Chinese golden syrup is something of an odd duck in the syrup world. It’s an invert caramel syrup that flows at room temperature, even when undiluted with milk or water. That’s a very odd thing, since in order to get sugar syrup to caramelize you have to heat it well past the point at which it will flow once it cools. So how is this accomplished? Simply put, what you see here is a syrup made on top of a syrup, a dark caramel syrup for color and flavor, and a soft-ball stage syrup for flow. I’ll show you how it’s done.
First put half a cup of sugar in a saucepan and add about a quarter cup of water. The amount doesn’t matter much since it will cook out anyway.
Swirl it over high heat.
After a few minutes it will start to turn golden…
…then dark. You want this smoking a bit. Quite brown in the middle.
When you hit your desired darkness (since it’s really up to you), remove the pan from the heat and pour in about a cup of boiling water. Again the precise amount isn’t important here since you’ll cook most of it out later (temperature is as much a measure of a syrup’s water content as it is a gauge of how hot it is). Watch out as it will splatter some. The hot water will at once cool the caramel and keep it from turning instantly into candy.
Scrape up any hardened sugar that’s on the bottom of the pan and return it to the heat.
Add a full cup of sugar…
…then about a tablespoon and a half of lemon juice. A pinch of tartaric acid (cream of tartar) will also work here. This plus the heat will help break the un-caramelized sucrose molecules into pieces. The caramel you already made is acidic, but a little more acid will speed the process along.
Stir all that up and let it cook again for a minute or two…
…until it’s up to the soft ball stage, about 235 degrees Fahrenheit. It will bubble more than this when you’re actually cooking it. Watch your fingers!
While it’s still hot pour it through a sieve to remove any bits of lemon flesh.
Cool and you’re done!
For those of you who are curious, this homemade syrup is the functional equivalent of a refiner’s syrup like Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is to say it’s a thick, golden invert syrup. It is not a taste equivalent, however. To get that you’ll need to pay up for the real thing!
For those of you who are wondering why a syrup made of caramel and soft-ball syrup still flows at room temperature, it’s all those broken molecules. Those little single sugars simply tumble over each other more readily than the bigger sucrose molecules from whence they came. Which is cool.
This is a very handy thing to know how to make should you ever need a high-viscosity corn-syrup-like syrup but can’t make it out to the store. All you need is sugar, water and acid. Bingo!