Recently at work a conversation about crack lead to a discussion of sugar stages. So what are sugar stages you ask? Anyone who owns a candy thermometer has probably seen, in addition to temperatures, words like thread and hard crack written on its face. Those words correspond to the stages that sugar goes through as it is heated. Continue on for more info on the sugar stages and find out how the firm ball stage leads to divinity.
When making candy the texture of the finished product greatly depends on the sugar concentration. As syrup is heated it starts to boil and thus water begins to evaporate. As the water evaporates the sugar concentration starts to rise and also raises the boiling point. This means that at a given temperature we have a fairly accurate measure of the concentration of sugar. However, as crazy as this may sound, there was a time when candy makers either did not have thermometers or they couldn’t afford them. Given the option of either not making candy or waiting until a solution was invented, some bright confectionary minds discovered that sugar concentration could be determined by dropping the heated syrup into cold water. This gives us what we now know as the sugar stages. The sugar stages are not a bad thing to know since not all thermometers are accurate. There may also be a time when you want to make candy and don’t have one. They are as follows.
Thread Stage – 230° F-235° F – 80% Sugar Concentration
At this stage there is quite a bit of water left and syrup dropped into cold water will form a liquid thread that will not form a ball. Not really good for candy but nice on other desserts.
Soft-Ball Stage – 235° F-240° F – 85% Sugar Concentration
At this stage the syrup dropped in cold water will form a soft pliable ball. If removed from the water it will flatten out and not hold its shape. This stage is where fudge is made.
Firm-Ball Stage – 240° F-250° F – 87% Sugar Concentration
At this stage the syrup dropped in cold water will form a firm ball (imagine that). If removed from the water it will hold its shape but can still be flattened if pressure is exerted. This is the stage that gives us caramel candy.
Hard-Ball Stage – 250° F-265° F – 92% Sugar Concentration
Now we are getting up there! At this stage the syrup dropped in cold water will form a hard ball. If removed from the water it will hold its shape and prove to be difficult to flatten even with pressure. This is the stage that gives us Divinity (at least my version), recipe to follow!
Soft-Crack Stage – 270° F-290° F – 95% Sugar Concentration
Very little water left and the syrup dropped in cold water will form solid thread. When removed from the water the thread will be flexible and will give slightly before breaking. This stage gives us butterscotch.
Hard-Crack Stage – 300° F-310° F – 99% Sugar Concentration
Almost no water left and the syrup dropped in cold water will form hard thread. When removed from water they will break when bent. This stage is where lollipops come from (and you thought it was the bank).
This is where I will end my discussion on sugar stages. Above 310° F and you are at 100% sugar concentration. While this caramelized sugar has uses in many desserts it doesn’t apply to candy. Following is the recipe that I use for making Divinity but before I give it there is a warning! Working with and heating sugar can be dangerous. Hot syrup is the kitchen equivalent of Napalm. Because of its sticky nature hot sugar is almost impossible to quick rub or rinse off your skin. As a result it is going to continue to burn until it cools enough to be removed usually leaving a blister. So nudists please cover yourself if you are going for Divinity.
2 cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
½ cup water
2 egg whites
1tsp pure vanilla
1 cup your favourite chopped nuts (see Slap Chop)
Starting with a heavy sauce pan over medium-high heat, stir together the sugar, corn syrup and water. Continue to stir the syrup stopping once the sugar has dissolved. Cook the syrup until your candy thermometer reads 250° F or you have reached the hard-ball stage.
While your syrup is cooking, add the 2 egg whites to the bowl of your stand mixer and beat until stiff peaks form. Once your sugar has reached 250° F carefully pour the syrup into the stiff egg white with the mixer on low. Once all the sugar has been poured in add the vanilla and turn the mixer to high and beat until the mixture holds its shape (about 5 minutes). During the last 30 seconds or so add your chopped nuts.
Now, most Divinity eaters will tell you to take 2 spoons and form little clouds that look like the top of a soft serve ice cream cone. If you decide to go that route use parchment paper to keep them from sticking to the surface you scoop them on. If at any time the mixture becomes too stiff you can work a little warm water into the mixture to soften things back up. I however just lube up an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish with cooking spray and pour the mixture into the dish using a spatula to help it take its shape. After it cools I cut them into squares like brownies. Either way all you need to do is let them cool completely and eat. Enjoy.