Now not a big candy maker, but for Christmas I thought making a little caramel popcorn or nut brittle sounded nice. If you have a candy thermometer on hand, it makes these type of recipes easy. But if you lose yours or don't have one it might be nice to know how to judge the temperature based on a cold water test. So here is how to do that....
For the cold-water test, spoon a few drops of the hot candy mixture into a cup of very cold (but not icy) water. Using your fingers, form the drops into a ball. Remove the ball from the water; the firmness will indicate the temperature of the candy mixture. If the mixture has not reached the correct stage, continue cooking and retesting, using fresh water and a clean spoon each time.
Thread stage (230 to 233 degrees F): When a teaspoon is dipped into the hot mixture, then removed, the candy falls off the spoon in a 2-inch-long, fine thin thread.
Soft-ball stage (234 to 240 degrees F): When the ball of candy is removed from the cold water, the candy instantly flattens and runs over your finger.
Firm-ball stage (244 to 248 degrees F): When the ball of candy is removed from the cold water, it is firm enough to hold its shape, but quickly flattens.
Hard-ball stage (250 to 266 degrees F): When the ball of candy is removed from the cold water, it can be deformed by pressure, but it doesn't flatten until pressed.
Soft-crack stage (270 to 290 degrees F): When dropped into the cold water, the candy separates into hard, but pliable and elastic, threads.
Hard-crack stage (295 to 310 degrees F): When dropped into the cold water, the candy separates into hard, brittle threads that snap easily.