Wooden sugar molds have begun to appear for sale as candle holders on home décor websites. But long before they graced living rooms and held votives, these hardworking molds had an impressive confectionery history.
Sugar molds generally take the form of a long, solid block with a series of depressions into which raw sugar cane syrup could be poured. Once it dried, the syrup formed raw brown sugar cones, which was how sugar was once sold to consumers. The cones were easy to transport and store, and more refined sugar processing methods had not yet been developed.
Beginning in medieval times with the beginnings of the sugar cane trade, and continuing through the 19th century, sugar was sold almost solely in cone or loaf form. Not until about the 1820s was the term "granulated sugar" first used, transforming the way buyers and cooks would use sugar. Until then, sugar had to be chipped off from the cone and then sifted until the desired level of fineness was achieved. Molded brown sugar can still be bought in Mexico, as can the wooden molds. The brown sugar cones are also still part of the tequila-making process.
Traditional sugar molds were generally made of wood or pottery. The fancier versions could have small decorations to create a pattern on the finished loaf, but most just simple shapes were made. Today, a smaller mold is still used in the northeastern part of the U.S. to make maple sugar candy. Those molds are usually made of plastic.
Sugar cone molds came in a wide range of sizes. One cone, estimated to be from the 15th century, measured 14 inches in diameter and 3 feet high, and pieces had to be broken off with special iron sugar cutters. Later weights of molded sugar ranged from 5 to 35 pounds, with the finest products weighing in at 3 or 4 pounds.
Sugar Molds Today
Though sugar molds are still used for their original purpose in Mexico, many are now sold as collectibles or candle holders. Molds of all shapes, sizes and values are available for sale online. The finest molds with decorations are said to be quite rare. Most photographs of sugar molds show them holding votive candles, and reproductions of the original rustic wooden molds can be purchased for decorative purposes.