Instead of sugar plums this year, I had visions of sugar trees dancing in my head. I was going to make 3D, spun trees as show-stopping toppers for the dessert table. Nevermind I had only ever made caramel once successfully for popcorn. I blame watching copious amounts of Great British Bakeoff and Holiday Baking Championship for convincing me I could do this.
caster sugar (plain ole regular sugar)
a heavy pot
silicone baking mat
small metal spoon
Heat your sugar over low-medium heat and wait for the edges of the sugar to melt. Once the edge sugar begins to melt, occasionally fold the melted parts into the middle and continue until all the sugar is melted.
Remove from heat and let cool until the caramel is thick enough to control when you drizzle. Do a few test drizzles over the pot to test if your caramel stream is too loose and thin. Once the caramel is the desired viscosity, drizzle loose tree shapes on to your silicone mat. Let cool and store in a dry, cool place.
All in all, not many steps, but boy are there a lot of little tricks along the way that I learned while testing this out for the first several times:
Like I mentioned earlier, I had almost no experience working with caramel before attempting these trees. So there was a lot of trial and error but now I can confidently share what did and didn’t work with you guys!
Caramel Work Tips for Beginners
- The Right Tools
My first few batches were tested in a light, non-stick, cheapo pan and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to control the temperature better. One caramel tip from the internet and general cooking tidbit- denser pots & pans retain their temperatures better. Using a dense pot with higher walls meant my caramel could sustain the perfect ‘drizzle’ consistency temperature longer.
- Prep Your Tools & Station
You’ll have a very short window to work with the caramel, so efficiently setting up your workstation will help you get the most amount of trees per sugar batch. Have your silicone mat and a coaster for the pot right next to the stovetop. You need to remove the pot from the stovetop to stop the sugar cooking, but if you have a stone countertop, putting the pot directly there will have the opposite effect and too quickly cool the sugar.
You’ll also want to heat up your metal spoon in warm water before stirring the sugar for the same reason (but making sure it’s dry before you use it to stir or drizzle!). The cold metal will make the caramel clump and very difficult to drizzle.
- Guage by Color
The darker the caramel, the more bitter the taste. If you pull the caramel off the heat as soon as it is all melted, you should be fine, but be careful reheating as it will give you a mixed colored forest like the below.
- Work in Small Batches
Instead of relying on reheating caramel to get more trees, I’d suggest working in small batches. As a beginner, my speed wasn’t the greatest so you might be faster, but generally I could get 5 good trees per 1/2 c sugar before it cooled down too much to work with.
- Fixing Mistakes
And when one of those 5 precious trees has a mistake? I got very clever with how to salvage them. If there is a big splotch of caramel, use a knife to quickly pull it away. Smaller, stringy pieces in between the boughs can be broken off once the whole tree has cooled. Broken sections can be reattached using warm caramel as glue.
When your caramel trees are done, make sure to store them in a dry place! Humidity will melt your hard work, so don’t be like me and take photos of these guys outside in Florida…