Creamy chocolate fudge…soft caramels…and hard brittle toffee all have something in common. They all have to be cooked to the correct temperature to reach the consistency typical of each candy. The holiday season is the time I always make several kinds of candy, my specialty being soft caramels. My secret: I use the recipe for Aunt Emily’s Soft Caramels.
But there is another even more important secret: Follow the recipe and accurately measure the ingredients and temperatures during the cooking process.
5 Tips for Successful Candy Making
1. Measure all the candy recipe ingredients accurately.
2. If you use a candy thermometer either clamp the candy thermometer to the side of the pan or periodically place it into the syrup to measure the temperature. The bulb at the bottom of the thermometer should not touch the sides or bottom of the pan. If it does, temperatures will be inaccurate. Read the temperature on the thermometer at eye level.
3. Cook the candy precisely to the temperature or "stage" listed in the recipe. For example, when I make caramels the recipe directs to cook the candy mixture to 244°F, or firm ball stage on a candy thermometer. When the candy has reached the correct temperature, remove the thermometer and cool it before washing; otherwise it may break.
4. If you do not have a candy thermometer use the cold water test to determine if the candy mixture has reached the proper consistency for doneness. Here are the steps to tell the temperature without a candy thermometer:
-Drop a small amount of the candy mixture with a teaspoon into a small bowl of cold water. Each time you test the candy use a fresh bowl of cold water.
- If the candy forms a thin thread and does not "ball up", it is in the thread stage or 230° — 235°F. This stage is similar to sugar syrup rather than candy.
- If the candy forms a soft pliable ball, it is in the softball stage, about 235° — 240°F. This is the stage you would cook to if you are making fudge.
- If the candy forms a firm but not hard ball, it is in the firm ball stage. The temperature of this stage is between 242° — 248°F. Caramels are cooked to the firm ball stage.
- If the candy forms thick threads when it drips from the spoon, it is in the hard ball stage or 250° — 265°F. If you gather the candy mixture into a ball it will be a hard ball. Divinity or rock candy is typically cooked to this stage.
- If the candy forms flexible, but not brittle threads after dropping a small amount into cold water, the candy is at the soft crack stage or 270° — 290°F. Cook candies such as butterscotch to this temperature.
- Finally, if the candy forms hard, brittle strands that easily break, the candy is at the hard crack stage, between 300° — 310°F. Butter toffee and peanut brittle are examples of candies cooked to this temperature.
5. Before making your candy, test the thermometer’s accuracy by testing it in a pan of boiling water. At sea level the thermometer should read 212°F. If the thermometer reads above or below this number you will need to make the necessary adjustments when making your candy.
Check out our recipe collection Give a Gift of Candy for great candy recipes to make. The variety of candy recipes is endless, but this is a great place for you to begin finding excellent candy recipes to make. You will be successful making candy from fudge to toffee, even sugarplums, if you follow these tips. Candy always sweetens the holidays!