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?