A simple solution of sugar dissolved in water is very useful for a number of sweet recipes, from soaking fruit, sponges and savarins and rum babas, to making sorbets and sauces. The technique is easy but needs a little care.
It is vital that all grains of sugar are dissolved in the water before boiling, otherwise the solution may crystallize around the remaining grains. To prevent this, use a heavy-based saucepan, preferably copper-based or aluminium for even heat distribution, and brush down the sides of the pan while the sugar grains dissolve, using a pastry brush dipped in cold water.
Syrups are measured in terms of densities according to its final use. The boiling hard in step 2 evaporates the water away, so concentrating the density. A low-density or light syrup of 500g (1lb) sugar to 1litre (2 pints) water is used for fruit salads, poaching fruits, soaking sponges, rum babas and savarins; a medium-density syrup of 500g (1lb) sugar to 500ml (1 pint) water is used for candying fruits; a high-density or heavy syrup of 500g (1lb) sugar to 450ml (¾pint) water is used for making sorbets and ice creams.
If you wish to keep sugar syrup for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, add 1teaspoon of liquid glucose, obtainable from chemists, after it has cooled. This stops it crystallizing.
Put the sugar and cold water into a large heavy-based saucepan and heat slowly to dissolve the grains, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. As the sugar dissolves, brush down the insides of the pan using a pastry brush dipped in cold water to remove any stray grains of sugar. It is very important not to allow the water to boil until every grain of sugar has dissolved.
Increase the heat and bring to a foaming boil, without stirring at all. Boil for about 2 minutes or until the syrup is clear. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool. For an orange- or lemon-flavoured syrup add orange or lemon juice at this stage. When the syrup is cold use as required or store in the refrigerator in a screw-top jar, adding 1 teaspoon liquid glucose if necessary.