Or candy floss! Or fairy floss! Or Papa’s beard! Personally, I prefer “candy floss,” the British appellation, because it conjures a host of potential nightmares for dental technicians; while I have the utmost respect for those lovely people, there’s the evil gnome in me that would love to see “candy floss” in the dental hygiene aisle just to vex them. “Fairy floss” is a perfectly scrumptious name, and it pleases me immeasurably to think of burly, stubbly Aussie blokes ordering up “fairy floss” for their sweet little children. And speaking of stubble, who in the hell thought it was a good idea to call something you wrap on a stick and eat “Papa’s beard”? Regardless of what other people call it, it’s heaven on earth. Just not to a dentist.
Cover 8 cardboard paper-towel tubes with parchment (I just loosely tape the parchment onto the tube). Set aside. With a damp pastry brush, wipe down the sides of the pan to prevent stray sugar crystals from forming.
In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt. Stir until the sugar is melted. Clip on a candy thermometer, stop stirring, and heat to 320 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius). Pour the molten liquid into a shallow heatproof container. Add the extract and food coloring (if using) and stir well. Line your work table with parchment. I also spread parchment on the floor around the table to catch any stray bits of flying sugar.
Dip your decapitated whisk into the sugar syrup and hold it over the pot to let the sugar drip back into container for a second. Holding the whisk a foot (30 centimeters) above the parchment, swing the whisk back and forth so that thin strands of sugar fall on the paper. Repeat this a few more times until you have a nice nest of spun sugar.
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