All posts by Eric

Belgian Candi Sugar and Silicone Baking Mats

DIY Candi Sugar Made Easy

Difficulty: level_2

Time Required:

one to two hours, depending on how dark you plan to make your candi sugar

Background:

If you are planning on making a potent Belgian beer such as a Dubbel, Tripel or a Home Run (just kidding!), you are going to need Belgian Candi Sugar. If you have already purchased some, you know that it can make the cost of your batch of beer skyrocket. It typically runs about $6/lb! My Tripel recipe uses a modest 3 lb. You can however make your own Belgian Candi Sugar at home with just a few simple things, some time and some regular table sugar that you can get for about $2.50/4 lb. bag ($0.63/lb).  As I write this Christmas season is just around the corner and thus the reason I’m preparing some candi sugar.  I’m preparing to brew one of my favorite and most interesting beers I’ve ever had.  It is based on a Northern Brewer recipe Saison de Noel.  Mine is identical, but I use homemade dark candi sugar instead of the candi syrup.  If you want the quick instructions, just read the headings.

Oh, and this recipe could be used to create windows for a gingerbread house too!

Equipment / Ingredients Required:

  • Table Sugar (1 lb. sugar yields approximately 1 lb. candi sugar)
  • Lemon Juice (addition of approximately 1 tsp. / lb.)
    • Used to “invert” the sugar
  • Candy thermometer
    • This one had the best reviews.  They indicated that the temperature markings would come off of others
    • I like the coded indicators for different crack temperatures
    • These are good, because they keep the bulb off of the bottom of the pot, which will help to prevent false readings
  • Silicone baking mat (Trust me, this is the best way to do it)
    • Less expensive that actual Silpat brand
    • Fit our inventory of baking pans better
    • We’ve had ours for almost a year now and they get used often.  Still no staining or degradation in the material.
    • My wife is a great baker, so this was an easy sell on why we “needed” them
  • SRM color chart (for consistency)

Why I recommend the silicone mats?  Past fails…

  • Non-stick baking pan
    • Yes, they are non-stick, as long as it isn’t Candi Sugar you are making on them
    • You can warp the baking sheet to pop it off, but quite a bit still sticks.
  • Wax paper
    • Stuck to the hardened Candi Sugar
    • I ended up with bits of wax paper floating in the boil
    • I did catch it with a colander when I poured into my fermenter, but just a pain
  • Foil
    • Still no luck
  • Just learn from my mistakes and buy some silicone mats!

Procedure:

 

002-Candi Sugar - lemon juice

Get your lemon juice ready

As I mentioned before, you need about 1 tsp. per pound of sugar.  I love using syringes for liquid measurement.  We have 3 kids, and so we’ve got about a bunch of these from all the prescriptions they’ve needed.  I just used lemon juice.  Fresh squeezed or the pre-bottled stuff will work.

002-Candi Sugar - Just Sugar

Pour the sugar into a pot

With candi sugar, you put in a pound of sugar, you pretty much end up with a pound of candi sugar.  I recommend putting in a little extra to account for some sticking to the pot when you pour it and some of it ending up in your mouth when you are done.  It’s so good it tastes like candy!  Oh wait..

002-Candi Sugar - warming up

Add just enough water to saturate the sugar

If you add more water than necessary, it won’t ruin it.  You’ll just be waiting longer for the water to boil off.  You’ll be surprised at how little water you need.

002-Candi Sugar - maintaining temperature

Add lemon juice and warm up to temperature (260-275 degF)

Pour in your lemon juice and you want to warm to between 260-275 degF.  This is right between “Hard Ball” and “Soft Crack”.  It will take a bit of time to get the sugar dissolved and boil the water off.

Maintain temperature for about 20 minutes

Once you get the mixture into the temperature range, you want to dial back the heat on your cooktop.  I took it down to about 4/10 and was able to maintain with just 2 large spoonfuls of room temperature water at a time.  This is just like a boiling kettle, in that if you walk away, you could come back to a mixture that has overheated and made a mess or cooled too much.  I fluctuated through the range, but was averaging about 270 degF throughout the initial 20 minutes and on into the darkening period.

After 20 minutes, keep at temperature and decide how dark you want it to get

Take a sample small spoonful and drop it onto a piece of wax paper to do a color check with your handy dandy SRM chart.  Yes, I know I said not to use wax paper, but it is semi-transparent and if you also put a piece of white paper under it, you will be able to better judge the color.  Now SRM is officially taken through 1 cm of beer and my spoonfuls ended up at about 0.1″ (2.5 mm).  You aren’t measuring an exact SRM, but you are at least establishing a reference for the next time you make the candi sugar that will lead you down the path of repeatability.  The longer you keep at temperature, the darker the candi sugar will be.  Scroll to the bottom to see the results of my experiment of sugar color versus time.

Once you are happy with the color, raise to 300 degF (Hard Crack)

Raise to 300 degF… All you need to do is raise the temperature of the mixture to 300 degF then pour onto your silicone pad lined baking pan.

002-Candi Sugar - ready for sugar

Pour Some Sugar on Me!

Make sure you have a hot pad under the pan or you might do something unintentional with your countertop.  Also, be very careful when pouring.  300 degrees is HOT and you don’t want to burn yourself or splash any all over your nice kitchen.  It is a pain to clean up.

002-Candi Sugar - finished

Let cool

I was making dark candi sugar this time, so it is much darker than you would want in a Tripel.  It also adds some burnt caramel, smokey flavors to your beer.

Clean your equipment immediately

Just like your brewing equipment, it is much much easier to clean right after you are done with it than it is when it has been sitting around for a while.  The candi sugar will harden on everything and be much more difficult to clean off.  You can soak in hot water, but don’t wait for that water to cool.

Break into pieces

Once the candi sugar has cooled completely, simply peel the silicone mat off of the back of the candi sugar sheet.  You can also bend the sheet to help break the candi sugar into smaller pieces.  I typically just break into small enough chunks that it will fit into a gallon plastic storage bag.  Then I just chuck it in the freezer until brew day.

Nerd Alert!level_5

As I was letting the sugar darken, I took a tablespoon every 3-4 minutes in the beginning, then 5 then 10 minutes apart until I got to where I wanted it so that I could come up with some guess on time required for a certain darkness.  I dropped these samples onto a sheet of wax paper laid on top of a plain white sheet of paper on a cooking sheet.  YES, I know I told you not to use wax paper, but these samples were not going to be used for anything but color measurement.  Technically SRM is measured with a specific wavelength of light through 1 cm (0.4″) sample.  I measured the thickness my hardened samples and they measured 0.008″ to 0.012″.

 

002-Candi Sugar - different levels

There might be some equations out there to scale one thickness sample to the equivalent for SRM measurement.  So my measurements, although not actual SRM, are good enough for me to be able to repeat a certain darkness based on time or spot checking the value to my SRM color chart.  Below is a chart of “SRM” versus total cook time at 270 degF of my samples.

Plot of “SRM’ versus time (Your times may vary)

002-Candi Sugar - SRM vs Time

Source Data

002-Candi Sugar - SRM vs Time source data

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Keezer / Kegerator / Deep Freezer Dolly

An easy way to store your keezer / kegerator under a shelf

Difficulty: level_3 *

*Due to the potential of needing help to lift the keezer onto the dolly

Time Required:

one morning or afternoon, plus overnight if gluing the base is required

Background:

As I mentioned in my About: This Blog page, I have limited space for my equipment and the Keezer is no small piece of equipment.  It certainly wouldn’t go with the decor of the house and I also didn’t want it to be in easy reach of the kids.  Not that they would be drinking it, but I would be concerned they would think it was funny to squirt pressurized beer at will.  In my opinion, having the chest freezer sitting on the garage floor with nothing above it was a waste of air space.  My ultimate solution was to build a keezer dolly that would allow me to have easy access, but could easily be rolled under a shelf in the garage.  It also makes it easy to clean behind it, rolling it to the edge of the garage when defrosting or draining the moisture buildup and is just all around convenient.  I’ve had it for 2+ years and it has been great.  I’ve also had no issues with it being in the garage and it’s on an outside wall.

001-Keezer Dolly - Keezer put away wm

 

My keezer happily in it’s place under a shelf in the garage.

Important note: This would not be wise for a vertical freezer or refrigerator. It could easily tip when moving. This would not be good. Those typically have some wheels anyway.

Parts Required:

  • Casters, carriage bolts and nuts/washers
    • You could buy a moving dolly for the parts (potentially inexpensive way to get casters and bolts)
      • I got mine from harbor freight
      • Movers dolly
      • I usually pull 20% off coupons from my Road & Track and Car and Driver magazines
    • Size / Type
      • Big enough to roll over separations in the floor
      • Small enough to not raise the keezer too high
        • Unless you plan on rolling it into the yard (later post blog, stay tuned…)
      • Choose solid rubber wheels.  The air filled tires have more resistance on flat surfaces
      • The wheels from the Harbor Freight dolly I used are 3″ in diameter and with the casters are about 3.5″ tall
    • Plywood sheet
      • About 1″ larger than your keezer on all sides
      • To use the same bolts from the dolly, make your platform the same thickness of the dolly (more on that later)
    • Some type of L-channel (AKA angle iron or L bracket) to help retain the keezer on the dolly
      • I used some leftover channel from my garage door opener installation 10 years ago (I knew it would come in handy at some point!)
001-Keezer Dolly - Dolly and L Channel wm
Donor moving dolly and L Channel

 

The Build:

Disassemble the dolly to remove the casters (skip to the next step if you just bought them)

  • loosen the bolts on the underside that attach the casters to the frame
  • 001-Keezer Dolly - dolly underside wm
  • If you are using the Harbor Freight dolly or a similar one, you can cut the carpet coating with a knife and peel it off
  • push through or hammer the carriage bolts out the other side
  • 001-Keezer Dolly - taking bolts out wm
  • measure the thickness of the dolly’s frame (important for the building of the platform)
  • 001-Keezer Dolly - measure thickness wm

Build the Platform

  • Dimensions
    • It should be slightly larger than the maximum plan area (top view) of the keezer
    • This is so that the first thing that runs into walls is the base, not the handles or hinges
    • The sides can be close, but I would overshoot by 1/4″ or so
  • Thickness
    • If you take a look at the carriage bolts, you’ll notice that they probably aren’t fully threaded
    • You want to match the thickness of the platform with the bolts
      • Too thin: There will be too much thread extending out
        • It could potentially block rotation of the casters
        • If this is unavoidable, you could cut them after assembly with a hack saw or your favorite rotary tool
      • Too thick: You won’t get enough thread engagement to secure the casters
    • I simply doubled up the available plywood I had
      • cut 2 sheets the same size
      • put some wood glue between them
      • set something heavy on top and let them sit overnight

Attach the casters

  • Choose the location of the casters
    • Be sure to allow room on each edge for the wheel to rotate 360 degrees without swinging beyond the extents of the platform
    • Note how in the picture below, the wheel can extend beyond the frame when swiveled.  I didn’t want mine to protrude.
    • Rotation of caster wheel
      Rotation of caster wheel
  • Mark the holes and centers
  • Drill the holes with enough clearance for the carriage bolts
  • Go slightly oversize on the holes to allow for slop in your drilling and make it less frustrating to assemble
  • Put the carriage bolts through the holes (you may need to lightly tap them in with a hammer)
  • Secure on the other side with the nuts
    • Don’t go so tight that you pull the carriage bolts through the wood
    • If you have nyloc nuts, you should be ok to re-use them
    • The moving dolly I used had split lock washers
      The moving dolly I used had split lock washers
    • Optional: I always have loctite on hand, go ahead and use a drop of low strength on each nut if you want

Retaining Pieces

001-Keezer Dolly - base on ground wm

  • These are to make sure that if the keezer slips on the platform, you won’t push it off the edge when moving it
  • you don’t need much length, just enough to catch the keezer on all four sides
  • I just cut the piece I had into 4 lengths
  • A hacksaw or cutoff wheel will do
  • If you want to be really cool, you could get some nuts and bolts to secure them
  • I just used some short drywall screws at opposite sides of the outer slots to secure them
  • Optional: I covered them with black gaffers tape to match the keezer and make it look nicer
    • If you don’t know what gaffers tape is, get some
    • It mostly does the same thing as duct tape
    • Doesn’t leave residue that duct tape does
    • I use it throughout my fermentation process for labels that can be removed and placed on the next vessel in the process. Works for me all the way through kegging.

Finish it up

  • You could paint it if you wanted
  • Go con / recruit a neighbor / friend to help you lift your keezer up onto the platform
    • Pay them with one of your delicious brews
    • Be sure to take everything out of it first!!

001-Keezer Dolly - Keezer rolled out wm

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