Candy-Making Basics: The Stages of Cooked Sugar

When making candy, we most often just follow the temperatures in the recipe and pay little attention to the actual stage. But it can be interesting to look at the stages side-by-side and realize what can be made with each one. Do you know soft ball from hard crack?! See for yourself below the jump!

As we learned the other week when we looked at how sugar cooks, the longer it's on the heat, the more the sugar molecules break down and recombine. Sugar syrup starts out the color and consistency of water and then slowly darkens as it cooks, becoming increasingly brittle and unmalleable. The flavor also progresses from simply "sweet" to bitter the longer the sugar is cooked.

Here are the primary stages of cooked sugar and what can be made at each point:

Soft ball, 234° - 239°
Used for: mousseline buttercream, italian meringue, fondant, and fudge

Firm ball, 248° - 250°
Used for: caramel candy

Hard ball, 250° - 268°
At this point, the sugar is no longer malleable
Used for: marshmallows

Soft crack, 270° - 290°
Used for: bendable threads and taffy

Hard crack, 300° - 320°
Used for: lollipops and the "glass" in gingerbread houses

Caramel, 320° and up
Used for: glazes and pralines

Anyone feeling inspired to do some candy-making this holiday season?

Related: Candy-Making Basics: How to Work with Sugar

(Image: Flickr member anaulin licensed under Creative Commons)

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