Burnt Sugar Recipe

Caramelizing Sugar
Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr
  • 4 mins
  • Prep: 2 mins,
  • Cook: 2 mins
  • Yield: 3 tablespoons (1 serving)
Ratings (12)

Burnt sugar is an important flavor and color ingredient used in Trinidad and Tobago cuisine, but it has a place in American cooking as well, such as in pound cake, burnt sugar cake, as a syrup spooned over cheesecake, and in beef and poultry recipes. Making it can be tricky because — despite its name — you must avoid actually burning it or it will become it bitter. The goal is to melt the sugar and this can be a somewhat delicate process, but it's worth the effort when you get the knack and have your timing down. 

What You'll Need

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or canola)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar (cane)

How to Make It

  1. Add the oil to large pot or pan. If you'll be using the sugar in a meat or poultry dish, use the same pot or pan you'll be cooking it in. 
  2. Warm the oil over medium-high heat until it's hot but not smoking.
  3. Sprinkle the sugar into the pot in an even layer. Let it melt until it begins to froth and bubble.
  4. Immediately add the remaining recipe ingredients as soon as the edges of the froth and the bubbles begin to turn a slightly darker shade. 
  1. Continue with the recipe you're making. 

Tips and Variations

  • The timing is everything, so you might want to practice making burnt sugar a few times before attempting to use it in a recipe. You'll have a scant window of time — literally a matter of seconds — in which to add the other recipe ingredients before the sugar begins to turn bitter.  
  • Use burnt sugar in trini pelau or brown chicken stew.
  • You can substitute brown sugar for cane sugar, although this makes it slightly more difficult to pinpoint exactly when the sugar is cooked — it's easier to detect when white sugar begins to darken.
  • Make a burnt sugar syrup using brown sugar. Melt the sugar — without oil — until it begins to melt. Remove it from the heat and slowly add in twice the amount of very hot water as the amount of sugar you used. If you start with half a cup of sugar, you'll need a cup of hot water. Stir well, then return to the pot or pan to the heat and simmer the mixture over low heat for another 5 minutes. The syrup will be thin at first, but it will thicken when it's removed from the heat and allowed to cool. You can store it covered in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it. 
  • For an alcoholic treat, add 3/4 ounce of burnt sugar syrup to 1 ounce bourbon and a dash of bitters and pour over ice. You've just made yourself a burnt sugar Old Fashioned cocktail.