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Tin-lined copper + Caramel sauce= whoopsy?

Hello chowhounders,

I'm a relative newcomer to copper (been using it about a year). I bought a thick tin-lined copper saucepan from E Dehillerin last year. I understand the tin will discolor as it reacts to various ingredients.

That said, I made a caramel sauce in it tonight... make amber caramel, take off heat, whisk (silicone whisk) in heavy cream and rum.

After allowing the sauce to cool, I poured it out and what was once a uniform grey-ish bottom was now shiny in the middle.

Was the heat of the caramel/sauce too much? Did I make a mistake? Is it fine*?

Thanks for the advice

*no copper is showing at all

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  1. I think you are OK, with no damage done. How was the sauce?

    Little-known fact: The faster you heat your sugar to caramelize it, the higher the temp that is necessary. This is because sugar does't really melt--it decomposes. This is the reason why different scientists claim different temperatures. Heat fast, and you can be around 160C/336F. Mind you, you're still well below tin's melting point. But at the bottom of a pile of sugar (a good insulator, being all carbon) it can get a lot hotter.

    This uncertain flirtation with too much heat is why traditional confectioners' pans are unlined. I suspect it's also why some preserve recipes call for warming the sugar before you bring the fruit/sugar mix to a boil.


    3 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu

      Interesting. Caramel is tricky. I like it soft and the right hardness requires precision timing and temperature. I am kind of a slap dash cook but candy needs exactness.

      1. re: kaleokahu

        Thanks Kaleo,

        I've read enough of the copper posts to take your word as truth. I appreciate the insight. The amount of caramel was not that much (roughly 1 C of sugar) and was stirred consistently once it started to take of color. It was pulled off heat for addition of cream/rum.

        Btw- the sauce was fine. Did not taste "off" at all.

        Interesting to know about the reason for the unlined pans. One other piece to buy I suppose.

        Thanks again.

        1. re: Staubfan

          Go for it. My little unlined sugar pan, used on a low gas burner with a small silicone spatula, makes it so easy to manage caramel that I really don't need a thermometer. Plus it is just plain attractive.

      2. I see lumps bumps and what appears to be blisters in the pan....

        might you have toasted the tin lining?

        11 Replies
        1. re: PSRaT

          It is certainly possible. The lining is intact. It was never heated without anything in it. But as Kaleo referred to earlier, perhaps the bottom of the caramel insulated the pan toward the melting point.

          1. re: Staubfan

            Hi, staubfan:

            It's all good. A little smear here and there is no big deal.

            Here're 2 pics of a Dehillerin sucriere from an earlier era.


            1. re: kaleokahu

              Kaleo, why do they always seem to have copper handles. I could see working with the round bottomed on being a challenge as the pot holder warmed through!


              1. re: tim irvine

                Hi, Tim:

                Why the copper handle? I've never gotten an authoritative answer to that. My guess is that the tubular handle actually stays cooler than would a solid brass or iron one.

                The rounded bottom would be a pain, except it fits into the lid holes on my woodstove.


                1. re: kaleokahu

                  My experience is that the tubular handle gets hot pretty quickly thanks to the wonder of copper's conductivity. Not very scientific, but freakin' hot. But they are a good shape to grip and turn. Take note, A-C! I am imagining that shape only made of SS or iron.

                  1. re: tim irvine

                    Hi, Tim:

                    Freakin hot, yet cools faster than solid brass or iron. I don't know, I'm still waiting to hear a better answer!


                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      Perhaps old time kitchens inserted a wooden peg into the hollow shaft handle to insulate better against the higher temperatures used in candy making. I remember seeing this illustrated in a copy of a Victorian era cook book (can't remember the source)where a long one was used to allow the pot to be used on an open fire. I'm guessing that the handle design probably just became traditional with the original shape and the wooden pegs are no longer used and the shape is more of a relic than anything.

                      1. re: MucousMembrane

                        Hi, MM:

                        Ding, ding, ding, I think we have a winner! In retrospect, this seems obvious. Thanks!

                        Now I need to taper a hardwood dowel...


                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          I have the opposite problem. I have a dowel but no copper confectionery pan. Your problem seams cheaper to remedy than mine. ;)

                2. re: tim irvine

                  Hi Tim. Good question. I've been wondering too. I just saw a tin-lined sugar pot on ebay and figure someone bought it unlined not realizing it was intended for sugar and then had it tinned.

                  I have no evidence, just a hypothesis. Perhaps the handle activates muscle-memory in the kitchen; by which I mean, it is like a cue to make sure you are reaching for the right tool. Two copper pans of the same size look alike if you are multi-tasking in the kitchen, but if you come to associate processing sugar with that handle, you may be less likely to accidentally use a tin-lined pot.

                  1. re: Bordercrosser

                    Good hypothesis. Of course, when I am making caramel, that is pretty much all I am doing, but maybe some day I will tackle oeufs a la niege or croquembouche with spun sugar decoration. It astounds me to think back to the fifties when people made such things and served them as dessert with a meal that also included iceberg lettuce salad and frozen vegetables.