I am thankful for my local homebrew supply shop. I can stop by and purchase almost anything I need to make a batch of beer. Yeah, they don’t have everything (Kiln Coffee malt!) but they do a darn good job (even if they only carry White Labs yeast). With all of that positive vibe, I still cringe when I look at the dark candi sugar at $5 per pound. Plain white sugar at the grocery store sells for one tenth of that price. So I feel compelled to just make my own. This is a task that is easy and but takes a little attention and time. Of course, it is always fun to play with your food.
You don’t need too much stuff. Plain white sugar. Water. A thermometer. And a little bit of acid. I use powdered citric acid but lemon juice might work just as well.
I usually start with a pound or so of sugar. You can do as much as you want, really, as the only limits are the size of your pot and also how much room you have to spread it out to cool (see the photo below). The first thing to do is dissolve the sugar into the water. Since you have to boil off the excess water don’t get too carried away. I usually add enough cold water to cover the sugar, then put it on the heat to help it dissolve. Oh, also add a pinch or two of citric acid. Table sugar is actually made up of two simple sugars, glucose and fructose. Adding heat and acid will allow the bond between the molecules to break, thereby making a simpler sugar molecule that is easier for yeast to metabolize. In theory anyway.
As this solution warms it will reach the boiling point of water (100 °C) and pause there until all of the excess water evaporates. Don’t fuss with it. Stirring can only bring misery. Once the excess water evaporates the temperature of the solution will begin to rise a second time. Candy makers have special terms for various temperatures – soft ball, hard ball, soft crack, hard crack. I just let my solution rise to 135 °C and then I add a couple of teaspoons of cold water such that the temperature drops back to 127 °C or so. This is the bit of pain part of the process. A thermometer with an alarm is very helpful. As the sugar stays on the heat it will get darker and darker. Continue to monitor the temperature and add water to keep it in the 127 to 135 °C range. After awhile it looks something like this:
I did not record how long it took the sugar to reach the dark color, but I am sure it was on the flame for a least an hour. In the above photo I am allowing the temperature to rise to 150 °C (hard crack for you candy fans) so that we end up with nice hard pieces of sugar and not goo. Once that temperature is reached carefully pour the hot, molten syrup onto parchment paper or silicone mats to cool. I put silicone mats into half sheet pans so nothing runs away:
The last time I did this I used two pans for cooling. This goes back to my earlier comment, you can make as much as you want but be sure you have the room to cool it. It would be a real pain to clean out a saucepan full of hard sugar. Once it cools it can be broken up and stored. If you start playing with it while it is still malleable you can roll it into little round shapes, or you can wait until it is fully cooled and break it up into little pieces. You can see samples of both in this photo:
For longer term storage you can dust the surface with a little powdered sugar or corn starch to minimize sticking, and then put it in bags. In the photo below you can see my haul: a little over one pound of dark sugar: