Serves: Makes enough to drape and top a 9-inch cake, make 8 individual (3-inch) nests or 12 small (1-inch) nests, or create lots of drizzled decorations
- ¼ cup (2 ounces) water
- 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar, or 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- Cover the floor and cabinets with parchment paper or newspaper in a 3-foot area along the counter where you will be working. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Lightly oil the wooden spoons or dowels and arrange them on your work surface so that their handles protrude from the edge of the surface by 7 or 8 inches. Position them 6 to 8 inches apart and set a heavy saucepan or pasta pot on them to hold them in place.
- Fill the medium bowl halfway with ice and water and set it aside. Pour the water into the small saucepan. Sprinkle the sugar over the top 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, allowing each addition to moisten before adding the next. Add the cream of tartar or corn syrup. Set the pan over medium-low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear.
- Increase the heat to high and boil rapidly, swirling the pan occasionally so that the sugar cooks evenly (do not stir). Cook until the sugar turns amber. Test the color by dipping a clean spoon into the caramel and dripping a bit on a white plate. This is one of the few instances where you do not want a dark golden brown color, so keep it light.
- Immediately remove the caramel from the heat and set the bottom of the saucepan in the bowl of ice water. This will stop the caramel from cooking—and coloring—any further. Hold it in the ice water for about 5 seconds; then remove, dry the bottom of the pan, and set on the trivet or on a folded kitchen towel.
- Let the caramel cool, testing it every minute or so, until it falls off the ends of the whisk in thin streams rather than drops. Dip the ends of the whisk into the caramel and fling it quickly back and forth across the top of the spoon handles. The caramel should form thin, gossamer threads between the spoons. Repeat 2 or 3 times, then gather the spun sugar with your hands, pull it off the dowels, and shape it as desired, working quickly as the spun sugar becomes quite brittle as it cools. Set the shape on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until you have used all the sugar or until you have enough spun sugar for your needs. If the caramel cools and becomes too thick to use, simply reheat over low heat until fluid again (don't boil or the caramel will darken too much).
- Drape the spun sugar around a cake, on top of a tart, around a cream puff, or stack layer after layer of it to create a huge beehive for a dramatic presentation. Spun sugar is at its best the same day it is made, so serve the sugar or decorate with it within a couple of hours.
Storing: Although spun-sugar decorations are best when fresh, you can place them in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Be sure to put a paper cup of desiccant (available at craft and floral supply stores) inside with the spun sugar (don't let it touch the sugar), to absorb any moisture in the air and keep the decorations looking their best.