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The Sweet Science Behind Candy Textures

Despite its commonplace appearance, sugar is a lot more complex than you might initially think. Depending on the conditions, sugar can create any number of candy textures, from the chewiness of caramel to the fluffy consistency of a marshmallow. 

The secret behind candy making lies in the skill of manipulating the inherent size and shape of a sugar crystal — more formally known as sucrose. As the compound is heated to different temperatures, it will move through several candy stages until the desired effect is achieved. 

Thread Stage 

Of all the candy temperature stages, one of the first is called the thread stage. This consistency is achieved by heating the sugar syrup to a range of 223℉-234℉. This temperature is considered relatively low in the world of sugar science, allowing for the syrup to have a liquid form, easily dripping off of a spoon. When placed in cold water, the candy texture will transform into thin threads.

Because of its liquidity, this type of sugar is utilized for simple syrups and various candied fruit recipes. 

Soft Ball 

The soft ball stage is reached at a range of 235℉-240℉. Here, the candy texture is capable of retaining its overall shape in colder water unless removed, where it will flatten in your hand.

It is commonly used for sweets such as loose caramels, fondants, or fudge.

Firm Ball 

By the time sugar reaches 245℉-250℉, it will still form a ball in ice water — but this time, it will retain this shape when removed. At the same time, the resulting mixture will be quite malleable with little pressure required.

Treats like marshmallows, toffees, soft caramels, and taffies can all be made here. 

Hard Ball 

Sugar mixtures reach the hard ball stage at 250℉-264℉. At this point, the candy texture will retain its basic shape even when under compression, but you’ll notice the sugar feels very sticky. 

The hard ball stage is used to craft different types of chewy caramels, nougats, and rock candies.  

Soft Crack 

At 270℉-290℉, you’ve officially entered the soft crack stage. In cold water, the sugar concoction will form longer threads that are both stretchy and sticky. The mixture can be bent to a certain degree before cracking, with a significantly thicker consistency.

Many taffies, nougats, butterscotches, and toffees are made with this candy texture. 

Hard Crack 

Sugar reaches the hard crack stage at around 298℉-310℉. As the name implies, this compound creates brittle threads that can be snapped with minimal effort. 

By now, it is possible to create hard candies, brittles, lollipops, and tougher toffees.


Caramelization is the highest temperature reached in the candy making process, sitting at a whopping 320℉ and above. Here, the candy texture will change into shades of gold and amber as nearly all the water has evaporated. One must be extremely careful at this stage to ensure the mixture doesn’t burn completely. 

Common treats utilizing caramelization include brittles and pralines (a combination of caramelized sugar and roasted nuts). 

Caramel Vs. Toffee: What’s the difference? 

Caramel and toffee can sometimes look very much alike, but there is a key difference between these two delectable sweets. Caramel is crafted from a mixture of sugar and water to reach a drizzle consistency. A dairy product may be used as well, such as cream or milk.

On the other hand, toffee is made from caramelized sugar or molasses. It is then combined with butter and flour for a tougher texture. If you taste test both candies, you might find they have a similar flavor — and this is because sugar is the main ingredient for each!  

Sweeten the Deal with Stefanelli’s! 

There’s no sugarcoating it! We’ve been using the same traditional methods of candy making passed down for generations.

Every batch is handmade in aged copper kettles, long favored for their superior temperature control —and as we’ve seen, the ideal candy texture can be a matter of degrees!  Explore our collections today and taste the difference.