Sugar Stages Listed by Temperatures

Compiled by Elise Fleming (Alys Katharine, Countess, OL, OP)

Period confectioners knew by long practice just what a desired sugar syrup looked like and how it acted. Lacking a modern apprenticeship, today's cooks with an interest in historical cookery need to go by hints in old books or suggestions by modern chefs. In an attempt to compile a useful list for would-be modern, hobbyist confectioners, here is what I have learned.

These are some of the "degrees" of sugar with corresponding temperatures, as well as documentation from period sources. Please note that cooks often tested the "doneness" with their hands. A few modern cookbooks still give hints on how to accomplish this feat. The candy maker dips the thumb and forefinger into cold or ice water, then into the hot syrup, and then back into the cold water. Or, the syrup can be raised out of the pot by a spoon so the cook can dip in his/her fingers. The syrup can also be dropped onto a plate and then picked up by the fingers since it cools slightly when it hits the plate. A candy thermometer is certainly safer today.

Ivan Day is a noted British cookery researcher, scholar, writer as well as a professional cook and confectioner... In private correspondence, he offered a list of "the various terms of sugar boiling, as used from the 16th to the 19th century, giving their approximate temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit.". He continued, "It is only intended as a rough guide. There would have been considerable overlap between the various degrees, as quality of sugar, water purity and atmospheric humidity would have all had an influence on the behaviour of the syrup." His table has been incorporated into the material below.

While a candy thermometer may be safer on fingers, it may not give you the results you want if you rely solely on the thermometer and not on the description of the stage – and experience! Practice is important to ultimate success!

180-200°F [82.2-93.3°C] – Ivan Day gives this as "le petit lissé" – smooth, sleeked, full syrup, small thread. According to Ivan, this is where comfit syrup should be. When the finger and thumb pull apart the drop of syrup, there should be a small thread that begins to connect the two fingers and then quickly drops back. One recipe says that the syrup should run "like turpentine".

212°F [100°C] - Larousse Gastronomique calls this "coated"; used for fruits in syrup.

214°F. [101.1°C.] – Larousse Gastronimique says "Small thread" or "small gloss"; short threads form between fingers; used for almond paste.

The Thread, also known as "lisse" is described as a short, thin thread which appears when the sugar is drawn out between fingers and thumb. After cooking a few seconds more, the thread can be drawn out to double its length without snapping. Or, one can drop it from a spoon to spin a thread. The Joy of Cooking gives the temperature of Thread as 230°F- 234°F [110-112.2°C].

215-217°F [102.7-105°C] – Larousse Gastronomique calls this "Large thread" or "large gloss". Karen Hess (Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery) calls 215°F [102.7°C] "manus christi height," Recipe S5. (See Ivan Day, below.)

217-221°F. [102.7-105°C] – Larousse Gastronomique calls this the "Small pearl". Ivan Day gives 220°F [104.4°C] as "manus Christi" height or "great thread" (le grand lissé).

The Pearl: Sugar will form small pearl-like round bubbles. A pinch of syrup can be drawn out between thumb and forefinger without breaking. (Note the similarity of description above as is Hess's suggested temperature.) At least one cooking authority says that this is "the proper degree for most kinds of candy making." Hess suggests 220°F, [104.4°C] "candy height," Recipe S5. The Ladies Cabinet, 1655, Recipe 95 states, "...(to see when it is enough) it will stand on a stiffe purle when you drop some of it upon a Plate of silver..."

224-228°F [106.6-108.8°C] – Larousse Gastronomique calls this the "Large pearl" or "soufflé" and describes it as a thread between fingers which may reach 3/4 inch; if it drops back forming a twisted thread it is described as "in a pigtail". Ivan Day gives 223°F [106.1°C] as "le petit perlé – little pearl, pearled" and "le grand perlé – great pearl" as 225°F [107.2°C]. He gives "la petite queue de cochon – the little pig's tail" as 227°F [108.3°C] and "la grande queue de cochon – the great pig's tail" as 229°F [109.4°C].

The Souffle or Blow and The Plume or Feather: (Some authorities consider these as two different stages. Others combine these into one.) Dip a spoon with holes into the syrup and hit it sharply on the edge of the pan. Blow through the holes. If bubbles form on the opposite side one has reached the "blow." If, when one dips the spoon and shakes it to release some of the liquid, the syrup flies in flakes or hangs in strings, it is called the "feather." Hess identifies the temperature as 232°F [111.1°C], Recipe S6, "grand souffle or feather." She states that the next stage is caramel and was considered to be "burnt."

Ivan Day gives 230-235°F [110-112.7°C] for "au soufflé or a rozat – blown, bloom, candy height, blown away". He identifies "le petit plume – small feathers, little feather" as 240°F [115.5°C] and "le grand plume – large feather, casting height" as 245°F [118.3°C]. An online source calls 230-238°F [110-114.4°C] "thread". (I do not have the name of the source. The information was given to me without citation.)

241-244°F [116.1-117.7°C] – Larousse Gastronomique calls this "Small or "soft ball".

The Ball or "Boulet": Drop a small amount into cold water. If you can roll it between your fingers and thumb to form a small, soft (but not sticky) ball you have reached the "soft ball" stage. The Joy of Cooking gives the temperature as 238°F [114.4°C]. At 244° [117.7°C] it can be rolled up and will hold its shape, the "firm ball" stage. At 248°F [120°C] the ball will be somewhat malleable but not yet rigid, the "hard ball" stage. The Ladies Cabinet says, "boil it till it will roul between your finger and your thumb," Recipe 40. In Recipe 60 The Ladies Cabinet again notes, "boil it til it roule between your finger and your thumb, then cast it into your standing Moulds..."

Ivan Day lists 247°F [119.4°C] as "le petit boulet – little ball, small bullet, soft ball". The online source called 238-245°F [114.4-118.3°C] the "soft ball" stage.

250-255°F [121.1-123.8°C] – Larousse Gastronomique calls this "Large" or "hard ball". Ivan Day lists 250°F [121.1°C] as "le gros boulet – great ball, new ball, fondant". The online source called 245-265°F [118.3-129.4°C] - the "hard ball" stage.

Beyond these stages of syrup modern cookbooks list the "crack" or "snap" stage at 270°-300°F [132.2-148.8°C]. I have not yet seen any period designations for this temperature. As Hess hinted at in Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, stages beyond 232°F [111.1°C] were considered unusable for candymaking. The final modern stage is "caramel" which occurs at 310°-338°F [154.4-170]. The sugar begins to brown quickly, turn to black, and give off a burnt odor.

265-275°F [129.4-135°C] – Larousse Gastronomique calls this "Light, small or soft crack". Ivan Day lists 280-290°F [137.7-143.3°C] as "petit cassé – small crack, spinning height"; 312°F [155.5°C] as "grand cassé – broken, cracked, crackled, snap, large crack"; and 350°F [176.6°C] as "le caramel or à brulé – caramel, burnt". The online source called 280-305°F [137.7-151.6°C] the "small crack", defining it as when the "sugar mixture will separate into threads that will snap cleanly.

295-300°F [146.1-148.8°C] – Larousse Gastronomique calls this "Hard crack". See below for a different opinion.

302-325°F [150-162.7°C] - Larousse Gastronomique says this is "Light caramel". The online source listed 305-325°F [151.6-162.7°C] as "hard crack" when "the sugar mixture will separate into threads which are brittle and hard". Ivan Day calls 312°F [155.5°C] the "grand cassé" and lists other names as "broken, cracked, crackled, snap, large crack"

326-338°F [163.3-170°C] – Larousse Gastronomique says this is "Brown or dark caramel". The online source says that 345°F [173.8°C] is "caramel" when the syrup "becomes golden in color".

350°F[176.6°C] – Ivan Day calls this "Le caramel or à brulé" along with "caramel, carmel [a spelling of the mispronounced word!], carmeled [same spelling of a mispronunciation], burnt."


Ivan Day, personal correspondence

Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., New York, 1977

Larousse Gastronomique, edited by Jenifer Harvey Lang, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1990

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