As sugar melts and gets hotter its chemical structure changes, with each stage used for a specific sweet, caramel or dessert. Master these nine stages and your caramel will turn out perfectly every time.
Take a heavy-based, clean, dry pan and cover the base evenly with a layer of caster sugar. Place on a medium heat to begin melting the sugar.
Thread stage – 110–112C.
At this stage, the sugar dissolves without colour. When you lift out a spoon, threads of syrup will trail. This can be used for sweet sauces and sugar syrups.
Soft ball – 112–115C.
Drop a small amount into a bowl of iced water and it will form a soft ball when rolled between the fingers. This stage is used for fudge and fondant.
Firm ball – 116–121C.
Drop a small amount into a bowl of iced water – it forms a firm ball when rolled between the fingers. This stage is used for marshmallows and Italian meringue.
Hard ball – 121–130C.
Drop into a bowl of iced water, and forms a hard mouldable ball when rolled between fingers. This stage is used for harder chewy sweets, nougat and some moulded sweets.
Soft crack – 132–143C.
Drop a spoonful onto a plate – it solidifies but is soft enough to mould. This can be used for hard nougat and chewy toffees.
Hard crack – 146-154C.
This is the fun stage; it solidifies instantly and is brittle when dropped onto a plate. Take a fork and extract slowly and the threads will instantly harden and set – the start of your spun-sugar adventures. Candy floss and hard toffees can be made from this.
Light caramel – 160C.
These tests utilise the eye and nose as much as the temperature. At 160C the sugar starts to smoke. With its subtle flavour that blends, this stage is good for a praline, or a crème brûlée topping.
Dark caramel – 171C.
This is where the smoky, seductive flavours are; it has a rich, deep aroma. Past this point it would smell acrid. Use for praline, a deep-flavoured sauce, or brittle.
Now try these…
Coconut penny toffees
These little toffees are quick and easy to make, set almost immediately and will last for up to 10 days. If you want to turn them into lollipops, have some small lollipop sticks at the ready.
Ingredients (Makes 16)
- 250g caster sugar
- 1 tbsp glucose
- 50g butter, cubed
- 25g unsweetened desiccated coconut, lightly toasted
- Line a baking sheet with baking paper and have it standing by alongside a large basin of iced water.
- Put the sugar and glucose in a medium-sized heavy-based pan with 2 tablespoons of water. Pop in a sugar thermometer and heat gently over a medium heat, until the sugar has melted and begins to caramelise.
- Once it reaches 150C, remove from the heat and quickly set it in the basin of iced water to halt the process. Immediately remove and whisk in the butter until incorporated. If it begins to separate, place back on the heat and continue to whisk and emulsify.
- Using 2 tablespoons, drop spoonfuls of the toffee onto the lined tray. Sprinkle immediately with the desiccated coconut. To make lollipops, press the sticks into the toffee now, almost all the way across the discs, so that they hold in place.
- Set aside to cool and harden. Store between sheets of greaseproof paper or cellaphone in a sealed container and eat within 10 days.
Per serving 98 cals, 3.6g fat (2.4g sat fats), 0.1g protein, 17.3g carbs, 16.9g sugars
Recipe by Cara Hobday, photography by Laura Edwards. Click here to save 35% on an annual subscription to Jamie magazine, wherever you are in the world.