I tried several times to cook the glaze for a strawberry glaze pie and the sugar, water, and cornstarch would thicken but then the sugar would turn grainy. I have also tried to boil water, sugar, and butter to make a carmel type sauce to pour over corn curls and it thickens and seems to be fine but then turns grainy right after I take it off the stove.


It sounds like your syrups are crystallizing on you.

For a smooth glaze or caramel, you want tiny little sugar crystals. When you heat your sugar and water mixture, after a certain temperature the water becomes super-saturated with the sugar.

After this super-saturation point, things get dicey. If the solution is disturbed--say by stirring, or an undissolved sugar crystal or other foreign particle getting into the solution--the sugar can rapidly come out of solution and form big crystals. This could be why your confections are grainy.

There are a lot of resources online that have the science behind it and suggestions on preventing it (example, example, example). To summarize a few:

  • Always use a clean pot or pan.
  • Make sure the sugar is completely dissolved before it comes to a boil
  • Dip a pastry brush in water to wash away any sugar that sticks to the side of the pot or pan as the sugar heats.
  • Combine the sugar with a little water (it should have the consistency of wet sand) before cooking.
  • Avoid stirring the sugar when it comes to a simmer.
  • Cover the pan loosely with a lid or baking sheet.
  • Add a little acid (such as a touch of lemon juice) or corn syrup to the sugar-water mixture before cooking
  • 1
    I second the corn syrup tip. It can be a life saver when doing any work with sugar syrups. – Brendan Dec 6 '12 at 20:05
  • I've not heard of using acid in sugar work. I'm guessing it breaks some of the glucose into sucrose and fructose. – Chris Dec 6 '12 at 20:24
  • Downvoter mind commenting so we can improve the answer? – JoeFish Dec 18 '12 at 0:40
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    I've been doing some candy work for Christmas, and both recipes I used called for acid (cream of tarter). So my guess was correct. – Chris Dec 20 '12 at 19:34
  • I just noticed in my history that apparently I was the downvoter...but I have no memory of it, and looking at this now I have no idea why I thought this was objectionable. Maybe a slip of the mouse, or maybe I was drunk. If you'd like to edit the question, I'd be happy to remove my downvote. – Mike G Feb 6 '13 at 20:04

When you add milk to the cooked brown sugar and butter mixture, add SLOWLY while stirring constantly. Adding cold milk too suddenly causes the sugar to crystallize. A simple solution. This is what works for me always!

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