TIPS ON SUCCESSFULLY MELTING SUGAR:
- First and foremost: be patient. Don’t rush the sugar. Give it time to melt. Don’t be in a hurry to get it to temperature. It will happen and the slower the better.
- Pour sugar into a pan with a cup of hot water, stir and cook until crystals dissolve and the water looks clear (cloudy water means there are crystals present)
- Cover the pan to allow steam for a few minutes to melt crystals from the side of the pan
- Remove the lid and wash down any sugar crystals that have formed on the sides of the pan with warm water and a heat-proof pastry brush. Ensure there are no crystals sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Then cook, undisturbed, to the desired temperature.
- Check the bubbles, too. If they are cloudy, you have crystals. If they are clear, you are good-to-go.
- Test your candy thermometer. Water boils at 212°F at sea level, and around 200° in Denver.
- Learn to test your sugar in cold water for the various phases – thread to hard ball – as a backup to your thermometer.
According to the Joy of Cooking: “for each increase of 500 feet above sea level, cook candy syrups 1º lower”. So, for example, if a recipe calls for cooking sugar to 234ºF at sea level, and here we are in Denver at an altitude of 5280, then cook to 224ºF. But the best road to success is testing the cooked sugar in ice water.
TABLE OF SUGAR TEMPERATURES (based on sea level temperatures)
THREAD: begins at 230º
SOFTBALL: begins at 234º
FIRM BALL: begins at 244º
HARD BALL: begins at 250º
SOFT CRACK: begins at 270º
HARD CRACK: begins at 300º
CARAMELIZED SUGAR: 310º — 338º
I recommend anyone considering redesigning their kitchen to use marble or granite countertops. They can tolerate any temperature of pot or pan. In culinary school, we often would put a pot of cooking sugar directly onto the white Carrera marble to arrest the cooking processing.