Caramel is used in many recipes and is a common topping from milk flan to crème brûlée. With a strong sweet taste, this syrup is actually quite easy to make, as long as you have the right materials and know the technique well. Read the following article to learn how to caramelize sugar on the stove in a matter of minutes.
Choose a method
- Hydrated caramelization: Preferred by home cooks, this method prevents sugar from burning. It takes longer but creates more complex flavors.
- dry caramelization: Used by confectioners for being faster.
- Colored caramelized sugar: Hydrated caramelization with food coloring.
Method 1 of 3: Hydrated Caramelization
Step 1. Gather the ingredients
To make caramel using the hydrated method, use 2 cups white crystal sugar, ½ cup water and ¼ teaspoon lemon juice or cream of tartar.
- If you need a little caramel, use half the amounts of ingredients: 1 cup sugar, ¼ cup water and 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice or cream of tartar.
- Depending on the desired consistency, the ratio of sugar to water will vary. The finer the mixture, the more water you will need.
Step 2. Mix water and sugar in a pan
Use a good quality metal pan with good depth and a thick bottom.
- Inexpensive, thin-bottomed pans usually get hotter at one point than another, which burns the sugar and spoils the caramel.
- It's also better to use a pan made of light metal, such as stainless steel, so you can see the darkening of the caramel more clearly.
Step 3. Place the pan over medium heat
Stir constantly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until the sugar starts to dissolve.
- To transform sugar into caramel, it must first be dissolved, which happens at approximately 160°C.
- At this point, the sugar syrup should be clear.
Step 4. Add lemon or cream of tartar
Put the lemon juice or cream of tartar (which should be dissolved in a little water first) into the sugar syrup. This helps prevent the sugar from crystallizing again.
Step 5. Boil the water and sugar
Once the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture starts to boil, stop stirring.
Step 6. Reduce heat and simmer for eight to ten minutes
Ideally, the sugar syrup is boiling and boiling.
- The preparation time varies depending on the proportions of water to sugar, the potency of the stove and other factors.
- Therefore, when caramelizing sugar, it is best to be guided by the color of the mixture.
Step 7. Don't move
It is important to avoid stirring the mixture while the water evaporates and the sugar starts to caramelize.
- Stirring incorporates air into the mixture and lowers the syrup temperature. This prevents the sugar from browning properly.
- Also, the hot caramel will stick to the spoon or spatula, and this is quite difficult to clean afterwards.
Step 8. Keep an eye on the color
The best way to know the progress of the caramel is to look at the color closely. The mixture will change from transparent to light golden and from golden to brown. This can happen very quickly, so don't leave the pan unattended! If the caramel burns, there's no way to eat it and you'll have to throw it all away.
- Don't worry if the brown color is showing up in some spots before others. You can solve this by carefully lifting the pan by the handle and tilting it in different directions to distribute the color.
- Do not try to taste or touch the caramel while it cooks. At this point, it's probably 160 degrees Fahrenheit and will burn your skin.
Step 9. Know when caramelization is complete
Keep an eye on the mixture until it turns even brown. When the whole caramel is in this shade and a little thicker than before, the caramelization process is ready.
- Once the caramel reaches the desired color, remove it from the heat immediately.
- If the caramel stays in the fire too long, it will turn black and smell burning and bitter. If that happens, start all over again.
Step 10. Stop the caramelization process
If you want to ensure that the process will stop and the sugar will not burn from the residual heat in the pan, place it on an ice bath for approximately 10 seconds.
But if you took the pan off the heat too soon, let the caramel sit for a minute and it will continue to cook
Step 11. Use caramelized sugar in desserts right away
Use it as a flans topping, to make caramel candy or caramel decorations, or just throw a little on top of the ice cream!
- Caramel hardens very quickly after it cools. If you wait too long to use it in desserts, it can get too hard to throw over or spread.
- If this happens, return the pan to low heat and wait for the caramel to liquefy again. Tilt the pan in all directions to mix, rather than trying to stir it with a spoon.
Method 2 of 3: Dry Caramelization
Step 1. Place the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan
Place an even layer of white crystal sugar in a light colored pan or skillet with a heavy bottom. As the sugar heats up, it will release water and caramelize.
- Since this method does not need other ingredients, the exact amount of sugar is up to you.
- Use 1 or 2 cups, depending on how much caramel you want.
Step 2. Heat sugar over moderate heat
Keep an eye on the caramel as it heats up – it will start to liquefy around the edges, going from clear to golden brown.
- Once the sugar starts to brown, use a silicone spatula or a wooden spoon to stir the liquefied sugar around the edges of the pan towards the middle.
- This ensures that the sugar on the sides doesn't start to burn before the sugar in the middle melts.
- If the layer of sugar in the pan is thick, be careful not to let the bottom sugar burn without you seeing it.
Step 3. Stir the sugar stones
It will likely melt unevenly, so don't worry if rocks form in some spots and others become liquid. Just lower the heat and keep stirring. This ensures that the caramel won't burn while you wait for the stubborn stones to melt.
- It doesn't matter if not all the stones melt – it's easy to strain the caramel after taking it off the fire.
- But be careful not to stir too much too – if you do, the sugar may start to lump before it can melt.
- Don't worry too much. If this happens, just turn the heat to the minimum and avoid stirring until the sugar starts to melt again.
Step 4. Keep an eye on the color
Watch out for caramelizing sugar until it reaches the right color – not too much, not too little. The sweet spot is a dark brown, almost the color of bronze.
- You'll know the caramel is ready when it stops smoking. If you take it out before releasing the smoke, it will be a little raw.
- You can also tell if the caramel is ready by the smell – which should be deep and somewhat nutty.
Step 5. Remove the caramel from the heat
Once the caramel reaches perfection, don't take long to get it out of the fire. Caramel can go from perfect to burnt very quickly, and burnt caramel becomes bitter and unsuitable for consumption.
- If using caramel for a flan or crème caramel, pour it directly from the pan into the molds.
- If you are making cotton candy, it is important to stop the caramelization by placing the pan in ice water. Otherwise, the residual heat from the pan can burn the caramel.
- If making caramel sauce, add butter or cream to the caramel. This stops the caramel cooking process and creates a great creamy topping for ice cream and desserts. Just be careful as melted caramel can sneeze when it comes into contact with dairy products.
Step 6. Ready
Method 3 of 3: Colored Caramelized Sugar
Step 1. Place organic sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan
Heat over low to medium heat.
Step 2. Add a few drops of food coloring as the sugar heats up
Do this every five minutes.
Step 3. Eventually the sugar must be dry and granulated or it will become sticky
Step 4. Add hot water to the powder or sticky mixture
Add 5 cups of water for every 30 grams of sugar.
Step 5. Cook until caramelized
The color will look beautiful and caramelized.
Step 6. Finished
- Use the lowest possible heat that still allows the sugar to caramelize. This gives the cook more control and helps prevent overcooking or caramel burning.
- Add a small amount of lemon juice to the sugar and water mixture. This will give a very subtle flavor and help prevent the caramel sauce from hardening.
- When the caramelized sugar is ready, it goes from ready to burn very quickly. Be very careful during preparation and when it is ready (or almost ready) remove from heat immediately.
- Do not use a pan that is not completely clean. Any dirt on it can cause crystallization.
- Caramelizing sugar requires your full attention. Don't cook other things that take time or need attention at the same time or the caramel will burn.
- Caramelized sugar can reach very high temperatures and burns the skin when you sneeze. Wear oven mitts or a long-sleeved T-shirt when making this recipe, or leave a bowl of ice and water to dip your hand in if it gets burned.