Jacques' Sugar Cage
This deceptively easy dessert garnish comes from Jacques Torres, pastry chef at Le Cirque 2000 in New York City. To clean up, be sure to wash everything in the hottest water possible; try piling everything into a big stockpot and boiling it on the stove until the sugar dissolves.
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 2/3 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup water
- Vegetable-oil cooking spray
Place sugar, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water in a 2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Insert a candy thermometer, and cook the sugar mixture until it reaches 310 degrees to 320 degrees, what is known as the "hard-crack" stage. Remove pan from the heat, and carefully pour into a medium-size microwaveable glass bowl. If you leave the sugar in the pan, the sugar will continue to cook and will turn dark brown. (The sugar will stay liquid enough to work with easily for about 10 minutes; after that it will start to thicken. If this happens before you are finished, just pop the bowl in the microwave for 3 to 5 minutes, until the sugar is liquid enough to work with once again.)
Wash, dry, and lightly but thoroughly spray a clean, dry 5-quart Kitchen-Aid bowl with cooking spray. Dip the tines of a fork into the hot sugar. Carefully but quickly wave the fork over the inside of the bowl, allowing the sugar to drip off the fork in long, thin strands. Try to distribute the strands evenly on the side and bottom of the bowl, making sure the sugar reaches all the way to the rim of the bowl. When finished, you should still be able to see the bowl through the sugar.
Use a sharp chef's knife to trim the edge of the cage clean by scraping the blade of the knife along the rim of the bowl. Set aside to cool, about 5 minutes.
To unmold the cage, place your thumbs on the outside of the bowl and your fingers on the inside of the sugar cage. Gently pull the cage loose from the side and bottom of the bowl. Once the cage has been released from the bowl, carefully lift it out and place it over a dessert. If the sugar is still too warm, the cage may begin to collapse. Repeat with remaining sugar to form three more cages. At this stage, the cages can be stored, right side up, in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for 1 to 2 days.