How to Make Cotton Candy

If you want to learn how to make cotton candy, you'll need to decide how involved in the process you truly want to be. You can always rent a cotton candy machine for a low cost and spin sugar right in your home or backyard. This is the easy way. All you'll do is buy sugar for the cotton candy machine (you can purchase flavored, colored sugar made specifically for the use in the machine), pour the sugar into the appropriate spout and collect the spun floss on paper cones.

If you're more interested in turning your cotton candy making experience into a science experiment, you can try making homemade cotton candy by hand, without a machine. This process is time-consuming, messy and labor-intensive, but it is also a hands-on experience you will never forget.

What Exactly Is Cotton Candy?
Cotton candy is sugar that has been heated to a high temperature, melted and spun through an apparatus with tiny holes so thin strands of the melted sugar come into contact with air, where the sugar crystallizes. The collected strands of spun sugar are collected either on a paper cone or simply gathered into a loose ball and stuffed in a bag, where it is eaten with your fingers. Typically the sugar is both lightly colored and mildly flavored.

Cotton Candy History
Cotton candy was invented in 1899 by four men who called it "fairy floss." They created the first cotton candy machine, which melted the sugar and then flung it using centrifugal force through small holes in a center metal piece of the machine. These men brought the cotton candy machine to the 1904 World's Fair, where cotton candy was sold to large crowds for the first time. It has been a popular treat ever since.

How to Make Cotton Candy Without a Machine

Ingredients You Will Need:
5 cups white granulated sugar
1 cup and 2 tablespoons water
1 and 1/3 cups light corn syrup
Food coloring

Equipment You Will Need:
Newspaper to cover counters and floors
Wire cutters
1 wire whisk
2 long-handled wooden spoons
Something heavy (such as phone books) to weigh down spoons
Wax paper
Large heavy saucepan
Candy thermometer
Microwavable glass bowl
Clean paper rolled into paper cone for collecting spun sugar

Spread the newspapers out to protect the counter and floor.

Using the wire cutters, clip off the end of the whisk so you have several tines sticking out. Bend the tines such that they are a distance apart from one another.

Balance the two long-handled wooden spoons such that they are sticking out on either side of the counter top, and place something heavy on top of the handle of each spoon handle (such as a phone book) to keep them in place. Place a sheet of wax paper between the two spoons to catch any falling strands of cotton candy.

Combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in the heavy saucepan, and heat on the stove over medium high heat. Use a candy thermometer to monitor heat of candy mixture. When the candy reaches 320 degrees, immediately turn off heat and pour candy into the glass bowl. Bring the bowl over to the counter where your spoons are set up and mix in the flavoring and food coloring as quickly as possible.

You will only have about 10 minutes to make your cotton candy, so move quickly. Dip the tines of the whisk into the hot candy mixture and then wave them through the air in the area above the two wooden spoons. The hot sugar should crystallize, turning into strands of spun sugar that will drift onto the two wooden spoons. Play around with how fast you need to wave the whisk through the air and how much hot sugar solution you need to get onto the tines.

After about 10 minutes, the sugar solution will begin to thicken, so you'll need to microwave it until completely liquid, and then begin the process again. When you've collected enough strands of cotton candy hanging between the two spoons, use a paper cone to gather up the strands. Re-microwave the sugar solution and continue the process until you have used up all the sugar.

Renting a Cotton Candy Machine
There's no shame in renting cotton candy machines if the process described above does not appeal to you. Chances are you won't be able to produce very much cotton candy using the homemade process, so please rent a cotton candy machine if you need to produce more than one or two cones of cotton candy.

To use a cotton candy machine, just pour in the sugar, turn it on and swirl your paper cone in the wisps of cotton candy that comes out of the tiny holes on the sides of the barrel. Collect these wisps of spun sugar on your paper cone, twirling so as to wrap the floss evenly. You'll still need to take precautions not to burn yourself, and you may still have a challenging clean-up project to handle afterwards (spun sugar is sticky and messy), but it's much easier than trying to make the cotton candy by hand.

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