How to Make Edible Candy Hair for Cupcakes or Cakes
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.
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)
- 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.
- 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.)
- Boil the corn syrup until the temperature reaches about 260-265 F (128-130 C).
- Turn off the heat. The temperature might rise to 270 F (132 C) on its own, but that's OK.
- Let it cool down until the bubbles subside.
- Fill the large bowl with about a cup of corn starch. Alternatively, put it in a mound on a lipped baking sheet.
- Pour the reduced syrup (molten sugar) into the round container. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Push/pull the puck out of the container.
- 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.)
- 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."
- Twist the torus into a figure-8 and then fold the two halves into a double-roped circle.
- Dip the double-circle into the corn starch, making sure all of the surfaces are coated and no bare sugar is showing.
- Using your hands again, and by gently pulling, segment by segment, stretch the small double-circle into a large double-circle.
- Twist-and-fold (step #9) again, dip in corn starch (#10) again, and pull and stretch (#11) again.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.