I hadn’t heard of this confection until last week, when one of my kids insisted I watched a how-to video they’d seen on YouTube.
“It’s like hand-pulled cotton candy,” they explained as they searched for a video to show me. The most popular one appears to be Inga Lam’s video for Buzzfeed, which was uploaded in April and already has more than 4 million views.
The host says she grew up seeing this candy in Hong Kong and had always wanted to try it. Through her trial-and-error, I knew we’d need a lot of cornstarch and that we couldn’t heat the candy to over 270 degrees. (Her first attempts, where the rings broke apart as she pulled them, looked like the sugar had gone too far into the soft crack stage, which is between 270 and 289 degrees.)
We found a few other videos to add to our research and then set out to make this delicate, ultra-sweet, bird’s best of a treat.
Taking a cue from Clifford Endo of Eater, who posted his how-to video in September, we added blue food coloring to the water and added a splash of vinegar to the pot. We used 500 grams sugar, 1 cup water, a splash of vinegar and 3-4 drops food coloring. As everyone always points out, don’t stir the sugar and water mixture as it heats, although to be totally honest, I didn’t follow that rule for a long time and didn’t notice much of a difference in the caramels and other sugar-based sauces and candies I’ve made.
We didn’t stir the pot this time and watched carefully as the temperature climbed to the 220s, where it stalled, and then inched closer to 270. We pulled the candy from the heat at about 268 degrees and let it cool slightly before pouring into silicon molds and a nonstick mini muffin pan.
The silicon molds were bigger and the candy took longer to cool, but the blue discs of sugar in the mini muffin pan were ready to pull in about 30 minutes, when they were warm enough to still stretch, but cool enough to handle easily and start to hold their shape.
This is where the fun began. We each took a small disc of sugar and poked a hole in it with our fingers. Then, slowly and steady, we started to pull the candy into a larger loop, twisting like an “8” or an infinity look once the circle was about 6 or 8 inches in diameter. The idea is that you gently pull and twist the loop 14 times, which gives you more than 16,000 tender strands of sugar.
As the videos demonstrate, this technique takes a while to master, but our first dragon’s beard candy was actually the best one. We enjoyed using the smaller discs to practice, but if you want the full “beard” effect, you can use a larger quantity of the heated sugar mixture. Many people online use doughnut mold so the sugar already has a hole in the middle.
Looking for a fun cooking project with your kids? Mine saw some videos on YouTube of dragon’s beard candy, which is like hand-pulled cotton candy, so we made it over the weekend. I just blogged about why I love these kinds of Internet-inspired projects, especially this time of year. #diy #cooking #cookingwithkids #summer #dragonsbeardcandy #candy #sugar #youonlymomonce #youtube #austin360cooks #relishaustin
We crushed up some peanuts, which is how these dragon’s beards are usually served, and the whole package was fun to eat. We ran out of steam to pull all of the sugar mixture we’d made, so I’m glad I cut the original recipe in half. Will we make these again? Maybe, especially if we’re looking for a hands-on project on a rainy day.
But in reality, my kids watch enough YouTube tutorials that there will probably be another project they’ll suggest soon, and, fully aware that we only have so many summers left with this kind of play, I wouldn’t trade these random mom-kid experiments for anything.
What summertime food projects are you working on with your kids?