Reader Jen asks:
Where do the names for the confectionery stages of sugar come from?
A very interesting question. The names themselves are obviously descriptive of the way the sugar syrup behaves after it’s been heated to the requisite temperature. “Thread”-stage syrup forms threads as it’s drizzled from a spoon or fork. “Soft crack” and “hard crack” are said to emit cracking sounds as they drip from an implement (presumably the cracking sounds are a result of cooling).
As for who came up with the names and when, those are both debated subjects. It’s thought that the stages themselves were first established some 400 years ago. What I find so interesting as that even hundreds of years later, those categories are still in use. Sure, we all have thermometers now and don’t need to go dropping blobs of syrup into glasses of water. Still most recipes I come across that call for a cooked sugar syrup still list, in addition to the precise temperature, the stage.
The inimitable Jim C. adds:
In eighteenth century France, the degrees were: smoothed, pearled, blown, to a feather, broken (cracked), caramel. With all kinds of intermediary degrees, by some accounts.