How to make Belgian Candi Sugar
Update: Thanks to continued (6 years!) interest in this post the content has been organized and updated into a convenient ebook format which can be downloaded from Amazon. Enjoy!
I have used Belgian Candi Sugar in several brews thus far and have found it to be one of my favorite adjuncts to use throughout the brewing process. Its use in the production of a beer can raise the alcohol content for use in styles such as Belgian dubbels and trippels without unnecessarily stressing the yeast or introducing undesired body characteristics to the beer.
Typically fermentation occurs when a desired strain of yeast is introduced to a solution or compound where sugars (specifically disaccarides or monosaccharides) are present. If compatible disaccharides such as sucrose are present the yeast must first break down this sugar into its fermentable monosaccharides of glucose and fructose by producing the enzyme such as invertase. However, the yeast must perform extra work in order to produce this enzyme instead of its more desirable job of fermentation. So, rather than forcing the yeast to perform this extra step during the fermentation stage it may be more desirable for the brewer to provide the sugars in their component simple sugar compounds. Thus enter the wonderful adjunct known as belgian candi sugar.
Belgian candi sugar is nothing more than a crystalized inverted sugar syrup existing as a mixture of glucose and fructose. Once created we can add it to our brews in order to promote fermentation by the yeast without the need to unnecessarily stress the complex biological and chemical processes. However, unlike using equal parts of the glucose and fructose monosaccharides belgian candi sugar is typically used in a solidified or syrup form which has been further treated to impart additional flavors and colors ranging from the lightest blondes to the darkest ambers. So then how does one go about acquiring belgian candi sugar for their own beer recipe?
If you have a local homebrew supply shop you may be able to purchase belgian candi sugar for somewhere in the range of $5.00 USD per pound. However, based on the supplier’s stock you may be limited by the amounts and colors available. Also, if you’re looking to venture into making a big brew utilizing large amounts of the adjunct your total cost may quickly rise to undesirable levels. So what’s left for a homebrewer with a pot and some time on their hands to do? Make your own of course!
The ingredients and tools required for making belgian candi sugar are relatively minimal. Pictured above is the breakout of the tools required for the process which entails the following:
- Table Sugar (Cane or sugar beet-derived is fine)
- A food grade acid (Cream of tartar is great for this)
- A pot big enough to hold the sugar and water
- A candy or fryer thermometer (Classic Polder Thermometer/Timer pictured)
For this tutorial we will be making 2 pounds of amber-colored belgian candi sugar. If you desire to make more or less feel free to adjust the amounts of ingredients specified, but as a general rule of thumb use an amount of sugar equal to the desired amount of candi sugar you intend to produce.
Step #1 – Dissolve the sugar into a syrup
Add the sugar to the cooking pot and place over medium heat.
Add just enough water to dissolve the sugar into a syrup. The amount of water used is not that important as it will be cooked off in its entirety, but since it takes time to cook off the water it makes sense to start with the least amount possible. For this example we will dissolve two (2) pounds of sugar mixed with one (1) cup of water.
Don’t be surprised if the mixture is thick. Once the mixture is heated up you may be surprised just how much sugar can be dissolved into a relatively small amount of water.
As the temperature of the mixture slowly rises make sure to stir periodically. Try not to let the syrup get too far up the sides of your cooking pot as those spots may results in undesired raw sugar crystals making their way into the finished product.
Once the sugar has completely dissolved we have made what is known in mixology as simple syrup. If desired you can stop here and mix 2 parts tequila, 1 part tripple sec, 1/2 part lime juice, and a splash of the simple syrup for a tasty knock-you-on-your-ass margarita. However, since our goal is much loftier we keep the heat applied and proceed with the next step: inverting the sugar syrup.
Step #2 – Introduce the acid and raise the temperature to 260°F
By heating this mixture along with an acid the sugar molecules will undergo a hydrolysis reaction which will break down the sugar’s sucrose molecules into the desired mixture of glucose and fructose molecules. For this example we will be using cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate), a food grade acid that likely otherwise sits unloved in your pantry until such time as it it is required to make the yearly Christmas treats.
While the typical ratio for this process is about one gram of cream of tartar per kilogram of sugar I find the idea of measuring mere grams of an ingredient to be unnecessary. Therefore we will add 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar to the mixture. (Note, this was shown in the third picture above. This can addition can be safely done at any point up ’till now)
With the acid now added to the mixture we now adjust the heat on mixture to achieve a slow boil just above 260°F. Make sure the temperature of the mixture does not rise above 275°F.
Step #3 – Cook the mixture between 260°F and 275°F for 20 minutes
If you’re familiar with the candy making process you’ll know that we are cooking the mixture in between the hard ball and soft crack stage. At the same time the acid present in the mixture is beginning the process of inverting the sugar into the glucose and fructose molecules.
During this time water slowly cooks off which raises the temperature of the mixture, therefore as the temperature approaches 275°F add a few tablespoons of water to lower the temperature to not less than 260°F.
After 20 minutes of cooking the sugar solution will be almost completely inverted. At this point if you desire a clear belgian candi sugar skip ahead to step #5.
Step #4 – Continue to cook the mixture until desired color is achieved
If you’ve been following the steps up to this point you have a batch of inverted sugar syrup cooking away in the pot. All of the water previously added to the recipe has effectively cooked off leaving behind the expected mixture of fructose and glucose which, if let to cool, would form a near solid substance similar in consistency to nougat. However, what else can we do with this mixture to make it even more remarkable?
If we now continue to cook the mixture between the 260°F and 275°F range we will begin the process of caramelization on the remaining complex and simple sugars (mostly the fructose as its caramelization temperature begins at 230°F). The result will be a substance with even more depth of color and flavor. If this is desired simply continue to cook the mixture between the temperatures of 260°F and 275°F making sure to add a bit of water when the mixture gets too high.
As an example I am shooting for an amber color for my candi sugar. Below are the progress shots showing how the color changes as the process continues. The camera didn’t pick up the color variation very well, but if you look closely you can see the subtle change over time. Also, the color change will be much more evident in the final product.
Step #5 – Raise the temperature of the mixture to 300°F
Now that the target color of the candi sugar has been achieved it’s time to put the “candy” in the belgian candi sugar. In order to solidify the candi sugar we simply raise the temperature of the mixture to the “hard crack” temperature and pour it off into a vessel to harden.
To accomplish this task make sure you have a target vessel ready beforehand. Once ready go ahead and let the temperature of the mixture rise above 300°F and immediately remove the mixture from the heat.
Step #6 – Pour off the mixture and let harden
Now quickly pour the contents of the cooking pot into the cooling vessel and let sit until hardened. For this example I am simply using a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. However, if you’re flush with money or materials you may instead wish to line the vessel with parchment paper which will peel from the back of the solidified block a bit more easily.
With the belgian candi sugar now poured the color of the substance is now very evident and the clarity should be nearly clear. If you look you will notice a few white spots in the slab. This is due to some of the syrup getting on the upper parts of the cooking vessel and not getting fully incorporated as warned in the first step.
The mixture may take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to fully harden depending on your local temperature and humidity. However, once completed you will now be the proud owner of your very own belgian candi sugar.
Step #7 – Tag it and bag it
Properly stored this stuff will keep until the end of days. Realistically you may only want to store it in an airtight container for no more than about a year. To do this simply break up the belgian candi sugar into appropriate sized pieces and store them in your desired container.
For my purposes I simply used blunt force with a kitchen mallet and store the pieces in a zip-top plastic bag as I intend to use the belgian candi sugar within a few days.
Note that in this state the belgian candi sugar is still pretty sticky stuff. If you’re not looking to use the entire batch in a brew you might want to lubricate the pieces so that you don’t have to bash the hell out mass to detach the desired amount. To do this I simply add a bit of powdered sugar to the bag and shake while separating the pieces by hand.
And with that we now have 2 pounds of amber colored belgian candi sugar ready for use as we so desire.
The beautiful thing about making belgian candi sugar is that the process scales relatively easily. You can make as much or as little as you want in the same amount of time and is only limited by the size of your cooking vessel and available materials.
In a future post I will go over the simple process by which this belgian candi sugar can be further processed into an equally long lasting belgian candi syrup which lessens the time needed to dissolve the adjunct into your brews. So what are you waiting for? Now that you know how easy it is to make get thee to the kitchen and whip up your very own batch of belgian candi sugar. Your beer will thank you.