Corn syrup, and high fructose corn syrup creep me out. Always have.
They are not the same, by the way, though both are made from corn starch. Straight corn syrup is 100 percent glucose, while high fructose corn syrup (HFCS ) has had a proportion of its glucose converted to fructose by enzymes. Too much fructose can cause big problems for human bodies, as doctors (and diabetics) are learning.
None the less, both are highly processed and I just don’t dig that. Its been enough for me to stray away from making homemade candy in years past (even with these caramels, I was preferring to use ANYTHING but corn syrup!) But this year, I started playing and realized that there WAS an option and it could come from my kitchen.
Corn syrup is used in so many favorite holiday recipes because it is an invert sugar (basically, sugar that has been cooked with water to a specific temperature until the sugar crystals have broken apart and have become suspended in the water itself.) Invert sugars (also, honey, maple, brown rice syrup, tapioca syrup etc.) are used in candy and baking recipes because it prevents melted sugar from re-crystalizing.
I gratefully adapted this recipe from one that I found while exploring The Kitchn, but they apparently found it in Eileen Talanian’s book Marshmallows. She reports that using a cane sugar syrup in lieu of corn syrup makes for the fluffiest, lightest marshmallows and, after a dozen or so tests here in our own kitchen, I have to agree. I employed the syrup in my Gingerbread Spice Marshmallows, but also in a trio of new caramels we shared with friends for the holidays.
I’ll be honest – working with sugar is not for the light of heart. But the idea of taking one extra ingredient into your own hands is well worth the attention needed to do this syrup right. (A bit like making your own butter for cookies, only you don’t need a cow for this one!)
If you’re new to working with sugar, here are a few tips I’ve put together to help. If you’re brand spankin’ new to working with sugar, this little candy-making tutorial is a great one. But the most important thing to do is follow instructions. To the letter. It doesn’t take much – a few drops of water, a little too much stirring, and one or two degrees too much cooking time – to really muss up sugar. If this happens to you, don’t get frustrated, just know you’re human.
- 2 cups (16 ounces) water
- 5 1/3 cups (2 lbs + 10 ounces) granulated cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- pinch of sea salt
- 4-quart sauce pan (or one slightly larger will do)
- a candy thermometer that can clip to the side of the pan
- stainless steel or silicone spoon - not wood!
- pastry brush
- 4-5 clean half-pint glass jars with lids - for storing the syrup
- Gratefully adapted from The Kitchn. Makes about 1 quart.
- Fill a small bowl with water and place it near your stove along with your pastry brush.
- In a spotlessly clean saucepan, pour in the water, and then add the sugar, tartar and salt. Combine all of the ingredients stirring until the sugar is completely moistened. Clip the candy thermometer to the side of the pan and set the pan over high heat. DO NOT stir the sugar after this point.
- As the sugar comes to a boil, dip the pastry brush the dish of water and brush down the sides. This dissolves any sugar crystals that have jumped onto the sides of the pan. (If these crystals fall off the pan into the boiling sugar, they could cause the syrup to re-crystallize.) Continue to brush down the sides until the mixture comes to a rolling boil - then you can let the mixture do its thing.
- Boil the syrup until it just barely reaches a temperature of 240° Fahrenheit (238F degrees is better than 242F degrees so pull the sugar early if you get nervous - remember it will cook for a few quick seconds in the pan after the heat has turned off!). Immediately turn off the heat, remove the candy thermometer, and carefully move the pan to a cool spot on the stove or a cooling rack. DO NOT STIR, TRANSFER, OR TOUCH THE SYRUP. Allow it to cool - completely undisturbed - until it has cooled completely. At least one hour.
- Once cool, gently pour the cooled syrup into clean glass jars, seal with the lids, and store in the cupboard. I like to put about 1-1.5 cups of syrup in each jar so I can heat and use one portion at a time. (Reheating the syrup can be tricky and you risk recrystalization. See below.) Store the jars where they won’t be jostled too much, as this can cause the syrup to crystallize. The syrup will keep for at least two months, but we’ve stored it for longer without any changes to the syrup.
- Wet your hand (or a stainless steel spoon/scoop) with a bit of warm water and plunge it into your jar. The sugar syrup will not stick to the water, and will come right out.