In the two-thousand-plus year history of home candy making, there has been only one great leap in technology: the leap from judging sugar concentration in syrup purely by physical operations like making actual balls and threads to judging sugar concentration by using a thermometer, and that leap technically came in the 13th century.
Since the 19th century, candy thermometer design has changed very little, with one or two designs basically becoming standard. However, technology has advanced beyond those early thermometers, and with those technological advances has come a shedding of the original design.
Stellar candy-making results can be achieved with the improved usability, hyper accuracy, and fast-reaction time of ThermoWorks digital thermometry.
The Problems with Traditional Candy Thermometers
The classic candy thermometer with the glass pipe attached to a metal frame had its day. But the truth is, it has many problems:
- It is slow to come to temperature.
- It is inaccurate and falls out of calibration.
- It is hard to read.
- It can attract steam and splatter making it even harder to read.
- It clips in place, only measuring the temperature of your syrup at one location in the pot.
Those problems are bad enough, but the last two seal the deal.
- The glass can actually break and spoil your whole batch.
Anyone who has ever had this happen to them knows this is not a trivial matter. And, perhaps, most importantly…
- The many sharp edges, nooks, and crannies on a traditional glass thermometer can easily cause seed crystal formation!
Serious pastry chefs and candy makers know to carefully wash their pots before cooking sugar, because little chips of dried food or scratches or even dust can be enough for sugar crystals to grab hold and turn your whole batch grainy. The same is true of the many crevices and sharp edges of traditional candy thermometers. They can actually increase the chances that your batch goes bad.
With all of these problems, it’s a wonder people still use these old candy thermometers. The happy news is that there is a better way.
A Better Candy Thermometer
The Thermapen is actually the perfect candy-making tool and we recommend you use it in place of the classic candy-monster. Here’s why….
- Accuracy: The margins of victory are slim in the candy world. The difference between the “Firm Ball” stage and the “Hard Ball” stage, or between “Hard Ball” and “Soft Crack” is literally one or two degrees. Defeat often lurks only a few seconds away when cooking over medium-high or high heat. Standard alcohol thermometers (please never use an actual mercury thermometer) can be inaccurate, with small, sometimes imperceptible bubbles forming in the fluid over time. The Thermapen® is accurate to within ±0.7°F (0.4°C) throughout the entire candy-making range, and you can set it to show tenths of degrees. That kind of accuracy can allow you to fine-tune your caramels and other candies to get perfect results every time. And if you like your caramels firmer or chewier, you can actually control at which side of the tight candy-making temperature windows you stop boiling your sugar with the accuracy of a Thermapen. Plus, mechanical thermometers need frequent calibration, whereas the thermocouple in a Thermapen is exceptionally resilient to thermal and physical shock, almost never needing calibration over the life of the instrument.
- Speed: If you’re concerned about not having a constant reading on your old clunker, concern yourself no more! With speeds of 2-3 seconds per reading and near-real-time updates in temperature changes, the Thermapen is as close to instant as you can get. Receive up-to-the second accurate information without having to mess with pot clips or hot pan walls.
- Geometry: Don’t panic, there will not be a quiz. By geometry, we mean the shape of the thermometer. As we said above, a classic thermometer has lots of edges and nooks and crannies for sugar to seed in, turning your grandma’s fudge recipe into a stiff block of chocolate chalk. The Thermapen’s tiny cylindrical probe has no such hiding places for sugar. And, after you take the temp of your syrup, you can easily wipe the probe off with a damp towel, preventing seeding on your next dip.
- Mobility and strength: A candy thermometer clipped to the side of a pot is not telling you the whole story; it is telling you one tiny part. The business end of such a thermometer is only in contact with one area of your syrup. If you have uneven heat on your stove—and I bet you do!—you could have over- or under-cooked syrup elsewhere. And if you try to stir the pot with your old thermometer, you risk hitting the shaft and breaking glass into your divinity. This isn’t so with a Thermapen. You can freely stir your syrup with the probe tip of the Thermapen, taking super-fast readings all over the pot. And if you hit the side of the pot, well that doesn’t matter at all.
For those who feel unsure about committing to a Thermapen, we recommend the ThermoPop®. Its ±2°F(1°C) accuracy is still tight enough for candy work, and it can also be used to stir through the whole pot for a better understanding of the temperature.
Our Recommended Chocolate Thermometer
For chocolate work, we recommend the ChefAlarm®. While traditional candy thermometers are less critically inadequate for the task of measuring chocolate temperatures, they still fall far short of the mark.
When tempering chocolate, maintaining a narrow temperature range is of utmost importance, which means constantly keeping one eye on your chocolate temperatures, even while you are dipping or enrobing your candies with chocolate—no mean feat. Also, as previously discussed, their accuracy is a problem.
By setting alarms on your ChefAlarm when making chocolate, you free up your attention to focus on your chocolate work even while you ensure that your readings are accurate. The ChefAlarm has a high-temp alarm and a low-temp alarm that you can set to sound if your chocolate starts to creep out of tempering range. The ±2°F (1°C) accuracy is also something you just don’t get with standard candy thermometers. Keep both eyes on your dipping, and let the thermometer watch the temper.
As a final thought, I’d like to leave you with this. Not only is your grandma’s candy thermometer an outdated, inaccurate piece of 19th-century technology, but it’s also a unitasker. You can never use it to check how rare a steak is, at what temperature your bread is rising, or if your Thanksgiving turkey is done properly. A modern, high accuracy thermometer can improve not only your candy making, but everything else you cook, as well.
Knowledge brings control in the kitchen, and Thermoworks has the tools to give you the knowledge you need to take control of your cooking.