalization

      another thing to try if able to, instead of using water to stop the cooking, get an ice bath and once you reached your desired color/state, flash cool it by putting the pan in the ice bath.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jester99

        The reason I use unrefined sugar is because my product is vegan and white sugar uses bone char in its refining. It's also important to my customers that it's as unrefined and "whole" as possible. But the lemon idea is genius, I totally forgot about that little trick! Thank you!

      2. Adding water after the sugar is cooked is your problem. Just put your sugar and a SMALL amount of water (like 1/4 c. for the 2 c. of sugar) in a pan and cook it until it's the color you desire. Pour it into a heat safe dish immediately to keep it from browning further, or plunge the pan into an ice bath (although this may harden your caramel onto the sides of your pan too much. Does it need to be cool before it can be incorporated into the cake? Depending on how dark you cook your sugar, it will harden into candy if you're not careful. I made a fabulous burnt sugar ice cream recently that called for the sugar to be cooked until dark, then poured out, left to harden, broken up and ground down into powder - it was a bit labor intensive, but the resulting powder was WAY easier to deal with than 350 degree liquid sugar.

        2 Replies
        1. re: biondanonima

          Yes, I've had it harden into candy when I added the water in the beginning, but I will try with just a small amount of water this time. Thanks!

          The burnt sugar powder sounds amazing btw! I think I'll try to incorporate that in the mix somehow... :)

          1. re: kwleland

            If you need it to be a thin consistency with the flavor of burnt sugar, it might be easier to make the burnt sugar, pour it out and allow it to harden, then dump the pieces into boiling water and let them dissolve. I make creamy caramel using the process you describe (pouring liquid into the hot sugar) without issue, but I'm always adding dairy, not water, and I don't know if the fat somehow helps the process along or not.

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. Thanks, I will keep these ideas in mind! I'm making a liquid syrup to use as an ingredient in cake, as in this recipe.

            http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/mem...

            It calls for equal parts sugar/water and lots of stirring! Apparently this works but only for white sugar, not unrefined?

            1. re: kwleland

              The recipe calls for equal meaures of sugar and water, but you originally said you're using 2c sugar to 1 1/3 c water. I wonder if it would dissolve better with the full amount of water. Also, you're dealing with almost 4x the recipe amounts, which is going to affect the length of time it takes to reach the dark sugar stage and the amount of time it takes to reduce it back down once you add the water.

              After seeing the recipe you're using, I would suggest working in smaller batches, making more batches if you need, and definitely the unrefined sugar could be an issue with the impurities in it encouraging crystal formation.

          2. My original post got deleted so here it is again.

            I have to agree with comments regarding the impurties of the sugar causing the crystilization. Also very important not to stir the water and sugar once it cooks, this greatly increase crystilization. The ice bath suggestion would definatly drop the temp quickly but your are sacrificing your pots pots and pans because your exposing them to 350 degress + to suddently 32 degrees (freezing temp for water) which will warp the hell out of them over time.

            My suggestion would be to reduce the amount of water you are using and increase the temp in which you cook the sugar. Any time you play with boiling sugar the water needs to evaporate from the mixture. The more water you use the longer it takes for all the water to evaporate. If you want the sugar to be pourable after it cools you need to incorporate corn syrup! Any time you want your sugar to be elastic for turning into bows, center pieces, or various sugar decorations the sugar has to be elastic which is done by adding corn syrup. Try the following recipe and let me know how it turns out.
            2 cups sugar
            3/4 cup water
            3 Tbsp white corn syrup (white only!!!)

            Combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in pot or pan. Cook on medium heat until you see the color turn light brown (your sugar is now roughly 325 degrees...sugar burns at 350). Emediatly turn off the heat and place your pot/pan on a cool burner. The sugar will continue to cook and darken a bit more.