Boiled sugar is an amazingly temperamental and often persnickety thing. It goes through stages. First it comes to a boil and hangs out at about 220° F for several minutes. This first boil is critical. If you do not keep it off the sides, you will end up with crystallization. If you stir the boiling sugar after it has dissolves, you end up with crystallization. If you look at it wrong, you end up with crystallization. As it sits and boils for a while, you brush the sides down with a wet pastry brush. After a while (this isn’t on a set schedule. things are determined by pan, heat, amount of sugar, humidity, blah, blah, blah), it will move up to the soft ball state at 250° F and will hang out there for a while. Once it crosses this magical barrier, you can stop brushing down the sides.
It will hang out there for a while. Next magic stat is the soft crack state at around 270° F or so. Hangs out for a little and then gets to hard crack at 300° F. Once it gets to this stage, it goes from creeping up the thermometer to Ka-BLAM Burnt Sugar quicker than you can blink. And unlike burnt popcorn, burnt sugar smells vile and the smell lasts for days. Ask me how I know this and why I almost set the house on fire several years ago.
Today I worked on a chess board of poured sugar and a little gumpaste. It was a proof of concept project as I hadn’t done something pour this intricate before. And I didn’t want to experiment with doing poured sugar work with the subtlety.
Step 1- clear sugar base
Step 2- grid lines
Step3- colored squares
Step 4- painted lines
Step 5- salamander and top coat
* Note: A watched pot never boils to the next temperature bracket. And a thermometer is critical. Though you can do it by sight, sound and a glass of water. But that is a post for another day.