Serious Eats: How to Make Rich, Flavorful Caramel Without Melting Sugar by Stella Parks.
“Melting is a phase change that has no impact on chemical composition, like the transition from ice to water. […]
Thermal decomposition, on the other hand, is a chemical reaction that breaks down molecular bonds to produce new substances. […]
In fact, caramel is so unlike sucrose, C12H22O11, that its nature can’t be expressed by a single chemical formula. Instead, it’s a mixture of caramelan (C15H18O9), caramelane (C12H9O9), caramelen (C36H48O24), caramelene (C36H25O25), caramelin (C24H26O13), and over a thousand other compounds ‘whose names,’ one scholar lamented in 1894, ‘science seems to have invented in a fit of despair.'”
(Finally there’s a reason to learn organic chemistry. ;-) )
Harold McGee (of “On Food and Cooking” fame): Caramelization: new science, new possibilities.
“How does heat turn sugar into caramel? Heat is a kind of energy that makes atoms and molecules move faster. […]
That’s what I’ve thought for many years, along with most cooks and confectioners and carbohydrate chemists: heat melts sugar, and then begins to break it apart and create the delicious mixture we call caramel.
And we’ve all been wrong.”
Link via MetaFilter.
I think I will need to try to use caramelized sugar in shortbread, which I love. By the way, the secret to shortbread with that great crumbly texture is to substitute one of the three parts of flour with rice flour:
375g flour: 250g wheat flour, 125g rice flour
pinch of salt (flaky sea salt works best)
Mix everything into a dough, don’t knead too much. Spread onto a baking sheet (23cm x 30cm) lined with baking paper and mark rectangles, pierce each rectangle twice with a fork. Bake for 50 minutes at 150Â°C (300Â°F), then cut into rectangles while still hot. The shortbread should have a little bit of color, but not too much.
Recipe found at German cooking/baking weblog Chili & Ciabatta and translated to English. See also here.