today i played with sugar. i played with sugar in a way i’ve never played with sugar before and i have to say that i loved it. a good friend of mine (@cupcakerichard on instagram a.k.a Wida) and i had decided to try making honeycomb. i started as usual (and you should all know by now) with google. i picked up a few key trends from sites like instructables (this one was super handy), gemma’s bigger bolder baking, joy the baker (this lady is hilarious!!!), martha stewart and nigella lawson. i am the king of research…a nerd king but a king nonetheless. what i found is that each of these sites gave you a pointer and when you combined all the pointers you were pretty well prepared to tackle making honeycomb. i also looked at Larousse and Pellaprat to check pointers on caramel.
so the key things that i learnt were:
1. prepare all the ingredients and tools in advance. once you hit the right temperature on the caramel things go very quickly and by quickly i mean 10 seconds. have the pan prepped with baking paper. i painted mine with some sunflower oil (Wida is a vegan baker extraordinaire so we kept to vegan ingredients). have a spatula and whisk near at hand.
2. sieve the bicarb. you don’t have much time to whisk and the more you do the harder the caramel becomes. you need to give it one or two good mixes. if the bicarb is lumpy there is a chance you won’t break it down in the caramel enough and then someone’s going to have a fun surprise.
3. use water. some recipes don’t indicate water but i think you give yourself a better chance of avoiding a gritty caramel if the sugar dissolves properly. many of the recipes i read said to dissolve the sugar in the syrup. i couldn’t see that happening so i added two tablespoons of water and stirred over low heat until the sugar had dissolved. i then turned up the heat to get the evaporation and then the caramelisation going.
initially very small bubbles formed on the surface of the pot. then there was a lot of steam. i swirled the pot regularly to keep releasing the steam. at one point the steam stopped unless i swirled, upon which more would release. the sugar started to darken. i made an executive decision to let it darken a bit more. i wanted a deep golden brown. i have a candy thermometer but i couldn’t use it because i had a really shallow level in my pot. the recipes i’ve read indicate temperatures between 150 and 160deg C.
when i got what i was looking for i dumped in the pre-sieved bicarb and whisked. the mixture foams up considerably so make sure you use a big enough pot (hence the shallow level).
initially the whisking was easy but i very quickly felt more resistance so i stopped whisking and emptied the contents of the pot into the prepared baking tray with the help of my spatula. i figured resistance meant that i was breaking down the bubbles too much and the sticky caramel was starting to reassert itself.
we stood around marvelling at how pretty it looked. this quickly became the happy activity of picking the cooled pieces off the spatula, whisk and pot to test out the almost final product.
we let it set for about 30 to 40 minutes, had a cup of tea and a chat. the top still felt sticky but the underneath was dry. i put this down to humidity. we tested my theory by pulling out my handy hair drier. a few seconds under the cool setting and the surface of the honeycomb was noticeably less sticky.
we crushed the honeycomb into varying sized bits with a pestle.
the taste was slightly more bitter than i was expecting. i think i may have taken the caramel too far. but in truth i didn’t mind it. there was a satisfying crunch as you bit into it and it melted on my tongue in a really nice way. we split the spoils between us. mine to devour as i saw fit, Wida’s for use in something magical that i will be reading about shortly.
i think i’m really getting into this sugar thing 🙂
lessons learnt: humidity doesn’t only mess with your hair. i’m contemplating covering the honeycomb with greased paper to help limit exposure to ambient moisture.
additional note: the pot and whisk are easily cleaned by soaking in warm water for a bit so don’t worry. the spatula is clean before it hits the sink if you do your quality control testing properly. also hot sugar is not a joke. please be very careful. preplanning helps.
photo credit: Wida Foster (@cupcakerichard)
it was great having someone else worry about photography. thanks Wida 🙂