Candy Thermometers Aren't Just for Making Sweets—Here's Why You Need This Versatile Tool in Your Kitchen
You'll use it for deep frying, making jelly or yogurt, and so much more.
An efficient kitchen is a streamlined kitchen, graced with nothing but the most hardworking equipment and free from extraneous, single-use items. (Who among us hasn't fell prey to the appeal of a seemingly useful gadget—an olive pitter, say, or garlic peeler—only to have it collect dust once we realize that its function is just as easily performed with a chef's knife turned on its side?) That said, a few items that may not make the list of must-haves still warrant a place in the kitchen tool drawer, and one such example is the candy thermometer. It's used to make candies from scratch, obviously—think caramels , brittles, and other old-fashioned favorites like divinity—but it can be used for far more than just preparing your favorite sweet treats.
Not Just for Candy
Despite its one-use name, this compact tool comes in handy for all kinds of other endeavors. Most models can be used to gauge the temperature of hot oil for deep frying and are labeled as such, as in "candy/deep-fry thermometers" (donuts, anyone?). They're also helpful in deciding when a custard (including an ice-cream base) is ready to be taken off the heat. If you're new to cooking, judging doneness with a number on a thermometer will feel much more reliable than an instruction like "until it coats the back of a spoon."
Home cooks who make their own yogurt and cheeses find candy thermometers useful in monitoring the milk as it heats from one stage to the next, as do avid bread bakers who rely on one to monitor the internal temperature (and thus, the tenderness of the crumb) of crusty loaves and rolls.
Other Sweet Things
Back to sweet things, candy and beyond. One of the best uses for a candy thermometer is in making jelly. It's also crucial for tempering chocolate, whether you're making filled or molded chocolates, shards and curls, and other decorative embellishments for cakes. You'll need a candy thermometer for some meringues, like Italian, and the incomparably silky buttercream icings that result from them. Turn to the candy thermometer to make sauce for ice cream or beautifully jewel-like caramel-coated fruits. Finally, if for no other reason than making this Salted-Caramel Six-Layer Chocolate Cake, arguably the most delicious cake recipe in our archive, a candy thermometer is worth keeping close at hand.
You may read instructions, especially in old cookbooks, about how to gauge the temperature of sugar syrup without a candy thermometer. There are indeed ways to test temperature by sight or feel, including what's known as the "cold water test." As the sugar and other ingredients cook on the stovetop and begin to crystallize, you drop a teaspoon or so of the hot syrup into a bowl of cold water. Then, you either eyeball it (or use your fingertips) to determine its "hardness" based on the eight stages of candy making. These stages range from the thread stage (about 215 degrees Fahrenheit, when the syrup is still loose enough to make threads in the cold water) to the hard crack (at 300 to 315 degrees Fahrenheit, when the syrup has reached the most brittle consistency). A thermometer takes the guesswork out of it, leaving you free to devote your time and energy to the more creative parts of the process.
Choosing a Candy Thermometer
As far kitchen equipment goes, candy thermometers are relatively inexpensive. A simple but sturdy model that clips to the side of a saucepan and doesn't take up too much room in a caddy or drawer should do the trick, like the Taylor Digital Candy Thermometer ($19.95, surlatable.com). If you prefer an app-enabled kitchen tool, try the Maverick Bluetooth Chocolate, Candy, and Deep-Fry Thermometer ($49.99, amazon.com).
We'd go so far to argue that you'll can make good use of a candy thermometer all year round—in making marshmallows for summertime s'mores, candy apples for Halloween, fudge for holiday boxes, or strawberry jelly in late spring. It's definitely a tool you need in your kitchen. It seems that the only thing that might make a candy thermometer more popular is a name change. This is one tool that's long overdue for a rebrand!