The Candy Maker’s Guide: Sugar Boiling


This branch of the trade or business of a confectioner is perhaps the most important. All manufacturers are more or less interested in it, and certainly no retail shop could be considered orthodox which did not display a tempting variety of this class.
So inclusive is the term “boiled goods” that it embraces drops, rocks, candies, taffies, creams, caramels, and a number of different sorts of hand-made, machine-made, and moulded goods. It is the most ancient method of which we have any knowledge, and perhaps the most popular process of modern times; the evidence of our everyday experience convinces us that (notwithstanding the boom which heralds from time to time a new sweet, cooked in a different manner, composed of ingredients hitherto unused in business), it is the exception when such goods hold the front rank for more than a few months, however pretty, tasty, or tempting they may be, the public palate seems to fall back on those made in the old lines which, though capable of improvement, seem not to be superceded. Of the entire make of confectionery in Canada, at least two-thirds of it may be written down under the name of boiled sugar. They are undoubtedly the chief features with both manufacturers and retailers, embracing, as they do, endless facilities for fertile brains and deft fingers for inventing novelties in design, manipulation, combination, and finish. Notwithstanding the already great variety, there is always daily something new in this department brought into market. Many of the most successful houses owe their popularity more to their heads than their hands, hence the importance of studying this branch in all its ramifications. The endless assortment requiring different methods for preparing and manipulating make it necessary to sub-divide this branch into sections, order and arrangement being so necessary to be thoroughly understood. When we consider the few inexpensive tools required to make so many kinds of saleable goods, it is not to be wondered at so many retailers have a fancy to make their own toffees and such like, there is no reason why a man or woman, with ordinary patience, a willing and energetic disposition, favored with a fair amount of intelligence, should not be able to become with the aid of THIS BOOK and a few dollars for tools, fairly good sugar boilers, with a few months practice.

There are reasons why a retail confectioner should study sugar boiling. It gives character to the business, a fascinating odour to the premises, and a general at-homeness to the surroundings. No goods look more attractive and tempting to the sweet eating public than fresh made goods of this kind. A bright window can be only so kept by makers. Grainy or sticky drops may be reboiled; scraps and what would otherwise be almost waste (at least unsightly) may be redressed in another shape, and become, not only saleable, but profitable.
There are many advantages which a maker possesses over one who buys all. For instance, clear boiled goods should be kept air tight, and are therefore delivered to the retailers in bottles, jars, or tins, on which charge is made, these have to be repacked and returned. Breakages are an important item, so is freight—the cost of the latter is saved and the former reduced to a minimum.

Whatever means are adopted to benefit the retailer and advertise the business by brighter windows, cleaner shops, less faded goods, and healthier financial conditions must contribute to the general prosperity of the trade, from the bottom step to the top rung of the ladder.

It should be the aim of all amateurs to study quality rather than price. Goods well made, carefully flavored, and nicely displayed will always command a ready sale at a fair price, giving satisfaction to the consumer and credit to the maker. Give your customers something to please the eye as well as the palate, so that every sale may be looked upon as an advertisement.
Cheap, bulky, insipid stuff is unprofitable and damaging to the trade as well as to the seller. I venture to assert that more would-be makers have come to grief trying to cut each other in price for rubbishy candies than through any other cause. Look at the number of firms who have a reputation, whose very name command trade at good prices, year after year add to the turnover. What is the talisman? Look at their goods. There is perhaps nothing very striking in them, but they are invariably good, busy or slack they are made with care, packed with taste, and delivered neatly in a business-like fashion. Compare this to our makers of cheap stuff; to obtain orders they sell at unprofitable prices, often at a loss, and try to make up the difference by resorting to various methods of increasing the bulk, the result is ultimate ruin to themselves, loss to their creditors, and injury to every one concerned. Few who read these lines will not be able to verify all that is stated. The writer’s advice has always been to keep up a high degree of excellence, try to improve in every direction, and success is only a matter of patience, energy and civility.

It is not intended to give a complete list of all kinds of candy known in the trade, that would be absurd and impossible. To be able to make any particular kind will require knowledge only to be gained by experience, so that much depends on the thoughtful endeavor of the beginner.



Sugar boiling, like every other craft, requires a place to do it, fitted with tools and appliances. The requisites and requirements can be easily suited to the purse of the would-be confectioner.
A work to be useful to all must cater for all, and include information which will be useful to the smaller storekeeper as well as the larger maker. To begin at the bottom, one can easily imagine a person whose only ambition is to make a little candy for the window fit for children. This could be done with a very small outlay for utensils. The next move is the purchase of a sugar boiler’s furnace not very costly and certainly indispensable where quality and variety are required, it will be a great saving of time as well as money, the sugar will boil a much better color, so that cheaper sugar may be used for brown or yellow goods, while one can make acid drops and other white goods from granulated. Dutch crush, or loaf sugar, which would be impossible to make on a kitchen stove from any sort of sugar.

Having so far got our workshop arranged the next thing is to keep it in order. Sugar boiling is dirty sticky business, especially on wet days, unless every part is kept scrupulously clean and dry, slabs and tables should be washed, no trace of sifting, scraps, or boiled goods, should be left exposed to the atmosphere during the night, the floor well swept, and a little clean sawdust put down every night.

The comfort and ease in working in a clean place far more than offsets the trouble and time it takes to put it in order, besides the goods are much drier, brighter and easier to bottle or pack. Nothing is more unpleasant than to work with sticky slabs, slimy machines or dirty scales. The boil adheres to the slabs, sticks to the rollers, spoiling the shapes, and become cloudy and spotty in weighing. We are not writing without knowledge. Any one who has worked or visited small workshops can endorse the value of these remarks, and call to mind this imaginary picture. However, there are exceptions, still the hint will be useful in a good many cases.



If the learner will study the following instructions, the author guarantees to place him in a position to boil sugar as correctly as the most experienced workman. To accomplish this, the reader should provide himself with the sugar boiler’s tools named on the preceding page. While the sugar is undergoing the process of boiling, it is almost impossible for a learner to determine the exact degree which the sugar has attained without a thermometer, and even the journeyman finds it so useful that you will find very few indeed who boil sugar without it; in fact many of the larger shops will not allow a sugar boiler to work without one. For almost any purpose the following degrees will be found all that is necessary. For instance put into the pan in which you intend to boil, 7 lbs. granulated sugar together with one quart of water, placing it on the fire and allow it to boil. Put a cover over the pan and allow it to boil for ten minutes; then take off the cover and put the thermometer in the pan, immersing the bottom part of it in the boiling sugar, and let it remain there until the sugar is boiled to the degree you require. The following five degrees are those used by confectioners for different purposes:


1st. The smooth, viz.,—215 to 220 by the thermometer. When the mercury registers these figures the sugars may then be used for crystalizing creams, gum goods and liqueurs.


2nd. The Thread, viz., 230 and 235 is the degree which is used for making liqueurs.


3rd. The Feather, viz., 240 to 245. Only a few minutes elapse between these degrees, and the sugar must be watched closely during the boiling at this point. This degree may be used for making fondants, rich creams, cream for chocolates and fruit candying.


4th. The Ball, viz., 250 to 255. The sugar at this point is used for making cocoanut and other candies, cocoanut ice, and almost every description of grain sugar generally.


5th. The Crack, viz., 310 to 315. This is the degree which is used, with little variation, for all kinds of drops, taffies, and all clear goods, whether for the purpose of passing through machines or manipulating with the hands.


These degrees can be tested by an experienced hand without the aid of the thermometer, and the learner may accustom himself by trying them in the following manner:
Take the stem of a clay pipe and dip it into the sugar as it boils, draw it out again and pass it through the forefinger and thumb; when it feels oily you will find by looking at your thermometer that it has reached the degree of smooth, 215 to 220 by the glass.

The next degree or thread, may be tried by your taking a little of the sugar off the pipe between your finger and thumb and part them gently; if you see small threads hang between your finger and thumb that degree has arrived.

For the degree of Ball, 250 to 255, you must have by your hand a small jug of cold water; when you draw the pipe out of the sugar dip it in the water, and when taken out of the water, if you can work it like a piece of putty, you have got the degree of ball.

The degree of Crack must be tested the same way, and the sugar must leave the pipe clean; dip it again into cold water; when off the pipe break off a piece with your teeth; if it snaps clean in your teeth, pour your sugar on the slab at once.


NOTE.—This last degree must be tried sharply, in giving the process for trying it without the thermometer. We caution all beginners to get a thermometer, as practice alone can instruct you without. It is also necessary to state that thermometers differ a little, and should be tested.

During hot weather, it is necessary to bring the sugars up to the full degree; during winter months, the lower degrees marked will answer the purpose.



Almost all sugar, especially refined, whether loaf, crystalized or granulated, and most sugars known to the trade as pieces will, if boiled beyond the degree of ball, or 250 by the thermometer, when turned out of the pan becomes cloudy, then grainy, and ultimately a solid lump of hard opaque sugar. To prevent this candying, as it is called several agents are used, such as glucose, cream of tartar pyroligneous acid, vinegar &c., the action of which will cause the sugar to boil clear, be pliable while hot and transparent when cold. It is therefore necessary to use some lowering agent for all boilings intended for clear goods, such as drops, taffies, rocks. &c.

Experience has taught most of the old hands that two of these agents possess all the merits necessary for the purpose, and are to be preferred to others for reasons it is unnecessary to state—they are cream of tartar and glucose. A great deal could be said in favor of either or both; cream of tartar is handier and cleaner to use as well as more exact in its action; goods boiled with it will be a better color and, some assert, more crisp; for acids and all best and export goods it is to be recommended—use a proportion of half an ounce to every 14 lbs. of sugar—we say about, as some strong sugars require a little more, this is generally measured in a teaspoon, two spoonfuls to every 14 lbs. of sugar.

Glucose, being cheaper than sugar, is valuable to the confectioner, not only for its lowering qualities, but also as a bulk producer, reducing the cost of the product. On this account there is a tendency to overdo it by using too much, the result causing goods to become sticky and turn soft immediately they are exposed to the atmosphere, not only so, but we have seen drops running to a solid lump in bottles through being overdosed. If glucose is used in proper proportions, it makes an excellent lowering agent, and will answer the purpose first rate for ordinary drops and the like. Use three lbs. of glucose to every 14 lbs. of sugar; keep a panful on the furnace top, so that it will always be hot and may be easily measured by means of a saucepan or ladle holding the exact quantity; add the glucose when sugar begins to boil.


These form almost as important a part of the trade as the sugar itself, and it should be the chief object of every workman to try and excel in these two important features; if you do not use good flavors, it is a moral certainty you cannot produce good candies. Flavors for boiled sugars should be specially prepared, those bought at an ordinary chemist shop may do very well for flavoring custards and pastry, but are of no use for boiled sugars, in fact better use no essence at all, as they are so weak that, to give the drops &c., even a slight taste the quantity required reduces the degree to which the sugar has been boiled so much that it works like putty, and sticks to the machine while being pressed through; the drops when finished look dull, dragged and stick together when bottled; tons of drops are weekly spoiled by small makers using such flavors, while a little trouble and less expense would put them out of their misery, besides giving to the goods that clear bright dry appearance to be found in the drops of a respectable house.

It must be remembered that the flavor is the very life of the candy. Color may please the eye, but excellence in that alone is not all that is required. A buyer may be attracted by the eye, but he does not eat with it. Neither old or young would knowingly eat only colored sugar. A sweet taste may be satisfied with sugar alone.

It is the variety of pleasant flavors that is desired and it is the business of the confectioner to supply it. Flavors for sugar boiling should be as concentrated as it is possible for it to be. Several large houses who have confined their attention to the wants and requirements of the confectionery and mineral water trades have succeeded in producing fruit essences of quality, which is a pleasure to work with. Being very powerful, little is required to give the boil rich flavor, consequently it passes through the machine easily, forming a perfect drop on which the clear imprint of the engraving characteristic of the machine used. Essential oils used by confectioners are those having an agreeable aromatic flavor, and should be used in their original strength, without being adulterated or reduced. It is absolutely necessary that they should be pure and fresh, more particularly the oils of lemon and orange, as when not fresh and pure they partake of the flavor of turpentine, and are particularly unpleasant to the taste.

Small makers would do well to buy carefully from a good house not more than would be used up in two or three months, especially the two before mentioned. Some oils on the contrary, improve by keeping such as peppermint and lavender. All essences and oils are best kept well corked in a cool dark place.

These oils being powerful, popular and expensive, they are frequently adulterated. Cream of tartar and tartaric acid on account of the price is often increased, the former with different cheap powders, the latter usually with alum. Many people fail in the process through no fault of their own, but simply through their being supplied with inferior ingredients, it is therefore of importance, that colors and flavors should be purchased at some respectable house; get list of oils’ extracts and essences from Fletcher Mnf’g. Co. who are large dealers in these goods.

The colors prepared, consisting of several very nice shades of yellow and red, also coffee brown, jetoline black, damson blue, and apple green; they are in paste, ready for use, being vegetable, they are guaranteed strictly wholesome, and may be used with confidence.


To make an acid drop to perfection, the pan must not only be clean but bright; use best white sugar, and just enough water to melt it, with a little extra cream of tartar (no glucose); boil on a sharp fire to 305; after passing through machine, well dust with icing sugar and bottle. Beginners should not try to work with less water, as the boil is more liable to grain, which can be seen by an expert and avoided. Before putting on the boil see that there is sufficient fuel on the furnace to carry through the operation. To make up a fire during the process spoils the color and quality. The sharper the sugar is boiled the better the appearance and durability.

When boiling common sugars have the pan large enough,—some throw up a good deal of foam when they reach the boiling point and are liable to flow over—watch closely, and if unable to beat the foam down, lift the pan on the side of the fire a few minutes until boiled through.

Many weak sugars burn on a clear fire before they come to a degree of crack. In this case sprinkle a little fresh fuel or ashes over the fire and replace the pan again. Should it again catch, repeat the operation nursing it up to the desired degree. Bad boiling sugar is very troublesome. A good plan is to make a rule of straining the batch just after it boils, through a very fine copper wire or hair sieve, this prevents foreign matter such as grit, saw dust or even nails, which is often mixed with the sugar getting into the goods. Keep thermometer when not in use in jar of water standing on the furnace plate by the side of the pan, wash out the jar and fill with cold water every morning; keep the thermometer clean, especially the top part, as the sugar which adheres to it becomes grainy, and might spoil a whole boil. After making many dark candies thoroughly wash the thermometer before putting into a light boil.

In using colors for drops and clear goods, use them in the form of a paste where practicable, then you can mix them in when the boil is on the slab, thus saving your pan; keep the colors damp in jars, look over them every night, and, where necessary, add a little cold water to keep them moist, or the top may get dry and hard, which would make the goods specky. Use a separate piece of stick for each color to rub in with, and be careful not to use too much color; a very little goes a long way with clear boiled goods. Goods are more often spoiled by using too much than too little; more can always be added if the shades are too light, but there is no remedy if you have added too much. When coloring taffies, this must be done in the pan; liquid colors are best; trouble will be saved if used in the following order. Suppose Raspberry, Everton and Lemon taffies were wanted, make the Lemon taffy first, add saffron just before the boil is ready, then the lemon, and pour out; make the Everton taffy next in the same way, add the butter before the lemon; then make the Raspberry. In this arrangement there is no necessity of steaming out the pan. Had the Raspberry taffy been made first, the pan would have to be cleaned out before the Lemon or Everton taffy could have been made, because it would have been red.

Measure the flavors in a graduated glass; wash out the glass frequently, or it will get rancid; weigh the acid and see that it is well ground; if it has become dry and lumpy, rub it down to a powder with a rolling pin or heavy bottle on a sheet of paper before using. In using fruit essences a little powdered tartaric acid throws up the flavor, half the essences will have a better effect. Put the acid on the boil after it has been poured on the slab in a little heap, and pour the essence over it, then thoroughly incorporate the whole.

Use the best oil for the slab with a clean flannel cloth; keep the cloth in a saucer, if it lies about it falls on the floor and picks up dirt and carries it to the pouring plate. When it gets hard or gritty burn it at once and get a new one, or it may be used by mistake and make a mess. We have seen the beauty of a boil spoilt scores of times by using dirty rags and rancid oil. A sugar boiler cannot be too careful in these little details, the success of his work largely depends upon it. It is easy to inaugurate a good system, and much more comfortable to work to it than a slovenly “what shall I do next” sort of a method. Know where to find and put your hand on everything; when the boil is hot there is no time to look for what you require. “A place for everything and everything in its place” should be a practical feature in every boiling shop.