[Editor’s note: This recipe actually makes inverted sugar, not candi sugar. Creating candi sugar requires a Maillard reaction to occur.]
From rinsing and reusing yeast to buying hops and grain in bulk, I am always looking for ways to save a few more dollars as a homebrewer.
When I started brewing Belgian-style beers (specifically my favorite brew, a saison), I noticed the cost per brew had increased because my recipes called for Belgian candi sugar, which ran about $5 to $6 per pound at my local homebrew shop. After looking into cheaper alternatives, I realized I didn’t need a substitute—I just needed to make the candi sugar myself.
So what is Belgian candi sugar? Simply put, it is inverted sugar that has been converted from sucrose and crystalized as a mixture of glucose and fructose, and there are a few reasons you may want to include it in your beer:
- It boosts the alcohol content without adding body.
- It promotes fermentation by providing simple sugars that are easier for yeasts to consume.
- Depending on the amount you add and the color of the candi sugar, it can impart additional flavor and color.
What you will need
This recipe will create approximately 1 pound (454 g) of candi sugar, though you may end up with a little less than that due to leftovers in the pan. If you want to make a larger batch, you can easily double the recipe, but note that doing so may affect the cooking times.
- 2- to 3-quart (2–3 L) heavy-bottomed pot
- Candy or fry thermometer
- 8-inch (20 cm) cake pan
- Aluminum foil
- Food scale
- Measuring cup
- 1 lb. (454 g) granulated sugar
- Approximately 1/2 cup (118 mL) water
- 1/8 tsp. (0.5 g) cream of tartar
Step #1 – Weigh and dissolve the sugar.
Weight out 1 pound (454 g) of sugar and then stir in the 1/2 cup (118 mL) of water to make a thick syrup. Don’t worry if you need to add a little more water, as it will all cook off during the boil.
Place the pan over medium-high heat.
Step #2 – Add the acid and raise the temperature to 260° F (127° C).
The thick mixture will quickly begin to thin out. At this point, I add my thermometer. When the sugar starts to bubble around the edges (right around 200° F, or 93° C), add 1/8 tsp. (0.5 g) cream of tartar. I have found it incorporates into the mixture a bit easier when the sugar is already heated, but be sure you still stir very thoroughly and don’t leave any clumps.
Once fully mixed, let the temperature of the sugar, water, and cream of tartar mixture rise to 260° F (127° C). You will notice some thicker bubbles as you bring everything to a boil, but those will quickly die down.
Step #3 – Maintain a temperature between 260° F (127° C) and 275° F (135° C) for 15 minutes.
During this step the sugar will invert and the water will completely boil off. It is important that you keep the temperature in the 260 to 275° F range (127 to 135° C) as a cooler temperature won’t completely invert the sugar, and a hotter temperature will cause the color to darken too quickly. To keep the mixture within this range, I use two things: a thermometer and a cup of ice water.
At this point, check to see if the sugar has started to dissolve by pulling a small sample with a spoon. This is also a great way to get a more accurate check on color later in the process.
I set the alarm on my thermometer to 270°F (132° C) so it will alert me when I have hit the top of my target range. I try to avoid adjusting the stove temperature during this process by simply setting it to medium-high and leaving it there.
After making several batches of candi sugar, I learned that adding 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) of ice cold water at around 271 to 272° F (133° C) immediately brings the temperature of the mixture down to the low 260s °F (upper 120s °C) without dropping lower. You may need to use slightly more water if the temperature hits 275° F (135° C).
During this phase of the process, sugar will begin to stick to the sides of the pot and harden. Scrape off as much as you can early on in the process to make sure all the sugar inverts.
After 15 minutes in the 260 to 275° F (127 to 135° C) range, you should have clear Belgian candi sugar, which as you can see in the images below is actually slightly yellow (you may need an extra 5 minutes to achieve this slightly yellow color, but 15 minutes is typically all it takes).
If you set out to make clear Belgian candi sugar, skip to step #5.
Step #4 – Maintain a temperature between 260° F (127° C) and 275° F (135° C) until your desired color is achieved
This step is pretty simple. To darken the candi sugar, you just need to continue to maintain a temperature between 260° F and 275° F (127° C and 135° C) using your thermometer and ice water, just like you did in step #3.
Below is an estimate of the amount of time it takes to create each color variation using a medium-high stove setting. Results may vary depending on your cooking temperature and how stable you can keep the temperature of the mixture. All of the temperatures below include the initial 15-minute inversion time as well.
- Light candi sugar: 15 to 20 minutes
- Amber candi sugar: 40 to 45 minutes
- Dark candi sugar: 85 to 100 minutes
This is where I regularly test the mixture to see if I’ve hit the desired color by taking a sample out using a spoon.
While you’re waiting for your mixture to reach the desired color, prepare the container in which the candi will harden. For 1 pound of Belgian candi sugar, I use an 8-inch (20-centimeter) square cake pan lined with aluminum foil. A cookie sheet can also be used for a thinner candi. If you want to make sure your sugar doesn’t stick to the foil, you can spray it with a bit of cooking spray before pouring, but don’t use too much or you could end up with oily candi sugar.
Step #5 – Bring the mixture to the hard crack stage (300° F or 149° C) and then let it harden
So far, we have created inverted candi syrup, but now it’s time to turn it into a hardened candy we can use for homebrewing.
With a prepared container close at hand, raise the temperature of your mixture to 300° F (149° C). As soon as you hit that target temperature, quickly pour the mixture into the prepared container. I use my fork to get as much liquid out of the pan as I can, but don’t scrape too hard along the sides or you will end up with crystallized sugars in the final mix.
The Belgian candi sugar can take between 30 minutes and an hour to completely harden, but I typically just put it in the fridge at this point and let it sit for a while as I am rarely in a hurry to use it.
Below is what each color looked like as I was moving to the fridge to harden. You can see the difference in color here.
Step #6 – Break up the candi sugar and store it for later use
Once the candi sugar has hardened I usually weigh it out again to track exactly how much I have so I can calculate my brew days more efficiently.
After removing the candi from the foil you can easily see how different the color is. Keep in mind that a thinner batch of candi sugar will look lighter than a thicker batch cooked to the same level. Using an 8-inch pan makes it slightly thicker, so the colors look a bit darker.
The hardened candi sugar is pretty sticky, so before I break it up, I coat each side with a very small amount of powdered sugar. This prevents the candi sugar from becoming one big clump once I bag it, and the small amount of powdered sugar isn’t enough to affect my brews.
Now you can break up the candi sugar and store it for future use. If you can vacuum seal the storage it can last indefinitely, but candi sugar stored in a basic resealable freezer/sandwich bag should still be good for up to a year.
Making candi sugar is a quick process that’s within the reach of most homebrewers. The darker sugars require a little patience, but the money you save using easy-to-find tools and ingredients will more than offset the time you spend making them.
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Mikiel Houser is an American Homebrewers Association member and homebrewer from Southern California.