Sugar Science
Posted: 10 August 2011 01:54 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Lately I’ve been doing some “baking” involving sugar syrup cakes/bars/cookies and some have turned out very nicely and others, well, a bit of a grainy mess.  I know sugar is a bit of a challenge due to recrystallization, but I’d like to do some reading on the subject so I can better trouble shoot some of my recipes (many are old community recipes that have lots of variation and ambiguity) and determine the exact cooking temperatures for some of these goods.  Does anyone know of any good resources that would offer some insight?  I’m aware of Corriher’s books, are there others?

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Posted: 10 August 2011 07:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Perhaps Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking”.  Sugar and pastry only make up a very small portion of the large tome, but it’s very scientific and helpful.

And there’s also Rose’s article:  http://www.realbakingwithrose.com/2005/12/sugar.html

I expect, based on the high quality of your work, that you already know all this stuff, but just in case there’s something that might help, here are a few thoughts:
Basics
-sugar must be totally dissolved (no crystals clinging to the sides or utensils) in order to avoid crystallization.  I usually pull it off the heat as it comes to a boil and stir, returning to the heat if necessary, until dissolved.
-after that, no stirring as both agitation and seed crystals can cause re-crystallization.
-adding impurities, like the molasses in brown sugar, affects the temps of the stages.
-butter, corn syrup, and cream of tartar are all agents designed to interfere with crystallizing.

Things I learned from Harold McGee
-the exact quantity of water doesn’t matter, as long as the syrup is the right temp the water concentration will be correct.
-if you exceed a target temp, all you have to do is add some water and swirl, then continue cooking until it gets back to the right temp.
-if you’re bringing the syrup up to caramel temps, crystallization doesn’t matter as the syrup re-liquefies once all the water is out and it starts to caramelize.
-if you are going to pour milk or other dairy into hot caramel, don’t do anything to make the caramel too acidic, or it will curdle the dairy.  This includes using sugar with residual molasses, adding cream of tartar, or making the caramel too dark (it becomes more acidic the darker it gets).

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Posted: 10 August 2011 03:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks Julie, I’ll check it out.  I’m actually not dealing specifically with soft/hard/crack stages—most of these recipes are chewy bars/cookies (puffed wheat squares/haystacks) that have recipes with syrup/sugar/butter/cocoa—boiled with other dry ingredients (granola) added once the syrup is cooked.  Most recipes say boil 1 min/5 min and offer no indication re: temperature.  I want to add chocolate to some of these syrups but don’t know when in the procedure would be best…also I suspect even a great syrup can be ruined by stirring in other ingredients (say granola) at the wrong moment.  I generally have success with them, but now that I want to make some modifications (ie:  addition of chocolate) I’d like more information to work with.

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Posted: 10 August 2011 10:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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To help dissolve sugar, I always process mine in the food processor so it’s as fine as possible.  I also put it in the pan with the water (covered) an hour or two before I need it, and it really ‘softens’ it so it dissolves more quickly.

Julie, thanks for those great tips!

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Posted: 11 August 2011 09:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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That’s what I do too Anne, especially when I make mousseline.  I put the sugar and water in a covered pan on the lowest setting and let it go for a while, checking periodically.  I do not stir it and I never get any sugar on the sides of my pan.  Never had a failed batch of mousseline…yet.

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Posted: 11 August 2011 07:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Really great tips Julie.

Anne, I will have to do your method for dissolving sugar. Thanks!

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