Caramelizing Sugar

TIDBIT Caramelized sugar is simply a mixture of sugar and water cooked until it becomes syrupy and darkens. It?s used for both sweet and savory purposes?from coating a custard mold (as for creme caramel) to enriching soups, stews and sauces. Caramelizing sugar can be done on the stovetop or in the microwave oven.

? Caramelizing sugar on the stovetop: You?ll need a medium, heavy-bottomed pan. Choose a pan that?s light-colored (such as one that?s enamel-coated) or shiny so you can see the caramel turn color (impossible to do in dark pans). Combine 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar and 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar in the pan. Add 1/3 cup water, stirring well. Cook over medium-low heat, without stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil. Cover and continue cooking for 3 minutes so steam can melt any sugar crystals on the pan?s sides (stirring even a speck of sugar crystal back into the cooking syrup can cause the entire mixture to crystallize). Remove the cover and continue boiling until the syrup turns a deep golden brown color. Remove from the heat and set the pan in a larger pot or bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.

? Microwave caramelizing: Combine 1 cup sugar with 1/3 cup water in a 4-cup glass measure. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, pierce the top of the wrap once with a pin. Cook on high, without stirring, as follows: soft-ball stage?5 minutes; hard-ball?6 minutes; hard-crack?7 1/2 minutes.

? If caramelized sugar has hardened before you want it to, pop it into the microwave oven on high for 5 to 10 seconds.