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Making Caramel in high altitude

damesophie's picture

Recently moved to Castle Rock,CO and I am having difficulty making caramel to line my "Flan/custard" pans.  I think the problem is with the sugar to water ratio. Help

StevenHB's picture

(post #26262, reply #1 of 16)

What, specifically, is happening?


The lower air pressure will cause the water/sugar mixture to boil at a lower temperature but you should still be able to get the mixture up to the temperatures required to caramelize the sugar.  There's just going to be less water left than at lower altitudes (meaning, I believe, that the caramel will be harder than otherwise).



Without coffee, chocolate, and beer, in that order, life as we know it would not be possible

Without coffee, chocolate, and beer, in that order, life as we know it would not be possible
damesophie's picture

(post #26262, reply #2 of 16)

the sugar is turning into one huge hard white crystal.  I guess the water dries up and it crystalizes very quickly.  Maybe I have the temp on too high

saj14saj's picture

(post #26262, reply #4 of 16)

Ah, that is the crystallization stuff I alluded to and didn't discuss.


Before all of the water is gone, the sugar will be a supersaturated solution.  It -wants- to crystalize (in the anthropromorphic projection sense of want, because crystalizing releases heat, and is so a lower energy state).


Any bit of dust, sugar crystal still stuck to the side of the pan, or impurity can make the sugar crystalize.  Rock Candy City.


. . .


To avoid this, do two things:


1.  Use a wet pastry brush to wet down the sides and eliminate any sugar crystals early, so they don't provide seeds.


2.  "Poison" the purity of the sugar by putting in elements that interfere with the sugar crystal development.  The two most popular are acids (like lemon juice) and chemically different sugars, such as corn syrup.


The recipe you are using will usually direct you to do 2; it may assume you know to do 1.


Hope this helps.


Eat lots of chocolate!


---SAJ


 


 

 

saj14saj's picture

(post #26262, reply #3 of 16)

In order for sugar to caramelize, it must hit a very high temperature--if I recall correctly, it is 385ish degrees, but I have no references with me.


The reason for starting a caramel with a sugar syrup rather than plain sugar is convenience, to make sure that the sugar is evenly melted.  The sugar dissolves in the water, then the water evaporates leaving (literally) melted sugar.  The temperature will rise very slowly while there is a lot of water left in the sugar.  This is because most of the energy from the heat source is translated into the phase change of the water from liquid to gas. 


Eventually, the percentage of water in the sugar will be low, and the temperature will start shooting up rapidly.


By the time you reach caramelization temperatures, effectively all of the water is gone, and you must watch the sugar very carefully.  All of the heat is now going into the melted sugar, breaking the bonds, and forming new complex (and flavorful) chemical thingymebobs which are very delicious.


Go too far, though, and you get just burned sugar, which is essentially carbon--charcoal, that is--not delicious.


I have left out a whole bunch of geeky stuff about invert sugars and crystalization and the role of acid (such as lemon juice or cream of tartar).


. . .


Now, imagine heating sand.   The bottom sand will heat rapidly, and the top sand will remain cool.


Sugar is essentially sand.


If you put it in the pan and heat without water, the bottom sugar can melt and begin to caramelize and even burn before the top sugar is done.


However, you can caramelize plain sugar right out of the bag without a sugar syrup stage, whose only real job is to promote even melting.  You must watch it carefully, and stir patiently, since you don't want the bottom burnt before its a nice caramel.


It goes like this:  put sugar in pan.  Heat on high, stirring constantly, even when it looks sandy and goopy until it is completely melted.  Remove from heat when you get your desired color.


This is considerably faster, but riskier, and most (non-professional pastry chef) people consider it not worth the effort.


However, at high altitude--and I admit I am conjecturing here 'cause I have lived at sea level forever--doing this will avoid the whole issue of the boiling point of water, if it ever mattered--which it shouldn't.


. . .


The moisture in caramel in the flans actually comes from the flan.  The caramel itself as its normally made would be nearly crunchy.  However caramel, being mostly sugar, is really hydroscopic.  This means it likes to soak up water.


The caramel at the bottom of the flan mold will absorb water from the custard and turn syrupy.  This is similar to hard candy getting sticky if it is left out, because it absorbs water from the air.


. . .


I hope this wasn't too, too geeky, but you did ask exactly what is going on.


If you love this stuff, I recommend:


On Food and Cooking, Harrold McGee


Cookwise, Shirley C. (Cannot spell her last name)


Alton Brown's Good Eats, on television, although its more popular and less technical; his new book ain't bad either.


Eat lots of chocolate!


---SAJ


 


 

 

damesophie's picture

(post #26262, reply #5 of 16)

Thank you so much.   Did not think all of your info was geeky.  I actually appreciate your time and effort in giving me all of this great info.

Li's picture

(post #26262, reply #6 of 16)

Corriher.

Shirley O. Corriher.

Cooks Talk
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Only connect.

saj14saj's picture

(post #26262, reply #7 of 16)

I think you have an unfair advantage with that information :-)


---SAJ


 


 

 

Glenys's picture

(post #26262, reply #8 of 16)

It's in her book, Cookwise. Milions of copies sold. She and Harold discuss this sort of thing like the weather.

Li's picture

(post #26262, reply #9 of 16)

Well, I was just copyediting her next piece for FC as I was scanning here, so yes, unfair advantage. ;-)

Cooks Talk
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Only connect.

StevenHB's picture

(post #26262, reply #10 of 16)

If I remember correctly, the melting point of sugar should reduced in lower pressure (whether the change is significant or not, I don't know).  Air pressure helps to keeps solids solid - less air pressure, more easy (lower temperature) transformation from solid to liquid.



Without coffee, chocolate, and beer, in that order, life as we know it would not be possible

Without coffee, chocolate, and beer, in that order, life as we know it would not be possible
CookiM0nster's picture

(post #26262, reply #11 of 16)

OK, I'm confused. As far as I understood it, the crystalization thing doesn't happen until the sugar starts to cool, and I've never had it happen to caramelized sugar at all, so once you get the sugar melted, and assuming you're caramelizing it, crystalization shouldn't be an issue, no?

I am familiar with that white blob stage, I just keep stirring and heating and it eventually melts - if it isn't completely melted by the time the sugar is sufficiently caramelized, I just remove the unmelted bit and proceed.

MEANCHEF's picture

(post #26262, reply #12 of 16)

CookiM0nster's picture

(post #26262, reply #13 of 16)

No, it shouldn't, or no, it should?

MEANCHEF's picture

(post #26262, reply #14 of 16)

No, you are wrong.  I think you may just have been lucky.


 


 

CookiM0nster's picture

(post #26262, reply #15 of 16)

Thanks. Now I will be better prepared for the day when my luck runs out.


Edited 5/9/2002 3:39:12 PM ET by COOKIM0NSTER

MEANCHEF's picture

(post #26262, reply #16 of 16)

Just wash your pan down with water or add a touch of corn syrup/lemon juice and you will never have a problem.