How, and why, to Calibrate Your Thermometer for Candy Making

Candy Thermometer

The Holiday season is often a time for candy making, and I’ve had a lot of people asking me questions about things they can do to make it so their candy making turns out better. I do have some tips for using E-Z Gel (I’ll get to those tomorrow), but I’m going to start with the simplest tip I know, and that is to have a good candy thermometer and calibrate it.

There are a lot of different kids of candy thermometers for sale at various stores and on the internet. They range in price from inexpensive bulb thermometers for about $3.00 to digital electronic thermometers which can cost hundreds. My personal favorite is the Taylor Candy thermometer which is about $20. The things I like about this thermometer is that it has a nice flat base with the temperatures printed on it so it’s easy to read. The bulb of the thermometer is suspended slightly above the actual thermometer base, so there’s a lot less problem with breakage and with getting the temperature of the bottom of the pan instead of the mixture in it. It’s also really easy to wash and store. So, choose for yourself, but those are the things I look for.

Now, this whole calibration thing. We are taught in our early science classes that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius, which is 212 degrees Fahrenheit.  Boiling point is important in cooking in general because the rate at which water leaves a product determines a lot about how it thickens, how crystals form, and how much moisture remains in the product. In candy making all of those things are critical. Most candy recipes are created with the assumption you are at sea level and your water will start boiling off at 212 Fahrenheit. However, there are millions of us who do NOT live at sea level, and depending on your altitude, the weather, and your specific thermometer water may not boil at 212 degrees. So you need to know what temperature water DOES boil at and adjust your recipe so you aren’t over or undercooking your candy.

This is all pretty easy to do. On the day you’re going to do your candy making put a couple inches of water in a pan and bring it to boiling. Put your thermometer into the boiling water and note what temperature water boils at (today it’s 208 at my house in Utah, on a foggy day). Now, subtract that number from 212. (Again in my example: 212-208=4). Now look at your recipe and subtract the number you got in the last equation (you didn’t know we’d be doing math in cooking, did you?) from the number in your recipe. (So back to my recipe for divinity, 252-4=248.) This new number is the actual number you want to take your candy mixture to.

Do you have to do this process every time you want to make candy? Well, that depends on you. I know very experienced candy makers who kinda use their thermometer for a guide and can tell just by the way the candy looks and reacts in water exactly where it’s at. However, for most of us, we need the thermometer and having the information about the boiling temperature will make everything more accurate and that, my friends, makes for better candy making!

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