Making fudge can be hard and, like making chocolate, there is often a gap between the homemade versions in comparison to sugar work by an expert. Sugar is the main quandary to overcome and is pretty volatile as an ingredient, often requiring the cook to work fast and pay a lot of attention.
These processes, and the process of making fudge in general, can be made easier once you understand the terms and jargon used by experts. The soft ball stage should be reserved for master confectioners, but understanding it will help you understand the process so far. One particular stage that can cause confusion, but is quite simple in reality is the ‘soft ball stage’, understanding this can help you make better fudge in the future.
The soft ball stage is when the fudge mixture has been boiled enough and has reached the right temperature 234 and 237 °F/ 112 and 114 °C. To test the soft ball stage, a small bit of the fudge mixture is immersed in cold water ( also known as the cold water test) and a ball should form if the fudge is ready.
Read our guide to soft ball fudge to learn more about making fudge!
What Is The Soft Ball Stage?
To make great fudge you need to have control over two different temperatures: the cooking temperature as well as the temperature of the mixture while cooling. This is measured before stirring the mixture to crystallize.
General, confectioners have found the ideal cooking temperature to between 237 – 239 degrees Fahrenheit. The thought process behind this is that at this temperature a part of the liquid evaporates and concentrates the sugar.
As water evaporates from the sugar and cream mixture, also called the syrup in some cases, the temperature of the mixture rises so should be monitored. The soft ball stage is essentially when there is just enough water left in the syrup to ensure it is not hard or too soft.
You can also test for this stage by using a glass of cold water, it is this method that earned this stage the name ‘soft ball stage’ that, once mastered, allows you to test for this stage without a thermometer but simply your own eyes.
When the fudge has boiled for 10 minutes drop little bits of the syrup into the glass of cold water. If the mixture sort of dissipates and sinks with some material forming threads behind it, then this will need more cooking.
However, once you drop the bit of mixture into the water and it holds the shape of a ball that you can extract and squish easily between your finger and thumb, then it has reached the ‘soft ball stage’.
Why Does The Soft Ball Stage Matter?
Confectionary experiments show that when fudge is cooked too much, to a temperature of 244°F/ 118°C degrees Fahrenheit for example, the sugar would be too concentrated and too much water would have evaporated in the process causing the fudge to be too hard and brittle. Ideally you want fudge to retain some softness.
On the other hand, when fudge has been undercooked to a temperature of around 226°F/ 108°C then not enough water will have evaporated which will result in fudge that is way too soft and the sugar is not concentrated enough resulting in a sort of taffy texture which is not desirable for this purpose.
What Happens After This Stage?
As mentioned, this is only one of two temperatures you need to monitor. Once the soft ball stage is reached the mixture should be beaten after the optimal cooling temperature is reached. Ideally, you want the sugar crystals to be as small and fine as possible for the best results.
The ideal temperature to beat your fudge is around 109 to 113 °F/ 43 to 45 °C, beat the mixture once this temperature has been sustained for a few seconds. While cooling, your fudge will become more and more viscous and thick and this will slow the movement of sugar molecules.
The act of beating the fudge means that the sugar crystals remain small and don’t clump and grow bigger as they don’t stick together while moving.
You want small crystals because fudge is technically a ‘crystalline confectionery’ this essentially means that the sugar is crystallized, the smaller they are the creamier and smoother mouth feel the fudge has.
If you beat at the wrong temperature, essentially without any cooling, the crystals become so big they essentially revert back to sugar. The crystals grow much bigger and lead to a grainy texture by the end and often make the loose this creamy but sugary texture that we want.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Tools Do I Need To Make Great Fudge?
Ideally, you need a thermometer to measure heat accurately and save you a lot of time. The soft ball stage is a good one to understand but unless you have mastered it through experience it can be hard to judge with the eyes. It’s more of a concept worth understanding than a practice that should be followed.
The spoon or spatula that you use is important in creating the right texture of fudge when beating it. Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment to beat fudge with.
How Long Does It Take To Reach The Soft Ball Stage?
It’s hard to throw an accurate time at the soft ball stage as the rate the temperature is reached could rely on a myriad of variables such as the type of pan you are using, the strength of your hob, as well as your climate. Confectionery is always a game of monitoring temperature rather than time.
Should You Stir While Heating The Fudge?
Never should you stir the mixture during heating. The mixture will seize up as sugar begins to crystallize. The sugar molecules bind to crystallized nuclei that cause the crystals to grow and make your fudge grainy.
Should I Cover My Fudge While It Sets?
Most fudge recipes will call for you to let the fudge cool at room temperature. Fudge needs to cool slowly, rather than in the fridge, in order to stop the sugar crystallising too quickly. Covering your fudge stops it being contaminated while it is on your counter.
Fudge can pick up other flavors really quickly and strongly, so it is advised you cover it simply for this purpose. You don’t want your fudge to pick up other flavors as it’s so subtle.
There you have it, a guide on how to test if your fudge has been boiled enough without the use of a thermometer. The soft ball stage also referred to the cold water test the world of fudge making.