Learn How to Test Candy in Cold Water.  It’s really not hard and you won’t have to depend on a candy thermometer that might not always be accurate.

With the holidays soon approaching, I thought this would be a good time to discuss how to test candy in cold water, so if you’re someone who’s afraid to attempt the cold water test, I’ll show you just how easy it is.

Most cooked candy starts with a combination of sugar, milk, cream or water, and sometimes butter and corn syrup.  The mixture is then cooked to the consistency of what the finished candy should be once it has cooled to room temperature.  That’s why you test the candy in cold water.  Once you drop the hot candy into the cold water, the hot candy cools down while the cold water also rises to room temperature.   For example, if I’m making fudge I want it to be creamy, so I want to cook it to no more than a soft ball stage.  Once I drop the hot mixture into cold water, it should form a soft ball when I try to roll it between my fingers.  If it forms a hard ball, then I know I have overcooked it and my fudge will be hard instead of creamy.


The candy mixture in the picture above consists of sugar, corn syrup, and water.  This mixture gets boiled without stirring until it reaches a certain temperature.  It doesn’t contain milk or cream, so there’s no worry about it sticking or scorching if it’s not stirred…


The candy mixture in the picture above consists of milk and sugar.  It needs to be stirred constantly due to the addition of milk, or it will stick to the pan and probably scorch…

Now let’s talk about the different cooking stages of candy…

Why are there so many different cooking stages for making candy?  Well, if we didn’t have different cooking stages for different types of candy, you could end up making a batch of your favorite fudge and it could end up being as hard as a rock, instead of nice and creamy.  On the other hand, you could undercook your favorite hard rock candy recipe and end up with gooey candy.

Here is the least common candy stage used in making candy:

Thread – Must reach at least 230 degrees on a candy thermometer or form soft threads when dropped into cold water.  This stage is not frequently used in candy making.

Here are the most common candy stages used in making candy:

Soft Ball – Must reach at least 234 degrees on a candy thermometer or form a soft ball between your fingers that flattens when released.

Firm Ball – Must reach at least 242 degrees on a candy thermometer or form a firm ball that holds its shape unless you press it with your fingers.

Hard Ball – Must reach at least 250 degrees on a candy thermometer or form a hard ball that holds its shape but is still pliable.

Soft Crack – Must reach at least 270 degrees on a candy thermometer or form hard but not brittle threads when dropped into cold water.

Hard Crack – Must reach at least 300 degrees on a candy thermometer or form brittle threads, that will also break when dropped in cold water.

Okay, let me illustrate the stages for you in the pictures below…

No stage:  



Notice in the picture above, the candy doesn’t even begin to form anything.  It had only been boiling for less than a minute…




Notice in the pictures above that as the candy is dropped in the water, it forms a thread, but it doesn’t even form a soft ball… It goes flat.  I was making fudge here, and I needed a soft ball stage…

Soft Ball:


Notice in the picture above that the candy forms a soft ball but the longer it sets on my fingers the more it goes flat.  It’s now a soft ball, which is what I needed here, because I was making fudge…

Hard Ball:



In the picture above, I was making my homemade Modjeskas candy, a homemade caramel, and I needed it to reach a hard ball stage. The candy formed a hard ball that held its shape but was also pliable.  I could form it into a ball, flatten it and reform it into a ball again if I wanted to.

Soft Crack:


The picture above shows the soft crack stage.  When the candy is dropped into the cold water, it forms a hard thread that’s hard but not brittle.  If I’m making a batch of my hard candy, I must go beyond this stage. If I stop at this stage my candy would be semi-hard but would not break easily.  It would be close to being bendable.  We don’t want bendable when we are breaking it into pieces.

Hard Crack:


The picture above shows the hard crack stage I was making hard candy suckers.  I wanted them to be very hard just like my regular hard candy.  Peanut Brittle also gets cooked to the hard crack stage when it is cooked on a stovetop.  Notice how the candy separates into multiple brittle like threads as it hits the cold water.  If I were to remove the candy threads from the water they would break easily.

Take your pick this holiday season…candy thermometer or cold water, but don’t be scared of either one.

Stages for some common Christmas candies:

Fudge is usually cooked to a soft ball stage.

Caramel, divinity, and pralines are usually cooked to a hard ball stage.

Peanut Brittle is always cooked to a hard crack stage.


  • Once you turn the heat on under your pan, it usually takes at least 3-4 minutes to bring any candy mixture to a boil over medium heat.  It generally takes an additional 4-5 minutes to reach a soft ball stage.  Therefore, once the mixture boils, wait at least two minutes before you do your first water test.
  • Use a clean spoon and fresh cold water for each separate water test.
  • Each time you test the candy in cold water, remove the pan from the heat.

I hope this post has been helpful for all of you who have never used the cold water test.  For tips on using candy thermometers click here.

Happy Candy Making!