You don't need a candy thermometer to make your favorite sweets. In fact, all you need is this handy guide and a bowl of cold water.
The so-called "cold-water method" is an easy way to estimate the temperature of your candy: Generations of cooks and candy makers have relied on this trick to make all types of candies, from fudge to toffee.
Lay out a spoon and a bowl of cold water beside your pot of boiling sugar. Every few minutes, drop a small spoonful of syrup into the cold water. Let the candy cool for a second, then form it into a ball with your hand. Compare the shape and texture of the candy to the chart below to determine the approximate temperature of the syrup. Once the candy reaches the desired stage (for example, the hard-ball stage for marshmallows), take the pot off the heat and proceed with the recipe.
Example: According to a fudge recipe, your boiling sugar must reach 236 F, the soft-ball stage. Once the sugar syrup has come to a boil, you drop a spoonful of syrup into the cold water—you repeat this process every three or four minutes. At first, the sugar syrup is stringy and shapeless, but after several tests, it starts to hold its shape. You form the sixth spoonful into a soft ball, which tells you that your syrup has reached 236 F. You take it off the heat.
This method requires practice and caution, but it's a great technique to have in your arsenal.
Check out the illustrated guide to candy temperature testing for some helpful pictures of syrup at each stage.
Candy Temperature Chart
|Thread||223-235 F||The syrup drips from a spoon and forms thin threads in water.||Glacé and candied fruits|
|Soft ball||235-245 F||The syrup easily forms a ball while in the cold water but flattens once removed.||Fudge and fondant|
|Firm ball||245-250 F||The syrup is formed into a stable ball but loses its round shape once pressed.||Caramel candies|
|Hard ball||250-266 F||The syrup holds its ball shape when pressed but remains sticky.||Divinity and marshmallows|
|Soft crack||270-290 F||The syrup will form firm but pliable threads.||Nougat and taffy.|
|Hard crack||300-310 F||The syrup forms brittle threads and easily cracks and snaps.||Brittles and lollipops|
|Caramel||320-350 F||The sugar syrup will turn golden brown and have a fragrant caramel smell.||Caramel syrup, Pralines|
Note: Please exercise caution when working with candy, since molten sugar burns are particularly dangerous. Pay careful attention to your boiling syrup and don't let any jewelry or hair near the pot.