We’ve been searching high and low for something to replace the corn syrup called for in some of our favorite baking recipes. Something less processed, without high fructose corn syrup, and ideally, easy to make at home. We've finally found it.
We originally came across this recipe in the book Marshmallows by Eileen Talanian (a book we also used when developing our Vanilla Marshmallow recipe). Talanian's instructions are to boil sugar and water to a specific temperature, at which point it becomes what’s called an invert sugar.
Invert sugars are what help keep the melted sugar in candy and baking recipes from re-crystallizing. Corn syrup is the most widely available commercially-made invert sugar, and this is why most recipes call for it. Talanian calls her homemade invert sugar “Marshmallow Syrup” and says she prefers it to corn syrup for the cleaner flavor and fluffier texture it gives marshmallows.
We immediately started wondering if this syrup could be used to replace the corn syrup in a lot of our other favorite recipes, like pecan pie and fudgy brownies. Every time we’ve used it so far, the syrup performs just as well as corn syrup, and sometimes better. The health debates surrounding corn syrup aside, we’re mostly happy to be using a product that’s one less step processed.
This cane sugar syrup can be a little tricky to make, as working with sugar always seems to be! We’ve made several batches with many degrees of success and failure, and we’ve learned a lot of tricks along the way. All these are incorporated into the recipe below so you can benefit from our experience. Even so, if you find that something works or doesn’t work for you, please let us know! Also, reading through this tutorial on working with sugar before diving in can be very helpful.
DIY Cane Sugar Syrup
Makes about 1 quart
Gratefully adapted from “Marshmallows” by Eileen Talanian
2 cups (16 ounces) water
5 1/3 cups (2 lbs + 10 ounces) granulated cane sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
4-quart sauce pan - one step larger or smaller should be ok
a candy thermometer that can clip to the side of the pan
stainless steel or silicone spoon - not wood
Clean glass jars with lids - half-pint jars are ideal
Combine all of the ingredients in the saucepan and stir until the sugar is completely moistened. Clip the candy thermometer to the side of the pan and set the pan over high heat. Do not stir the sugar after this point.
As the sugar comes to a boil, dip the pastry brush in a dish of water and brush down the sides. This dissolves any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan that could cause the syrup to re-crystallize. Once the syrup comes to a full boil, you don’t need to brush the sides anymore. (If you don’t have a pastry brush, you can also cover the pan with a lid for two minutes just as the sugar comes to a boil. The steam trapped in the pan will wash any crystals from the sides.)
Boil the syrup until it just barely reaches a temperature of 240° Fahrenheit (in other words, its better to be a few degrees under than a few degrees over). Immediately turn off the heat, remove the candy thermometer, and carefully move the pan to a cool spot on the stove or a cooling rack. Allow the syrup to sit undisturbed until it has cooled completely, at least an hour.
Gently pour the cooled syrup into clean glass jars, seal with the lids, and store in the cupboard. Store them where they won’t be jostled too much, as this can cause the syrup to crystallize. It will keep for at least two months, but we’ve stored it for longer without any changes to the syrup.
To Use the Syrup - This syrup tends to be thicker than corn syrup and can be difficult to pour or measure. To make it a little more workable, remove the metal lid from the glass jar and microwave the jar of cane syrup on HIGH in 30 second bursts until it’s pourable. This usually seems to take a total of 1 - 1.5 minutes. Alternatively, you can put the jar in a saucepan of simmering water to warm the syrup.
One Last Note - Re-heating can sometimes cause the syrup to begin crystallizing. Because of this, we’ve found it best to store the syrup in half-pint (1 cup) jars, which is what most recipes call for. This way we can heat and use one portion at a time without leftovers.