Cooking School

How sugar turns into candy

Author: Canadian Living

Cooking School

How sugar turns into candy

Heating sugar to different temperatures will change sugar from fine grains -  to sticky, gooey liquid - to a hard solid. When the sugar boils, the water evaporates, making the sugar concentrated. Stopping the boiling at different concentrations of sugar is what makes different types of candy. You can test if the sugar is ready for candy-making by using a thermometer or by dropping a little of the hot syrup into a glass of cold water. In cooking, each temperature level is given a name.

Thread Stage: 230ËšF to 235ËšF
Sugar concentration: 80%


At this stage there is still a lot of water in the sugar syrup. When you drop it into cold water, if forms a liquid thread that will not ball up.

  • Not candy yet, but add flavour to it and it makes good syrup for ice cream!

Recipe to try: Sugar Syrup

Page 1 of 5 -- Discover when sugar syrup reaches the soft-ball stage on page 2
Soft-Ball Stage: 235ËšF to 240ËšF
Sugar concentration: 85%


At this stage there is less water. When you drop it into cold water it will form a soft, flexible ball, as seen in the picture on the left. When you take the ball our of the water, it will flatten in a few moments.

  • Soft-ball sugar is used to make fudge, pralines and fondant.

Recipe to try: Chocolate Marshmallow Fudge

Firm-Ball Stage: 245ËšF to 250ËšF
Sugar concentration: 87%

Drop this syrup in cold water and it will form a firm ball that does not flatten out when you take it out of the water. But it is still soft enough to flatten out if you squeeze it between your fingers.

  • Firm-ball sugar is used to make caramels.

Recipe to try: Salted Caramels

Page 2 of 5 -- Learn how to tell when sugar syrup reaches the soft-ball stage on page 3
Hard-Ball Stage: 250ËšF to 265ËšF
Sugar concentration: 92%


Now the sugar content is high and when the syrup is dropped into cold water, it will form a hard ball. When you take the ball our of the water, it won't flatten out and it will be hard but you can still squish it into shapes with your fingers.

  • Hard-ball sugar is used to make nougat, marshmallows, gummies and rock candy.

Recipe to try: Frozen Cranberry Nougat with Cranberry Compote

Page 3 of 5 -- Learn more about sugar syrup's soft-crack stage on page 4
Soft-Crack Stage: 270ËšF to 290ËšF
Sugar concentration 95%

When the sugar begins to reach this stage, the bubbles of the boiling sugar become thicker and closer together. When you drop the syrup into cold water it turns into flexible threads. When you take the threads out of the water they will bend before they break.

  • Soft-crack sugar is used to make saltwater taffy and butterscotch.

Recipe to try: Pulled Molasses Taffy

Page 4 of 5 -- Know when your sugar syrup has reached the hard-crack stage with instructions on page 5
Hard-Crack Stage: 300ËšF to 310ËšF
Sugar concentration: 99%


This is the highest temperature the sugar will reach for candy. Now there is hardly any water left in the sugar. When you drop the syrup in cold water, it will form hard threads that break when you bend them.

  • Hard-crack sugar is used to make toffee, brittle, lollipops and candy apples.
Recipe to try: Caramel Apples

Note: The temperatures are for sea level. At higher altitudes, subtract 1ËšF from every listed temperature for each 500 feet above sea level.

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How sugar turns into candy

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