How To Make Candy: Beginner's Guide

You can be a kid in your very own candy shop!

pieces of homemade toffee topped with nuts
Photo: Frances

Get this recipe: Best Toffee Ever - Super Easy

All you need to make candy at home are a few common kitchen items, simple ingredients, and a little candy-making know-how. We'll show you what you need and walk you through tips and techniques to make homemade candy for gifts, plus share favorite recipes.

Candy-Making Tools

You might already have most of the tools you need to make candy in your kitchen right now:

  • Saucepan: Medium-sized with a heavy bottom and straight sides. It should be large enough to hold 3 to 4 times the volume of the ingredients; this will help prevent boil-overs.
  • Large bowl: Large enough to hold the saucepan. This lets you cool the candy while it's still in the pan. Temperature matters in candy-making, and because the temperature of the sugar mixture continues to rise even after it has been removed from the heat, immersing the pan in cold water or an ice water bath stops the cooking at just the right time.
  • Wooden spoon or heat-proof silicone spoon: Choose one with a long handle. (Buy it: Tovolo Silicone Mixing Spoon; $10 Amazon.)
  • Pastry brush: Set one aside exclusively for candy-making. Some recipes will call for brushing down the sides of the pan with water to prevent crystallization.
  • Candy thermometer: Although it is possible to make candy without one, a candy thermometer is a must-have for beginners. Even professionals use one. Choose a thermometer with a metal clamp that attaches to the side of the pan to free up your hands. (Buy it: Taylor Candy/Deep Fry Thermometer; $11 Target.)
  • Optional: If you make candy on a more regular basis, you may want to invest in a marble slab and a copper caramel pan. (Buy it: Mauviel Copper 1.9-Quart Sugar Saucepan; $150 Amazon.)

Candy-Making Ingredients

  • Sugar is the most basic ingredient in candy, so quality matters. Use an unopened package of sugar; this will ensure that there has been no contamination from other ingredients commonly found in the kitchen, such as flour or salt.
  • Unsalted butter is the fat of choice, unless the recipe specifically calls for salted butter. Here's why: The salt content of salted butter can affect your final product. Never use margarine in a recipe that calls for butter; margarine has a higher water content, which will significantly affect the cooking time and results.

Tips for Cooking with Sugar

Dissolve sugar into liquid ingredients over low heat, and then bring to a boil. Don't stir once the sugar has dissolved, unless directed to by the recipe.

  • Either clamp the thermometer to the side of the pan, or periodically place it in the syrup to measure the temperature.
  • The bulb of the thermometer should not touch the sides or bottom of the pan, or you'll get an inaccurate reading.
  • Always clean the thermometer after each testing, and keep it by the stove in a glass of warm water.
  • Cook until the desired temperature is reached. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and cool the bottom of the pan in the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, unless the recipe says otherwise. For example, peanut brittle directs you to pour the hot candy onto a greased baking sheet or oiled marble surface without cooling first.
  • Be very, very careful when handling hot, melted sugar.

If you don't have a candy thermometer, use the cold water method to test the candy:

  • Drop a small amount of the mixture into a glass of cold water, and then examine it closely to determine if it's at thread stage, soft ball stage, hard ball stage, etc. (See table below.)
  • Remove the pan from the heat while testing to avoid overcooking the candy, which makes it taste burnt and bitter. Use a fresh glass of water for each test.

*This is meant as a general guideline; always follow recipe instructions.

Here are recipes that use the various types of cooked sugar:

Cooking Sugar at High Altitude

As with most cooking at high altitudes, there are modifications you'll need to make with candy recipes. For every 500 feet above sea level, decrease the temperature by one degree. If you live at an altitude of 3500 feet and the recipe calls for cooking to 234° F, cook it to 227° F.

Top Candy-Making Tips

  • Check the weather. Clear, dry days are best for candy-making. On rainy or humid days, the cooking time can increase substantially or your candy may never set up at all. Sugar attracts water, so the humidity can adversely affect your recipe.
  • Test your thermometer to make sure it is accurate. (You should do this every time you make candy.) Immerse it in a pan of water, and bring the water to a boil. The temperature should read 212º F. If it doesn't, you'll need to adjust your recipe to reflect this. For example, if your thermometer reads 215° F in boiling water, and the recipe says cook the candy to 250° F, you'll need to cook the mixture to 253° F.
  • Measure out ingredients before you start cooking. It takes a long time to reach 220° F, but after that the temperature rises quickly. You'll want to have everything prepped and ready to go.

Easy Candy Recipes


Fudge is one of the easiest and most popular homemade candies, and making fudge at Christmas can quickly become a tradition that brings the whole family together. Watch this video for Aunt Teen's Creamy Chocolate Fudge--one of our most popular fudge recipes.

Get more fudge recipes.


Yes, there are master chocolate makers who study years to perfect their craft and create masterpieces using chocolate as their medium. But there are also chocolate candies you can easily make at home, such as truffles.

To make the best truffles you have to start with the best ingredients. Learn how to choose the right chocolate for the job, how to melt chocolate, and how to make ganache for rich, decadent chocolate truffles. Watch the video below to see how to make Easy Decadent Truffles.

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