How to Make Candy: Your Ultimate Guide

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Learn how to make candy at home! This guide includes the recipes, techniques and tools you'll need to get started.

Whether you’re making your own chocolate truffles for the holidays, cooking up a batch of fudge to give as a gift or making homemade candy as a fun everyday cooking project, this expert guide will show you how to make candy in your own kitchen.

How to Make Candy

Generally speaking, you make candy by heating sugar or melting chocolate and adding delicious flavors to make sweet, irresistible confections. The specific steps for how to make candy depend on the type of treat you’re creating and the recipe you choose to follow—there are dozens of homemade candy recipes to choose from!

How to Make Fudge

Homemmade chocolate fudgeTaste of Home

Fudge is a dense, chewy confection that’s made with milk, butter and sugar. Although it is often chocolate-flavored, there are fudge recipes for many other varieties, such as peanut butter, maple and butter pecan. Mackinac Fudge, which hails from an island in Michigan, is one of the most famous flavors. (Here’s the difference between fudge and ganache.)

There are two main ways to make fudge: in the microwave—here’s how to make microwave fudge—or on the stove, which is the traditional way. In either case, you heat milk, sugar and butter (or sweetened condensed milk and butter) to combine.

Depending on the type of fudge you’re making, you can add additional ingredients like cocoa powder or chocolate chips, or other flavors like white baking chips, peanut butter or peppermint extract. You can also add mix-ins like nuts, crushed cookies or sprinkles. Finally, you’ll let the fudge cool and set before slicing and serving.

Test Kitchen tip: Avoid common fudge mistakes like under- or overcooking the sugar, or overbeating the fudge batter. Once you’re done, here’s how to store fudge.

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How to Make Chocolate Truffles

Homemade chocolate tuffles with various decorations and toppings.Taste of Home

Chocolate truffles are traditionally filled with chocolate ganache, but you’ll see many chocolate- or candy-coated balls called “truffles”—including these Cookie Dough Truffles and Cookies & Cream Truffle Balls.

To make traditional chocolate truffles, heat chocolate and cream together, let the mixture set, roll it into balls and then cover it with toppings. Some chocolate truffle recipes call for sweetened condensed milk instead of cream.

When it comes to decorating chocolate truffles, get creative! Try coating your confections in cocoa powder, crushed cookies or sprinkles, or drizzling them with stripes of melted chocolate.

Test Kitchen tip: Avoid making common chocolate truffle mistakes like overheating the cream or using the wrong type of chocolate. Once you’re done, here’s how to store chocolate truffles.

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How to Make Caramel

A bowl of wrapped, homemade caramel candies.Taste of Home

Caramel is a type of candy that’s made by cooking white granulated sugar and then adding dairy. There’s so much you can do with this sweet confection: Enjoy classic squares of caramel candy on their own, or use caramel sauce as an ingredient or topping for other desserts, like these salted caramel recipes.

Whether you’re whipping up one of our caramel candy recipes or a caramel sauce, like for these homemade caramel apples, making caramel involves cooking sugar (often with water) until it starts to brown or caramelize. Then you add dairy (butter, milk or cream), as well as salt and vanilla to get a creamy consistency and balanced flavor.

Test Kitchen tip: In order to get the right type of caramel for your recipe, it’s important to understand the different stages of caramel, from light to very dark. You’ll also want to avoid these common caramel-making mistakes. Once you’re finished, here’s how to store caramel.

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Other Types of Candy

While fudge, chocolate truffles and caramel are some of the most popular types of homemade confections, candy comes in all shapes and sizes. Some candy recipes are hard to categorize, like these easy Cream Cheese Candies, but many of the most popular homemade candies fall into the following categories. Beyond these, some candy is seasonal—for inspiration, check out our Christmas candy recipes and Halloween candy recipes.

Butterscotch

A jar of homemade butterscotch candy.Taste of Home

Butterscotch is similar to caramel but it’s generally made with brown sugar instead of white sugar—though there are variations, like this Butterscotch Hard Candy recipe with sugar, rum extract and corn syrup. Similar to caramel, butterscotch can be a candy as well as an ingredient in other desserts, like in these old-fashioned butterscotch recipes.

Here’s more on the difference between caramel, butterscotch and toffee.

Chocolates

Homemade chocolate peppermint patties.Taste of Home

There are many different types of chocolate candies, including:

Gummy Candy

A batch of homemade orange gumdrops.Taste of Home

If you’re not a fan of chocolate but still have a sweet tooth, you might enjoy making gummy candy, like these Orange Gumdrops. Start with a Quick & Easy Gumdrops recipe or branch out and try Mulled Wine Jelly Candies.

Hard Candy

Christmas Hard Candy Exps Cbz16 179 D04 27 5b 6Taste of Home

From rock candy and lollipops to cinnamon and peppermint hard candies, old-fashioned treats elicit childhood nostalgia. For the most part, the ingredients are simple: sugar, water, flavoring and food coloring!

Toffee

A pan of homemade toffee.Taste of Home

Like caramel, toffee is made by heating sugar until it browns. But to make toffee, you cook the sugar and butter for a longer amount of time until it reaches a harder consistency. We love classic butter toffee, this Three-Chip English Toffee and toffee bark made with saltine crackers.

Candy-Making Supplies

The candy-making tools and ingredients you’ll need will depend on the type of candy you’re making and the method you’re using. Here are a few supplies that may come in handy.

Tools for Homemade Candy

  • If you’re making candy in the microwave, use a microwave-safe glass bowl. It also helps to have a candy thermometer. If you don’t have one, you can use a method called the cold-water test (explained below) to gauge your candy’s doneness.
  • When making candy on the stove, you’ll want a heavy saucepan that’s deep enough for the sugar mixture to bubble without nearing the top of the pan.
  • Candy molds in different shapes, like flowers or stars, take your homemade candy to the next level.

Ingredients for Homemade Candy

When it comes to making candy, you need to know the differences between types of chocolate and related products.

  • Baking chocolate: While there are many different types of baking chocolate, it’s typically sold in bars and is designed to melt quickly and smoothly.
  • Chocolate chips: Chocolate chips are great for baking but they’re not always the best for homemade candy. If your candy recipe does call for them, here are the best chocolate chips to buy, according to our Test Kitchen.
  • Candy coating: Also known as almond bark or confectionery coating, this usually comes in 1-1/2 to 2-pound blocks or in bags of small, flat disks. When dipping candy in chocolate, it’s best to use candy coating because it becomes firm at room temperature.

Test Kitchen tip: You can also use melted chocolate chips as a candy coating—simply stir in 1 tablespoon of shortening for every 6 ounces of chips.

Homemade Candy Tips

Between understanding the different sugar stages and learning how to properly temper chocolate, there are many techniques to master when you’re making your own candy.

Test Kitchen tip: When you’re making candy at home, choose a day when the humidity is less than 60 percent. High humidity can affect the texture of confections like soft caramels, peanut brittle and hard candy.

How to Use a Candy Thermometer

Using a candy thermometer to make homemade candy.ToscaWhi/Getty Images

Many candy recipes require a candy thermometer to help gauge the consistency of the sugar syrup. There are candy thermometers that attach to the side of your saucepan, as well as candy thermometers with a probe that you insert into your candy mixture.

For best results, test your thermometer’s accuracy before each use. To do so, place it in a saucepan of boiling water; it should read 212°F. If it doesn’t, adjust your recipe temperature based on the results of the test.

When using your candy thermometer, attach it to the side of the saucepan if possible but don’t let the bulb touch the bottom of the pan. Read the thermometer at eye level. To avoid breaking it, let the thermometer cool before washing it.

How to Use the Cold-Water Test

If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can use the cold-water test to determine the syrup concentration in your candy. First, fill a small glass bowl with cold water. Dip a metal spoon into the hot candy mixture and drop a small amount into the cold water. Let the candy cool, then remove it from the water. The candy will have a different consistency depending on its sugar stage.

Thread Stage

Testing red homemade candy using the cold-water test. The sugar is falling off a metal spoon in a fine thread, meaning it's in thread stage.Taste of Home
In thread stage, candy will measure 230° to 233° on a thermometer. Using the cold-water test, the mixture will fall off the spoon in a fine thread.

Soft-Ball Stage

Testing red homemade candy using the cold water test. The mixture is flat after being removed from cold water, meaning it's in the soft-ball stage.Taste of Home

In soft-ball stage, candy will measure 234° to 240° on a thermometer. It will form a ball in cold water and then flatten on your finger after being removed from the water.

Firm-Ball Stage

Testing red homemade candy using the cold water test. The mixture forms a ball when dipped in cold water and holds its shape after being removed, which means it's in firm-ball stage.Taste of Home

In firm-ball stage, candy will measure 244° to 248° on a thermometer. It will form a ball in cold water and hold its shape when you remove it from the water.

Hard-Ball Stage

Testing red homemade candy using the cold water test. The mixture forms a ball when dipped in cold water and remains hard yet pliable ball after being removed, which means it's in hard-ball stage.Taste of Home

In hard-ball stage, candy will measure 250° to 266° on a thermometer. It will form a ball in cold water and maintain a hard yet pliable ball when you remove it from the water.

Soft-Crack Stage

Testing red homemade candy using the cold water test. When cooled and removed from cold water, the candy will separate into threads that are hard but not brittle, meaning it’s in soft-crack stage.Taste of Home

In soft-crack stage, candy will measure 270° to 290° on a thermometer. The candy will form threads when it touches cold water. When you remove it from the water, it will bend easily and pull apart cleanly.

Hard-Crack Stage

Testing red homemade candy using the cold water test. The candy formed threads when it touched cold water and became hard and brittle when it was removed from the water, meaning it's in hard-crack stage.Taste of Home

In hard-crack stage, candy will measure 300° to 310° on a thermometer. The candy will form threads when it touches cold water and feel hard and brittle when you remove it from the water.

Chart: Candy Sugar Stages

Depending on the type of candy you’re making, you’ll want to cook the sugar until it reaches a certain consistency. Whether you use a candy thermometer or the cold-water test, it’s important to understand when it’s time to stop cooking your candy—and how to tell if you’ve gone too far.

Sugar StageTemperatureCold Water TestUse
Thread Stage230° to 233°The hot candy mixture will fall off a spoon and form fine threads in the water.Syrup
Soft-Ball Stage234° to 240°The candy mixture will form a ball in the water and then flatten on your finger when you remove it.Fudge
Firm-Ball Stage244° to 248°The candy will form a ball in cold water and hold its shape after you remove it from the water.Caramels
Hard-Ball Stage250° to 266°The candy will form a ball in cold water and remain a hard-yet-pliable ball after you remove it from the water.Divinity candy
Soft-Crack Stage270° to 290°The candy mixture will separate into threads when it touches the cold water. When you remove it from the water, it will bend easily and pull apart cleanly.Taffy
Hard-Crack Stage300° to 310°The candy mixture will separate into threads when it touches the cold water. When you remove it from the water, it will be hard and brittle.Brittles, lollipops

How to Melt and Temper Chocolate

A close-up view of someone stirring melted chocolate.Taste of Home

Many candy recipes require melted chocolate. There are many different ways to melt chocolate, including on the stovetop, in the microwave and in a slow cooker. Whichever method you choose, proceed carefully because chocolate scorches easily.

When you’re melting chocolate for making candy or other chocolate-dipped treats, it’s important to properly temper the chocolate in order to give it a smooth, hard finish. Tempering is a precise process of heating and cooling chocolate to specific temperatures in order to stabilize it—follow our detailed guide for how to temper chocolate.

Test Kitchen tip: Keep all moisture away from melted chocolate—even a small drop of water can make the chocolate seize (clump and harden). If this happens, stir in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil for every 6 ounces of chocolate. However, if chocolate seizes due to excessive heat, you unfortunately can’t save it.

How to Package and Store Candy

A box of homemade chocolate peanut butter candy.Taste of Home

Whether you’re giving candy as a gift, serving it at a party or storing it to eat later, keep the following tips in mind.

How to Package Candy for a Gift

  • For a professional look, place individual pieces of candy in miniature cupcake liners.
  • Try packing the sweets in different kinds of containers such as miniature boxes, cookie tins, woven baskets and decorative jars.
  • Decorate packages with handmade name tags, raffia bows, seasonal ribbon, cellophane wrapping or miniature ornaments.

Try these other creative wrapping ideas for homemade candy and other food gifts!

How to Store Homemade Candy

  • In general, you’ll want to store homemade candy in an airtight container. Store hard and soft candies in separate containers to avoid changes in texture.
  • Place waxed paper between layers of candy to prevent sticking.
  • To prevent homemade chocolates from blooming, or developing a grayish outer appearance, store them at a moderate temperature—around 65°.
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Teddy Nykiel
Teddy is an associate digital editor at Taste of Home specializing in SEO strategy. As a home cook herself, she loves finding inspiration at the farmer's market. She also enjoys doing any sport that involves water and taking long walks with her black lab mix, Berkeley.