If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can still make candy from sugar syrups by using the cold-water method. During the cooking stage, remove your pan from the heat and drop a small spoonful of sugar syrup into a bowl of very cold water. Immerse your hand in the cold water, try to form the sugar into a ball, and bring it out of the water. By examining the shape and texture of the resulting candy blob, you can determine the approximate temperature of your sugar. This method takes a little practice, and is not as exact as a candy thermometer, but it will do in a pinch!
A quick word of caution: Please be careful when working with hot sugar, especially if you decide to use the cold-water method of temperature testing. Sugar burns are nasty. Hot sugar is almost impossible to quick rub or rinse off the skin, and thus continues burning long after it comes into contact with your skin. Please don't allow yourself to be sloppy or distracted when working with hot sugar, and avoid dangling hair, jewelry, or clothing over the work area.
Now that you've been properly warned, here is a Candy Temperature reference table. Also check out the illustrated guide to candy temperature testing.
Candy Temperature Chart
|Thread||223-235* F||The syrup drips from a spoon, 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, 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 will crack if you try to mold it||Brittles and lollipops|
|Caramel||320-350* F||The sugar syrup will turn golden at this stage||Pralines|