Sugar is caramelized when it is melted into a clear golden to dark brown syrup, reaching a temperature from 320°F-356°F. It goes through many stages which are determined by the recipe being made. Using a pure copper sugar pan or non-stick pan will allow total control of the sugar and avoid crystallization of sugar.
At 338°F, the sugar syrup begins to caramelize creating an intense flavor and rich color, from light and clear to dark brown. Depending upon when the cooking stops and it cools and hardens, caramel textures can range from soft to brittle. A soft caramel is a candy made with caramelized sugar, butter and milk. Crushed caramel is used as a topping for ice cream and other desserts.
To start the caramelization process, heat pure copper sugar pan or a non-stick pan, add the sugar in it and add little water as it hastens the caramelization process without stirring, until it reaches the consistency of wet sand. An interfering agent, such as lemon juice will help prevent re-crystallization because of the acid in it. Instead of using lemon juice, you could add acidity with vinegar, cream of tartar or corn syrup as well. Always start with a very clean pan and utensils. Any dirt can cause crystals to form around it. As the sugar melts, you can wash down the sides of a pan with a wet brush, which also prevents crystallization by removing any dried drops of syrup that might start crystals. As the caramel heats, it colors in amber shades from light to deep brown. Remove from the heat immediately when the desired temperature is reached.
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