Spun Sugar

Spun sugar is traditionally used to decorate ice cream desserts, but it can be used to dress up many others as well. It looks very showy but is actually easy to make. The mass of thin, hairlike sugar threads is also used to decorate pièces montées, such as Croquembouche. Gâteau Saint-Honoré is also decorated with spun sugar on some occasions.

Unless the weather is dry, it is best to make spun sugar immediately before serving. Moisture is gradually absorbed by the thin threads, which become sticky and eventually dissolve. When spun sugar is used as part of a plate presentation, it should not come in contact with a sauce or it will melt.

As with any sugar work, you should prepare everything you will need before you begin to boil the sugar. Cover two wooden dowels or yardsticks with plastic wrap. Place them, parallel, about 18 inches (45 cm) apart and extending over the edge of the table. Set a heavy cutting board on top at the back to hold them in place. Place a couple of sheet pans on the floor beneath the dowels to catch any drips. You will need a metal balloon whisk with the end cut off and the wires slightly spead apart (Figure 13-37, see Chef’s Tip). Have an airtight container handy in which to put the sugar as it is ready. If you are adding color, keep in mind that the color will appear much lighter after the sugar is spun into thin threads, so a darker shade than is normally used is called for here.

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  1. Following the recipe and directions for Caramelized Sugar with Water, boil the syrup only to 310°F (155°C), the hard crack stage; add the coloring, if using, at 265°F (130°C). Immediately remove from the heat and plunge the bottom of the pan into cold water for a few seconds to stop the cooking process. Remove the pan from the water and let the syrup stand until slightly thickened before you start to spin to prevent too many drops falling off the whisk during the spinning process. Do not stir the sugar.
  2. Dip the cut whisk about ½ inch (1.2 cm) into the sugar. Gently shake off excess by moving the whisk in an up-and-down motion just above the surface of the sugar syrup. Do not hold the whisk up too high when you do this or the sugar drops will cool down too much as they fall back into the pan, which can cause the sugar to recrystallize.
  3. Spin the sugar by flicking the whisk back and forth in a rapid motion between the two dowels (Figure 13-38). Continue dipping and spinning the sugar until a reasonable amount has accumulated on the dowels.
  4. Gather the sugar threads off the dowels and place in the airtight container. Continue spinning the remaining sugar. If the syrup cools down too much, warm it over low heat, stirring constantly to prevent the sugar from becoming any darker than necessary.

Figure 13-37 A metal whisk before and after removing the round end and spreading the wires apart slightly to use in making spun sugar
Figure 13-38 Making spun sugar by flicking the hot sugar syrup back and forth between 2 dowels extended over the edge of a table