Step by step recipe:
- 5 min.You will also need a sugar thermometer ( up to 200°C or 392°F) or even better, an electronic thermometer.
Pour water, a few lemon juice (or vinegar) drops, and sugar into a pan.
The exact volume of water doesn't matter, because sugar starts to cook only when all the water is evaporated. So it's not necessary to use very much water.
- 10 min.Put the pan on high heat with thermometer in, and bring to the boil.
You will notice that for quite a long time, the temperature will stay around 100°C or 212°F, that will be the case as long as there is still any water remaining with sugar.
- For the following stages, you will probably see some impurities coming out of the sugar that will stick round the sides of the pan.
- As they heat they will eventually burn and might add a bitter taste to the sugar. You can remove them with a brush dipped in clean cold water.
- 5 min.Stage 1: 106°C or 223°F, sugar is cooked to "thread" stage (used for some jams for example).
- 3 min.Stage 2: 110°C or 230°F, sugar is cooked to "pearl or soufflé" stage (used for other jams and blackcurrant liqueur for example).
- 3 min.Stage 3: 118°C or 244°F, sugar is cooked to "soft ball" stage.
- 3 min.Stage 4: 125°C or 257°F, sugar is cooked to "hard ball" stage, (used for Italian meringue for example).
- 3 min.Stage 5: 135°C or 275°F, sugar is cooked to "soft crack" stage (it sticks to your teeth).
- 3 min.Stage 6: 140°C or 284°F, sugar is cooked to "crack" stage (no longer sticky and it snaps).
- 3 min.Stage 7: 155°C or 311°F, sugar is cooked "hard crack" stage (it snaps like glass).
- 3 min.Stage 8: 160°C or 320°F, sugar is now "light caramel" (straw-coloured).
- 2 min.Stage 9 (and final): 180°C or 356°F, light caramel becomes "dark caramel" (it's coloured). You should cool it and use it immediately, because it will continue cooking a little further, even off the heat.
Be careful: beyond 190°C or 374°F, caramel starts to smoke, burns and is spoiled.
Remarks:Cooking sugar is a delicate operation due to the high temperature, working with caramel at 180°C or 356°F can be very very dangerous. This why this is one of the only recipes on the site that you should make without any children around you.
In former times (not so long ago) patissiers had no thermometer, so to know the temperature of the sugar they dipped two fingers in water then in the cooking sugar, and then by touching their fingers together then releasing, they could tell by the behaviour of the sugar what stage it was at: thread, soft ball, hard ball, etc. That's the origin of the strange names of the stages.
Lemon juice drops are there to prevent sugar from brutal not wanted crystallization. I thougt it was a legend, so I don't put in, until it really happen to me when I was preparing a red sugar :
Pretty, but not usable...