Cooking sugar

Cooking sugar
Cooking sugar, which is one of the basics of patisserie and sweet-making, is a delicate operation in which sugar is heated from 100°C or 212°F to 180°C or 356°F. Here is some information on this tricky subject.

[Translator's note: the terms used below correspond to the French tradition, as often used by English-speaking chefs, but there are other stages and terms in other traditions. Best to use a thermometer, and be guided by temperature, as the English terms commonly used in domestic cooking cover less precise stages, broader temperature ranges, and so could lead to confusion.].
477K 154 2.6
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Last modified on: April 3rd 2019

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For 4 pieces, you will need:
  • 1 caster sugar 200 g caster sugar
  • 2 water 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 lemon juice 5 drops lemon juice
  • Total weight: 245 grams

Change these quantities to make: 2 pieces 4 pieces 8 pieces 12 pieces
How long does it take?
Time required for this recipe:
PreparationCookingStart to finish
5 min.38 min.43 min.
At what time:
  • When will I finish if I start the recipe at ... ?
    When should I start for the recipe to be ready at ... ?
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Step by step recipe

Stage 1 - 5 min.
Cooking sugar
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.

Stage 2 - 10 min.
Cooking sugar
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.

Stage 3
Cooking 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.

Stage 4
Cooking sugar
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.

Stage 5 - 5 min.
Cooking sugar
Stage 1: 106°C or 223°F, sugar is cooked to "thread" stage (used for some jams for example).

Stage 6 - 3 min.
Cooking sugar
Stage 2: 110°C or 230°F, sugar is cooked to "pearl or soufflé" stage (used for other jams and blackcurrant liqueur for example).

Stage 7 - 3 min.
Cooking sugar
Stage 3: 118°C or 244°F, sugar is cooked to "soft ball" stage (used for Italian meringue for example).

Stage 8 - 3 min.
Cooking sugar
Stage 4: 125°C or 257°F, sugar is cooked to "hard ball" stage.

Stage 9 - 3 min.
Cooking sugar
Stage 5: 135°C or 275°F, sugar is cooked to "soft crack" stage (it sticks to your teeth).

Stage 10 - 3 min.
Cooking sugar
Stage 6: 140°C or 284°F, sugar is cooked to "crack" stage (no longer sticky and it snaps).

Stage 11 - 3 min.
Cooking sugar
Stage 7: 155°C or 311°F, sugar is cooked "hard crack" stage (it snaps like glass).

Stage 12 - 3 min.
Cooking sugar
Stage 8: 160°C or 320°F, sugar is now "light caramel" (straw-coloured).

Stage 13 - 2 min.
Cooking sugar
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.
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 :

crystalized sugar

Pretty, but not usable...

Gaston Lenôtre.
Nutritional information
Whole recipe
Energetic valueProteins CarbohydratesFats
800 Kcal or 3,349 Kj0 gr200 gr0 gr
40 %0 %19 %0 %
Per 100 g
Energetic valueProteins CarbohydratesFats
327 Kcal or 1,369 Kj0 gr82 gr0 gr
16 %0 %8 %0 %
Per piece
Energetic valueProteins CarbohydratesFats
200 Kcal or 837 Kj0 gr50 gr0 gr
10 %0 %5 %0 %
% are calculated relative to a Recommended Dietary Intake or RDI of 2000 k-calories or 8400 k-joules by day for a woman (change to a man).
How much will it cost?
  • For 4 pieces : 0.16 €
  • Per piece : 0.04 €

Change currency:

Note: Be careful, these prices are only an estimate, you can consult the table of prices by ingredients used for this estimate.
This recipe uses (among others)
Caster sugarCaster sugar: You can get more informations, or check-out other recipes which use it, for example: Pear compote , Far Normandy-Brittany, Apple Strudel, Apricot and pistachio clafoutis, Invisible apple cake, ... All
Lemon juiceLemon juice: You can check-out other recipes which use it, like for example: Nanou's apple and almond cake, Lebanese Tabbouleh, Julia salad, Cretan salad, Lebanese-style chickpea salad, ... All
WaterWater: You can get more informations, or check-out other recipes which use it, for example: Turnip top soup, Turban of sole with langoustines, Bacon rolls, Ali Baba bread, Seeded loaf, ... All
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