Hot Cocoa with Spun Sugar Crown – How To Make Spun Sugar Decorations
One afternoon I was browsing pictures of spun sugar decorations and it occurred to me that spun sugar would look fantastic floating atop a drink. Convinced this had to exist, I searched the Internet high and low for a dessert drink recipe that incorporated spun sugar, but every one I found just involved dropping the sugar straight into the liquid, where it would dissolve immediately–I wanted something that would display handsomely for a bit. I wasn’t able to find anything, though.
So, as far as I know, this is the only recipe on the internet for spun sugar floating atop a liquid.
In this case, I used a “raft” of whipped cream to keep the spun sugar floating atop hot cocoa, so that one could present it to oohs and aahs for at least a few minutes. This also has the side benefit of creating a rather lovely experience drinking the cocoa, as the crispy spun sugar dissolves as you drink, or you can crunch away on it while drinking.
Obviously the tough part of this recipe is not the hot cocoa or the whipped cream, which are pretty pedestrian, though you could spice them up in any number of ways–it’s the spun sugar. Don’t attempt this if it’s your first time and 1) you don’t have at least an hour on hand before serving, and 2) you’re not willing to risk getting your kitchen messy. It is a huge pain to set up for and clean up after, and the results are fleeting only–spun sugar does not store well, as the moisture in the air will immediately start degrading it. So you have to serve it right away.
Ideally you’ll want a thermometer that goes up to at least 300 degrees Fahrenheit to help you time things right. But I did mine without a thermometer and just eyeballed it, so I guess it *can* work, though you are gambling.
Cover the surfaces around your work area–countertops, floor, and cabinets–with parchment paper, or newspaper. Hardened spun sugar is very difficult to clean off.
Be safe–hot sugar is VERY hot and you can burn yourself badly. You may consider wearing kitchen gloves. If you do get hot molten sugar on yourself, do not try to peel it off your skin, as it may adhere very strongly–instead, run your hand under water until the sugar dissolves away.
I used the recipe here, courtesy of Martha Stewart, for the spun sugar mixture, though you will find many varations online.
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon corn syrup
- Oil two wooden chopsticks, or the handles of two wooden spoons.
- Tape the chopsticks or spoons to your countertop so they hang over the edge, or weigh them down, spaced apart by about a foot.
- Prepare an ice-water bath.
- Place the sugar, 1/2 cup water, and the corn syrup in a pot (ideally a heavy-bottomed saucepan) over low heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved.
- Raise heat to high, and bring mixture to a boil. Continue cooking until the temperature registers 310 degrees (hard-crack stage) on a candy thermometer. Or, if working by eye, you will see the color turn golden brown. Drop a bit into ice water–it should turn hard (not just chewy, but hard) when it’s ready.
- Remove from heat, and briefly plunge the saucepan into ice water to stop the cooking.
- Let stand to thicken slightly, about 1 minute. It should be gooey enough that it forms strands when you dip a fork in it and pull it up, not droplets.
- Use a fork, or a wire whisk with the ends clipped off, to dip into the sugar mixture and “flick” very quickly back and forth over the chopsticks to form threads. The best YouTube video I could find to demonstrate this motion (it’s half-speed though) is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmoI6_A9A_w. The threads will be draped over the chopsticks.
- Prepare your hot cocoa. Add a thick double layer of whipped cream on top.
- At this point, your threads are cool and you can touch them with your hands. Gather them up with your hands and shape them into your crown. Place on top of the whipped cream and serve immediately.
Pictures of this process:
Ice water bath is ready in the background.
Sugar has dissolved.
Starting to boil…
Thickening after having been plunged into ice water bath.
Delicate golden threads hanging from chopsticks. If you look very closely you will see some have droplets hanging on them–this is a sign I did not wait quite long enough for my mixture to cool, as it will form droplets when still too hot/liquidy.
Web of spun sugar hanging between chopsticks, ready to use. I went ahead and made several other decorations at the same time (not used in this recipe), by oiling a ladle and a metal bowl.
Bonus: More Spun Sugar Decorations
If you want to learn more, I recommend this thread, which has an exhaustive amount of information on optimizing your spun sugar, including color, clarity, technique, and much more.
In the last photo above, you can see how to drip threads over an oiled ladle and bowl to create 2 different-sized sugar domes. You simply wait for them to cool and harden, then gently lift them off.
Oil a chopstick, or anything else wooden or metal (or heat-resistant plastic) that is cylindrical. Pull a thick strand out of the spun sugar mixture and, circling around the chopstick held in one hand, form a corkscrew. Wait until cool, then slide it off the chopstick.
See following pictures for what these ended up looking like: