How to test for stages of sugar syrup
To check your sugar syrup has reached the correct stage without using a sugar thermometer, place a bowl of very cold water next to the hob.
Using a clean spoon, carefully take a little of the syrup and drop it into the bowl of cold water. Leave to cool for a moment then pick up the ball of syrup. If it’s pliable, sticky and can be moulded in your fingers easily, it has reached the soft ball stage and the syrup can be used to make fudge and marzipan.
To reach the hard ball stage, continue cooking the syrup and then pour a spoonful into the bowl once more to test. It should hold together in a firm ball and will be tougher to re-shape as it cools. At this stage, the syrup can be used to make marshmallows and Italian meringue.
As the temperature of the sugar increases, the sugar syrup will begin to go browner in the pan. It will harden immediately as it hits the water. The sugar will begin to crack and break apart under pressure. The hard crack stage is used for lollipops, spun sugar and hard toffees.