Caramel Decorations.. pro style!

So you wander into a cake shop..
DO the pastries and cakes in the shop call out to you as if they were baked especially for you?? 
DO you eye every little dessert and instantly start clicking pics of it before you wolf it down?? 
DO you invariably end up buying any dessert in the shop that looks pretty only to come home, take a bite of it hungrily and realize it isn't all that different form the cake you bake at home anyways!!???




That my dear friends is the difference between cakes made by professionals and home cooks like me and you...The dainty cute lil designs sitting pretty atop the various desserts..It not only makes them look more beautiful and appetizing but also makes you more curious...fools you into thinking it must be something special if it has that pretty lil thing on top of it!
But what if I told you that you could create amazing sugar decorations just like the ones used in a pastry shop in less than 15 minutes? Yes, the dry method i  used here to make caramel is a quick and easy technique to achieve that dark amber color fast and without all the hassle of brushing the sides of the pan and etc as the sugar melts.
With the caramel in the right consistency and a ladle it's possible to create a sugar cage. As this same caramel cools down a little bit it's possible to caramelize nuts and create an amazing "tear drop" effect from it. Just by pinching the sugar in the pan with the tips of your fingers and pulling it up it's possible to create an infinite thread of sugar that can be formed into a beautiful ball also known as sugar nest.
Sugar really is versatile and you don't always need a thermometer to work with it. Checking its consistency is really the best way to know when to re-heat it or to keep going as is. To pull threads of sugar for example it's necessary that the caramel has cooled down a little bit and testing it with a fork is always a good idea. If you pull the caramel and it leaves a thread behind it's time to start pulling this baby like crazy.
 
 
Things to keep in mind while working with caramel:
1. It burns fast so keep an eye at it at all times
2. The hotter it is the thinner and more liquid it will be. This stage is great to make caramel drawings and to create cages
3. The colder it is the harder (in consistency) it gets 
4. As it cools down too much it starts cracking and breaking easily so it gets harder to work with it.  Re-heat it as many times as you wish but always at a low heat to avoid continuing cooking
5. Caramel melts when in contact with liquids and when refrigerated. Keep it in a cool and dry place.
6. To clean up a pan with a hard rock caramel sitting in it, soak the pan in water overnight and by the morning the caramel should be completely dissolved.
 
How to :
 
Take a nonstick pan and add a cup ( american measurement of 250ml) of sugar to it gently. Avoid letting the sugar touch the walls of the pan so that it doesn't recrystallize.
Put it on medium heat..
Do not stir or shake the pan..let the heat do the work. 
Once you see the edges of the sugar turning amber, you can gently shake the pan.. 
Within minutes the whole pan will be melting into caramelly goodness.. 
Stir now to make sure all the sugar is melted.. 
Take it off heat.
Proceed with whatever designs you wish to.. 

EXAMPLE:
I did a sugar bowl, cherry decor, sugar hearts, sugar spiral and a sugar nest.. 

This is how to for those: 
1. SUGAR BOWL : This is probably my favourite design... Its simple too!
take a round ladle, oil it well using a tissue.. when the caramel is hot( hardly 2 minutes after taking it off the gas) , take some caramel in a spoon and starting at the base of the ladle, gently and quicklt trickle the caramel.. once the base is done, trickle the caramel horizontally on the ladle followed by vertically... let it cool for 10 mins before taking it off very gently.
2. Sugar hearts or any design you wish to: Oil any aluminum  pan well.. pour the caramel into the desired shape.. let it cool.. dislodge gently...
3. Sugar nest : looks beautiful... this needs the caramel to have cooled down considerably..test with a fork to see if strings form. If yes, start pinching the caramel and pulling at the strings till you have enough for a ball.. .. gently mold it into a bowl... it will look like a mesh of golden threads... 
4. for the spiral.. you have to spoon the caramel around a long handle and take it out when cooled...