How to Caramelize Sugar
Caramel apples were always a favorite of mine growing up. I couldn't wait for Halloween, when fairs and festivals dolled them out on sticks, perfectly coated in the sticky sugar and roasted peanuts. Those whimsical apples were such a luxury for me strictly because they showcased that mysterious, forbidden treat that I only happened on once in a while: caramel. As a child, I cherished every opportunity I had to enjoy caramel — coated in luscious, dark chocolate on Valentine's Day, or carefully packed in festive wrappings, hardened, and crunchy, as gifts during the holidays. While I didn't know what it was or how to make it, I loved to eat it.
To many, caramel is mysterious, just as it was for me as a child. It's dark, gooey texture that is so widely enjoyed is also so widely wondered about. The easiest way to solve the puzzle of caramel is to learn how to make it, which is by caramelizing sugar.
Caramelizing sugar is basically melting sugar — breaking down the solid compounds of sugar and cooking them until they're a rich, golden hue that we all associate with caramel. It's really that easy. When melting sugar, it's important to do it in small batches, because caramel cools and hardens fast, and can be difficult to manage in large doses. It's also important to do it at a slow and steady pace, as it burns very easily. Last thing to note is that caramel contrasts in its many uses — the sticky filling of a praline is a lot different from the hardened coating of crème brûlée — so recipes will be different as well. Caramelizing sugar is only the first step in creating the many delectable masterpieces that tout those indulgent qualities, but without it, we wouldn't have caramel.
While many additional ingredients are appropriate when making caramel, such as butter and lemon juice, here's a basic recipe for how to caramelize sugar:
How to Caramelize Sugar
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
Combine the sugar and water together in a medium-sized sauce pot, stir, and bring to a boil. Simmer, or lightly boil, the mixture while stirring constantly for about 8-10 minutes. When the mixture takes on a brownish hue, swirl it around so that the color spreads evenly throughout. Continue to simmer until the mixture is a uniform color. Remove from heat and use immediately.