11/04/2011 11:01 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

How To Cook Sugar

If you've ever wondered how to cook sugar to the soft-ball stage, chef Dianne Rossomando of The Culinary Institute of America has your answer. Sugar at the soft-ball stage (238F) is used for setting meringues, making fudge, and as a base for various other candies.

To begin, she pours sugar into a stainless-steel pot along with water and attaches a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure it doesn't touch the bottom. She stirs until the mixture gets to the boiling point, but once it begins to boil, she removes the spoon and leaves the mixture alone. She suggests brushing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to discourage crystals from forming, but says the steam from the evaporating water will also help keep the sides clean.

When the sugar is ready, it will be a thick, clear syrup, with bubbles that come to the surface slowly.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Chef Rossomando from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm here to show you this kitchen basic: how to cook sugar.

Basically what we're having to do here is cook sugar, granulated sugar. You'll need cold water, a thermometer, and a wooden spoon or some utensil, just to stir your two main ingredients together. The pot that we have here is a stainless steel pot, and I'm going to start off with my water, and all of my sugar. The ratio is sixteen ounces of water to one pound of sugar. You're going to just give this a stir. You only want to stir it up until the boiling point. Stirring it up to the boiling point, you ensure that all the sugar is hydrated, and that you'll have even cooking. Once it comes to a boil, that's when you are going to take out your utensil, stop cooking, and basically let it do its work on its own.

I use a medium to medium-high heat, and you want to make sure, if you have a gas burner, that the gas isn't kicking up on the sides of the pan. We're looking for the sugar to reduce, and actually it's going to turn translucent. I'm going to insert my thermometer into the pot. You want to hook it on the side of the pot - try not to burn yourself. We're looking for this to come up to about 238 degrees; 238 degrees will bring us to the point of soft ball. Soft ball stage is the stage where you would use sugar for setting your meringue, you would use it to cook fudges, for candy making - for many, many uses. It will basically stop and kind of hang out around 220. The 220 range is basically where the water is getting removed, evaporated, from the mixture. That's where your soft ball stage will take place.

Now we're at a rolling boil. At this point, you would remove your wooden spoon or stirring implement, and make sure that you do not touch it with any kind of tool whatsoever. Another thing you must be aware of is that you really should wipe down the sides of the pot with cold water, to make sure all the sugar crystals are in the pan. You only have to do that maybe once or twice, because the steam that's forming from the boiling process will wash down the sides of the pan. As we get through the stages and as the sugar temperature keeps rising, the water is removed more and more - and the thickness of our sugar syrup changes, it gets thicker and thicker. As it thickens, we'll be able to see the bubbles that come to the surface will be larger, and they'll come up to the surface slower. So we're now at soft ball stage, which is basically at 238 degrees. You would add the soft ball sugar into your whipping egg whites, being very careful of working with the hot sugar.

That's how we cook sugar.