Hand-Pulled Cotton Candy

Hand-pulled cotton candy

In addition to being obsessed with food, I’m a huge nerd. Which means Cooking Issues is right up my alley. The blog, written by Nils Noren and Dave Arnold of the French Culinary Institute, focuses on using technology and science to make food better. Nils and Dave have written insanely detailed but really engaging posts about everything from mixing cocktails to using liquid nitrogen in the kitchen.

Most Cooking Issues posts are pitched toward professionals who have access to fancy equipment, but occasionally there’s a recipe you can actually make at home. Hand-pulled cotton candy is one of those. It looks and sounds kinda difficult, but it’s really not that bad, and the results are really cool.

Known as dragon’s beard in China, pashmak in Iran, and pishmaniye in Turkey, this confection involves cooking sugar to a soft, stretchy state and then pulling it into lots and lots of really thin strands. The texture is light and feathery, similar to regular cotton candy, but when you put some in your mouth it instantly starts to melt and turns chewy, just like a soft caramel.

The key is keeping the sugar dipped in a fine powder while you pull it—rice, sesame, or wheat flour are traditional, but the Cooking Issues recipe uses cornstarch. This is also an opportunity to flavor the sugar with anything you can think of. I used a mixture of 3 parts cornstarch to 1 part cocoa powder, which makes the dragon’s beard deeply chocolaty.

Trying to describe in words how to make this stuff would be pointless, so I’m embedding Dave Arnold’s video demo below. I halved the recipe, but otherwise followed these instructions exactly.

The whole process, from cooking to stretching, takes 2-3 hours, so this is probably a good Sunday-afternoon project. To store your dragon’s beard, keep it away from moisture and not sealed in any kind of container. Laying it flat on a sheet pan with extra cornstarch seems to work pretty well, and it’ll last a couple days, but you’ll eat it all before then.

The traditional Chinese way to eat dragon’s beard involves scooping up chopped roasted peanuts with the candy. I’m running out to buy some peanuts tonight.

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