Jim Fisher, head chef tutor and co-owner of Exeter Cookery School, shares his fail-safe method for creating show-stopping desserts adorned with spun sugar cages, baskets and springs – or for Easter, why not make an edible nest for mini chocolate eggs!
Spun Sugar Cages, Baskets and Springs
This is something I love teaching on our cooking courses: spinning sweet gossamer threads over the back of a ladle or around a sharpening steel to create a beautiful caramel cage or spring – pure magic!
A word of warning before we get on to the good stuff: caramel gets hot. We’re talking upwards of 185°C here, and, if it gets on your skin it’ll burn deep! So, make sure you have cold running water on standby because, if you do get any caramel on you, you’ll need to have ready access to it (thrust the wound under lots of really cold running water for at least five minutes).
Making caramel is easy, but, as in all things, you’ll need to prepare by gathering together the equipment mentioned below. Also, try and acquire some Glucose Syrup (sometimes called Liquid Glucose); this sticky clear syrup – obtainable at the chemist and most supermarkets – is actually a form of starch and is really useful for keeping your sugar syrup from re-crystallising.
Storing Caramel Shapes
Caramel doesn’t store well – it’s hygroscopic, meaning it will attract moisture from the air and quickly turn sticky – but it will keep for a few hours under Clingfilm. If you want to keep your work of art for any longer, pop a couple of silica gel sachets (or a small pot of baked and dried salt) in with them and seal tightly.
Makes at least 12 cages or 20 springs
- Heavy-gauge stainless steel (i.e. colourless) medium saucepan
- Heat-proof pastry brush
- Sugar thermometer (not essential if you use white sugar and a stainless steel pan as you can judge the temperature by the colour)
- Bowl of cold water (for cooling base of pan)
- Several metal dessert spoons (preferably stainless steel)
- Several sheets of silicon paper or mat
- Heat-proof pan stand
- Metal ladle
- Large round-section sharpening ‘steel’ or similar size metal tubing
100ml cold water 500g caster sugar 1 tbsp glucose syrup
Put all the ingredients into the saucepan and place over a low flame until the sugar has completely dissolved. Don’t stir or shake the pan during this stage as you’ll get sugar crystals forming around the edge of the solution. If this does happen, brush down the sides with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.
Once everything has completely liquefied, crank the heat up to maximum and boil vigorously until the syrup reaches 185°C on a sugar thermometer or turns a deep golden colour.
Briefly, but gently, plunge the base of the saucepan into a bowl of cold water, stirring with a metal dessert spoon, in order to prevent the caramel from over-cooking.
Place the pan on a heat-proof pan stand and begin making your shapes:
Cages and baskets
Very lightly lubricate the convex side of the ladle with a faint smear of neutral cooking oil such as groundnut or sunflower.
Hold the ladle at arm’s length with the bowl uppermost and upside-down.
Take a spoonful of caramel and tip it until the excess runs back into the pan. As soon as you have a steady stream running off the tip, flick the thread of caramel in different directions over the back of the ladle in a lattice pattern.
Waft the ladle in the air until cool enough to handle, then cup the lattice in the palm of your hand and gently twist it away. Et voila!
Wait until the caramel is cooler and much thicker than before.
Get a nice thin strand going off the end of your spoon, then, keeping the steel pointing upwards at a constant 45° angle, wind the caramel onto it in a spring shape, but doing most of the work with your spoon hand.
Again, allow the caramel to cool sufficiently, then gently but firmly grasp the spring in the palm of your hand and slide it off the steel.
Practice makes perfect
Both these techniques take time to master, so definitely do not attempt to make them for the very first time the day of your dinner party!
However, once you get the hang of it, you’ll have access to a very impressive arsenal of dinner-party dessert garnishes.
About Exeter Cookery School
Exeter Cookery Courses for Easter
Polish up your cookery skills over the Easter holidays with Exeter Cookery School’s relaxed half- and one-day cookery courses taking place during the Easter holidays. Head chef and co-owner, Jim Fisher, offers a wealth of top cheffy tips and tricks to make your food look and taste better and ensure consistent results time and time again. He’ll also teach you some simple cook-ahead techniques to take the hassle out of entertaining at home.
All courses are held at a stylishly converted 1830s warehouse on Exeter’s buzzing quayside. It is also a stone’s throw from the Haven Banks Outdoor Activity Centre, so if you have children attending an outdoor activity there over the holidays, why not tie it in with some ‘you time’.
9th April 9.30 – 12pm
Half Day Ice Cream making Workshop
Get your taste buds going with this lip-smackingly good ice cream making workshop. Learn how to make delicious ice cream from scratch with Jim’s simple and quick method and explore a host of flavour sensations – anyone for basil ice cream? Suitable for every level of ability.
9th April 2pm – 4.30pm
Half Day Spun Sugar Workshop
Discover the fine art of spinning wonderful shapes on a half day spun sugar workshop. You will leave knowing how to create baskets, twirls, swirls, baskets and much more. Perfect for transforming desserts into show stoppers in no time.
Wednesday 12th 9.30am – 4.30pm
One Day Butchery & Meat Cookery Course
This is a comprehensive hands-on butchery and meat cookery course, which will take you through the process of jointing a chicken, preparing and roasting a rack of lamb. Finally, you will learn how to bone a rabbit and create a complex dish that includes the roasted rabbit loin, rabbit leg confit (fall-off-the-bone tender), a rack of tiny rabbit chops, the sautéed kidneys and a liver parfait.
Thursday 13th April 9.30am – 4.30pm
One Day Vegetarian / Vegetable Cookery Course
Vegetarian cooking can sometimes lack variety and even taste if not approached in the right way. However, on this one day vegetarian cookery course, vegetables become the star of the show. From a seasonal vegetable salad to filled ravioli or a risotto packed with flavour and the pick of the seasonal larder, your taste buds will be tantalised and you will leave with some sure-fire recipes for cooking for yourself and loved ones.
Friday 14th April 9.30am – 4.30pm
One Day Chocolate Cookery
Well, quite frankly, need we say any more? You’ll get a whole day of cooking, and yes eating, chocolate! You’ll discover all about melting and tempering chocolate. And if you can resist a little bit of temptagionu might even come away with a special treat for a loved one for Easter.
Saturday 15th April 9.30am – 4.30pm
One day French Bistro Mains Cookery
Relatively simple to prepare and cook, French Bistro main courses make a great choice for a British dinner party. You’ll learn how to cook some delicious dishes, including classics such as Jim’s flavour-packed French onion soup, Confit d’Canard (duck leg preserved in its own fat), Gigot d’Agneau (leg of lamb) and the hugely popular, Steak Frites.
Or, if you’d rather wait until the children have gone back to school, then why not have a look at Exeter Cookery School’s full calendar of events to see what takes your fancy.
Visit www.exetercookeryschool.co.uk or contact 07415783759 for more information.