“I’ll admit it — this stuff is ridiculous. It’s whimsical, it’s beautiful, and it also has a little bit of that ‘who would do that at home?’ quality. In short, it’s the ultimate party trick. It’s also a whole lot of fun once you get the hang of it. After forming the strands, you can either form them into clouds and pop them onto sticks or wind it around a plated dessert and prepare to blow minds and take names.” — Shauna Sever, author of Real Sweet: More Than 80 Crave-Worthy Treats Made with Natural Sugars
Begin by preparing the space in which you’ll be spinning your sugar: Clear a large, flat work surface, like a countertop or large table. Gather 2 or 3 long-handled wooden spoons, dowels, or thick skewers and lay them on the edge of the countertop with at least 10 inches of overhang. Weigh the sticks down with something heavy you don’t mind getting sugar syrup on—some old large books, a hefty wooden cutting board, or a marble pastry board works well. Cover the entire floor area underneath the sticks, and then some, with newspaper (err on the side of more coverage, and if you have cabinetry underneath your work surface, tape some paper onto it as well). Spray the sticks with nonstick cooking spray. Have 2 forks ready for drizzling the syrup. Place a large bowl of ice water near your work space—flinging hot sugar syrup is dangerous stuff!
To make the sugar syrup, combine the turbinado sugar, maple sugar, maple syrup, water, and salt in a medium (3-quart) heavy- bottomed saucepan. Place the pan over medium-high heat and stir gently with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula to encourage the sugar to dissolve.
Once the syrup comes to a boil, stop stirring. Clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and increase the heat to high. Cook the syrup to 310 degrees F. Immediately pull the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Grip the handle of the pan with a gloved hand if the handle isn’t heatproof.
Take the 2 forks and hold them back-to-back. Stir the syrup gently with the forks to encourage it to cool a bit, and then carry the pan over to your sugar-spinning setup. Pull the forks up out of the syrup and hold them about 12 inches over the pan. Examine the way the syrup falls back into the pan—when the syrup has thickened to a honey-like consistency and you can see a spider-web-like thread or two flying off to the sides, the sugar is ready to spin. Swing the forks back and forth over the sticks, about 10 inches above the sticks. At first, it won’t look like much, but soon sugary strands will accumulate, and you’ll get the hang of where and how to hold the forks and how fast to swing them in order to get the most control over your sugar.
Set down your forks and saucepan and dust your hands very lightly with cornstarch, clapping them like a gymnast to remove any excess. Beginning at the end of one side of the sugar strands, carefully gather them and begin rolling them up toward the sticks. Gently lift the strands as you continue to roll up the cloud of spun sugar, winding down the second side of the sticks, until all the sugar strands have been collected. Softly holding the ball of spun sugar like a baby chick, gently form it into a cloud using the heat of your hands. Insert a bamboo skewer or long lollipop stick into the spun sugar. Continue spinning the sugar with the remaining syrup, rewarming it on the stove over low heat as needed to keep it fluid.
Spun sugar is best served very soon after it’s made, but you can get a couple hours of life out of it by carefully cloaking each cloud with a plastic bag and tying it with twine around the stick to enclose it and keep it cool and dry.