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How to Make Edible Candy Hair for Cupcakes or Cakes

Jason has been an online writer for over 12 years. His articles focus on everything from philosophy to delicious recipes.

Want to decorate a cake with hair, but want to make it edible? Sure, you can pipe out small streams of icing or ganache with a fine tip, but sometimes that can look a little cheesy. Fortunately, there is a way to do it, and the resulting hair is shockingly realistic looking and edible. The fine follicles are actually made of pulled sugar, and they dissolve in your mouth! With a few simple ingredients and some elbow grease, you can turn out some hair that you can eat!

The technique I'm using is that used by Chinese confectioners when they make something called "Dragon's Beard" (or Dragon's Hair, or Dragon's Whiskers), a type of cottony candy with this hairlike candy on the outside, and a peanut filling on the inside.

The final product: a few tangles here and there, but definitely hairlike!

The final product: a few tangles here and there, but definitely hairlike!

Dyeing the corn syrup will yield colored hair. Here, I used red dye for bright pink hair.

Dyeing the corn syrup will yield colored hair. Here, I used red dye for bright pink hair.

Ingredients and Materials

  • 150 milliliters corn syrup
  • corn starch
  • small, round bowl (If glass, then spray with baking release or a little oil)
  • small pot
  • candy thermometor
  • dye (optional)

Possible Substitutions:

  • Instead of corn syrup, you can use sugar and water; although when you cook the syrup, you'll have to take extra special care to make sure all of the sugar crystals completely melt. You can also use honey or maltose syrup, too. (Corn syrup's the cheapest, of course.)
  • Instead of corn starch, you can use rice starch or toasted rice flour (what's traditionally used in Asia), or, if you want your resulting hair to be brown, maybe cocoa powder. As long as what you're using is dry, not sticky, and completely pulverized (i.e. a true powder), then it should work fine.

Instructions

  1. Put the corn syrup in a small pot and begin heating it up on the stove. If you want to dye your hair, now is the time to mix some food-safe dye into your corn syrup. (I've done this with red-dye and it worked terrifically.)
  2. Boil the corn syrup until the temperature reaches about 260-265 F (128-130 C).
  3. Turn off the heat. The temperature might rise to 270 F (132 C) on its own, but that's OK.
  4. Let it cool down until the bubbles subside.
  5. Fill the large bowl with about a cup of corn starch. Alternatively, put it in a mound on a lipped baking sheet.
  6. Pour the reduced syrup (molten sugar) into the round container. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  7. Push/pull the puck out of the container.
  8. Poke a hole in the center. If the puck is really hard, use a sharp object like a chopstick. If it's too hard, soften it in the microwave for about 3 seconds. (Don't let it soften more than what's necessary to poke a hole in the center.)
  9. Using your hands, work the puck into a donut (torus) shape. Try to make it the same width around. You can pull gently (don't tug) to thin out the "rope."
  10. Twist the torus into a figure-8 and then fold the two halves into a double-roped circle.
  11. Dip the double-circle into the corn starch, making sure all of the surfaces are coated and no bare sugar is showing.
  12. Using your hands again, and by gently pulling, segment by segment, stretch the small double-circle into a large double-circle.
  13. Twist-and-fold (step #9) again, dip in corn starch (#10) again, and pull and stretch (#11) again.
  14. Repeat this process for a total of 12 total times. You'll find that, while it requires some effort, it's not impossible. Keep on making sure that the "rope" is the same thickness all the way around before twisting & folding.
  15. When you're finally done, you can pull at one point to break the circle into one large "pelt." You can also shake it to get rid of any excess corn starch. The hair will not start to stick unless you're in a humid environment.
  16. If you want to have shorter segments of the hair, pull them off the main pelt, do not cut with scissors or a knife. That will cause the the strands to fuse together.

Important tips

  • Try to keep the thickness of the strands as even as possible, especially at the beginning. Any irregularity will get amplified with each twist-and-fold pass you make.
  • Be sure to dip the candy in corn starch with each pass. If you don't, the strands will stick to each other when you stretch them out and it is impossible to separate them.
  • Keep the resulting hair as dry as possible. If topping on a cupcake, consider using a buttercream frosting instead of a ganache, since it has less moisture. It's not as fragile as cotton candy (candy floss) in the presence of moisture, but it will eventually get sticky.
Cooking the corn syrup.

Cooking the corn syrup.

Two pucks cooling down.

Two pucks cooling down.

Stretching the strands...

Stretching the strands...

Comments

izzy on April 08, 2018:

how long should it take to cool down?

Rebecca on October 21, 2017:

If it's cracking or not pulling, you cooked the sugar too long. the temperature listed in the recipe doesn't work the same at all altitudes (boiling points differ at different altitudes). It's better to use the cold-water test and cook it to hard ball stage. (You can google to learn how to do this). It takes a little trial and error to figure out the stages, but it's more accurate to do it by "touch" than by temperature unless you live in the same city as the person who wrote the recipe.

Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on July 23, 2017:

Hi Daniela, Unfortunately I have no idea if that substitution would work or not; I have not tried it myself.

Daniela on July 22, 2017:

Hi Jason,

Thank you for your tutorial. Have to try it.

Can I use glucose instead of corn syrup (we don't have that in my country)? Thank you

Lyn on April 14, 2016:

I've followed the method but I never seem to be able to pull it more than 5 times. It hardens and cracks. Idk what went wrong. Fml

Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on March 12, 2016:

Yes, light corn syrup refers to its color. I suspect you won't have any problem this time!

Eileen Bellmore from Brentwood, Ca on March 11, 2016:

Ok, well I tried again today and I was able to wrap it about 5 times before I broke it. I'm not upset or frustrated. I'm glad I tried again and I just need to really work on it and not two days before the party because I need to do three different colors. I'm excited to try this again at another time, when I have more time. And anytime you want to do a glass, I will be there.. Hahaha

Eileen Bellmore from Brentwood, Ca on March 11, 2016:

HA HA HA I feel stupid. So I went to the store to get more corn syrup (I used it all last night) and I LOOKED at all of them then relaizing that LIGHT means the color. Not calories. HA HA HA Anyway, I picked more up and I'm going to try again this afternoon. I am using wilton colors to color it but I would think that's not theproblem either. I'm lightly coating the jars with oil but maybe not enough becasue it's still pretty sticky? Just like anything, the center isn't cooling as fast as the outer...

Eileen Bellmore from Brentwood, Ca on March 11, 2016:

The only thing I have different is the syrup is light. Maybe I'm pouring it into the jars too soon after it reaches its point? But it should not get hard, right? It should still be soft?

Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on March 11, 2016:

So sorry to hear that. Are you making any substitutions at all to the recipe?

Eileen Bellmore from Brentwood, Ca on March 10, 2016:

Hello, I have tried 3 times to make this.. I cannot for the life of me figure out what step I'm missing. I can't get it to cool right and it gets hard and then breaks. I'm in the bay area, could you stop by my house and show me. HA HA HA.

Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on February 13, 2014:

Yes, you can, Elisabeth. See the recipe above.

ELisabeth on February 12, 2014:

It is possible use edible coloring for this candy recipe?

Ahtziri on July 29, 2013:

For how long can you keep it? And how would you do it? Is it becomes hard or something over time? because I want to stand firm

Lisa on May 20, 2013:

I can't seem to get past the part of plucking it out of the bowl and putting a hole in the middle and making the donuts this stuff is too hard and brakes I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong but I have tried this twice now any help.

Lyn.Stewart from Auckland, New Zealand on May 03, 2012:

Thank you I love learning something new.

holly on February 27, 2012:

THANK YOU SOOOOOO MUCH THIS IS SUPER AWESOME

Realitychic66 from Nebraska for now on February 25, 2012:

Wow, all I can say is WOW. thanks for sharing.

Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on December 06, 2011:

Peggy - Sorry you couldn't see the video. Apparently there are problems with the current player for some using Internet Explorer, but engineering is working on a fix. Thank you for the comment!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 05, 2011:

Hi livelonger,

For some reason your video would not play. Even copied the URL (from embed) to Google and all it brought up was your hub. So...that aside...this sounds interesting. I will probably never do any making of candy hair but was curious to see how it looked and how it would be used on cupcakes. Reminded me of some of the amazing things that they do on cooking channels. Thanks!

RedElf from Canada on November 02, 2011:

Wow - you are the video king! I love these wonderful additions to hubs! I gotta make me some of those. I love the candy hair, too, by the way!

htodd from United States on October 30, 2011:

Interesting hub..

Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on October 27, 2011:

Thank you so much, AnimeHime2011 and Simone!

Simone: It's more an exercise in patience than strength, but I've seen little old ladies make it in some videos I've seen, so I think you could manage. :)

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on October 27, 2011:

The video is amazing!! I was absolutely mesmerized by the way that puck of sugar eventually turned into those fine strands. It looks like it takes a lot of strength, though! I don't know if my spaghetti arms could handle it.

Your tips and advice are fantastic though- it's great that, in addition to providing instructions, you explain *why* it's important to do something (e.g. keep dipping the sugar in corn starch so it doesn't start melding together). So many recipes I've followed DON'T do that and it's a pity, because understanding a certain step makes one more likely to complete it properly.

Let's face it... your recipe Hubs trump most cookbook entries. I can't wait to see what you publish next!

AnimeHime2011 from Greensboro, North Carolina on October 26, 2011:

This is just absolutely amazing, I never would've thought of this at all!

Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on October 26, 2011:

Thanks, chefsref & AEvans!

chefsref: Pulling sugar for glasslike sculptures needs to be hot, but for this, it should be cooled down to room temperature. It does require some elbow grease, but not a ton.

AEvans: From start to finish, I would say about an hour, maybe a bit longer if it takes time for your reduced corn syrup to cool to room temp. Have fun!

Julianna from SomeWhere Out There on October 26, 2011:

I am going to try this recipe for Halloween! I never knew you could create (hair) out of sugar and make it edible. I wonder how long this will take? mmmm... My son and I should enjoy this! :D

Lee Raynor from Citra Florida on October 26, 2011:

Cool Hub

We used to work with pulled sugar in chef school but I didn't even know you could do it with glucose. Pulled sugar has to be worked quite hot but it appears that the corn syrup was allowed to cool, yes?

Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on October 26, 2011:

Thanks, Robin & J.S.!

Robin: I think to stiffen it, all you have to do is give it some time to dry out (if you live in a dry environment). Maybe putting it in the oven at a very low temperature (like 100F) for a while?

JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on October 26, 2011:

Everything about this Hub is very cool. The music, video, recipe and photos. Awesome job. I will vote up and bookmark as well as share! Awesome!

JSMatthew~

Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on October 26, 2011:

That video was amazing! It looks like a lot of work, but worth it for the right cupcake or cake. I could just see it on a cake with ribbons to look like pigtails! Do you think you could add starch to stiffen it?

Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on October 26, 2011:

Thank you so much, K9! I did a lot of research over the weekend on this technique, and it is indeed very similar to the kind used to make hand-pulled noodles. The stuff looks unsettlingly hairlike, but it does taste sweet. The real masters, of course, make the entire process look effortless and they turn out amazing, untangled "hair." Thanks for stopping by - shalom and a HubBearHug back! ;)

India Arnold from Northern, California on October 26, 2011:

What a perfect hub! LOVED the video, and found the music quite soothing. The technique you use to make the edible candy hair made me think of Chinese noodle making, but with a sweet "twist." Who knew I would be looking forward to finding hair in my next dessert!? This should be hub of the day, as the video and layout are a magic combination. Quite Impressive my friend, a tweeting I shall go!

Shalom and HubHugs of course!

K9

Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on October 26, 2011:

Thank you so much, everyone! Yes, it was a strenuous process, but still a fun and fascinating one.

stylezink: I think you could store this for a while with a generous sprinkling of cornstarch, in a sealed container, and stored where the temperature is cool and constant. When you want to use it, you just have to give it a good shake to get rid of the excess cornstarch.

stylezink from Atlanta, GA. on October 26, 2011:

This is so interesting. That was a cool video too showing the process. I always like when recipes have videos so you can see exactly what is going on. My experience with boiling corn syrup and water has been a disaster. I see the importance of a candy thermometer now. How would I store this? Does it keep long?

Great hub & very cool recipe! Thanks for sharing this idea!

Karen N from United States on October 26, 2011:

That is so cool! But it really looks like a lot of work.

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on October 26, 2011:

My hands are tired just from watching the video! What a fascinating process.

Carolyn Sands from Hollywood Florida on October 25, 2011:

Gee, this is a fun recipe. Thanks for sharing.

LindaSmith1 from USA on October 25, 2011:

Forget sharing with blog this. Crap, I just added your hub widget to my blog. I don't know where you find these recipes, but keep it up.

Jason Menayan (author) from San Francisco on October 25, 2011:

Haha, thanks! It's called "Lotus" for the first 6 minutes or so, and then "Shogun" for the final segment. (All from iMovie)

Edward Zhang from Bay Area, CA on October 25, 2011:

I'm totally digging the music in your video!