Cooking candy mixtures to the correct temperature is a very critical part of candy-making. A candy thermometer is an indispensable item because it takes the guesswork out of testing candy mixtures.
When choosing a candy thermometer, look for one that is clearly marked and easy to read. Choose a thermometer with a mercury bulb that's set low enough to measure the heat in the syrup, but won't touch the bottom of the pan. And look for a thermometer with a clip that attaches to the pan. Candy thermometers are available in department and hardware stores, kitchen supply stores, and some large supermarkets.
Before every use, check the accuracy of the thermometer. To do this, place the candy thermometer in a saucepan of boiling water for a few minutes and then read the temperature. If the thermometer registers above or below 212 degrees F, add or subtract the same number of degrees from the recipe temperature, and cook to that temperature.
For example, if the thermometer reads 210 degrees F, cook the candy 2 degrees lower than the recipe temperature. If the thermometer reads 214 degrees F, cook the candy 2 degrees higher than the recipes states. Checking the candy thermometer allows you to make adjustments for any inaccuracy and for weather-related factors.
After removing the candy thermometer from a hot candy mixture, immerse it in hot water. This will protect the thermometer from a sudden temperature change and will make it easier to clean later.
A high-quality, heavy aluminum saucepan is the best choice for making candy. Aluminum pans conduct heat very evenly. Other types of metal pans, such as stainless steel, require careful watching because they may have hot spots and not heat evenly.
Using the correct size pan is equally important. A pan that's too small to hold the candy mixture can lead to messy and dangerous boil-overs. A pan that's too large can result in inaccurate thermometer readings, because the candy mixture will not cover the bulb of the candy thermometer. During our testing, we tried various pan sizes, and have recommended the best size for each recipe.
When melting dipping chocolate, temperature control is critical, so it's wise to use a double boiler. This keeps the chocolate away from the direct heat.
A wooden spoon with a long handle is ideal for stirring candy mixtures as they cook, because the spoon never becomes too hot to handle. And it's also the best tool for beating fudge and penuche (do not use an electric mixer because the mixture will overtax the mixer motor).
Unlike fudge, divinity and nougat require a sturdy, freestanding electric mixer. When you're beating either of these candy mixtures, the denseness of the mixture strains the motor of a mixer. Portable mixers and some freestanding mixers simply don't have enough power to handle these candy mixtures. And because of the strain on the motor, it is not a good idea to make consecutive batches of divinity or nougat.
You will need a large surface for working with hot candy mixtures, such as taffies and fondants. Marble slabs work well because they're heavy and smooth, and the cold surface cools the candy rapidly. But you also may use a large platter. Be sure, however, that the platter has a rim around the perimeter, or the candy mixture will flow off the platter as quickly as you pour it on! (If you use a marble slab, cooling times may be shorter than the times suggested in our recipes.)
Kitchen and candy-making supply stores carry a lot of special candy-making equipment.
Candy-dipping forks, designed with a looped tip, are handy when dipping centers into chocolate. However, an ordinary table fork, a meat fork, or a fondue fork may work equally well.
Wooden candy paddles or spatulas are useful when working fondant because of their broad base, but a wooden spoon also can do the job.