How to caramelize sugar without melting it

Image: Serious Eats/Vicky Wasik

Stella Parks of Serious Eats blows readers' minds twice in the first two paragraphs of her article.

First, when she tells them sugar doesn't melt (instead, "it undergoes thermal decomposition"). And next, when she says caramelization occurs independent of melting." The she explains how to caramelize sugar by roasting it.

Consider the above photo exhibit A—neither brown sugar nor turbinado, but granulated white sugar that I caramelized without melting. It's dry to the touch, and performs exactly like granulated white sugar.

Except, you know, the part where it tastes like caramel.

That opens up a world of possibility, as it works flawlessly in recipes for buttercream, mousse, or cheesecake, which can accommodate only a small amount of caramel sauce before turning soupy or soft. It's also ideal for desserts that would be ruined by caramel syrup, which is by nature too hot for fragile angel food cake, and too viscous for soft candies like marshmallows or nougat. And, compared to caramel powder (made from liquid caramel, cooled and ground), it won't compact into a solid lump over time.

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