The softball stage refers to the temperature range between 235 and 245 F that a sugar syrup solid reaches when it is easily formed into a ball. Professional and home cooks use the softball stage to determine when candy has reached the proper boiling point. The softball stage alerts the cooks that the candy is ready to be cooled and molded into the desired shape.
For example, when cooks transform pure maple syrup into maple candy they first boil the maple syrup to the softball stage. While some cooks use a candy thermometer, some cooks drop a spoonful of the hot maple syrup into a bowl of extremely cold water. Then, the cooks dip their fingers into the water and attempt to form the maple syrup solid into a ball. If the maple syrup solid forms easily into a ball within the water, yet immediately flattens once removed from the water, the candy has successfully reached the softball stage. Cooks must repeat the boiling process if the softball stage test is not met.
Some other types of candy that require the softball test include pralines, chocolate or peanut butter fudge and fondant, a thick sugary confection most commonly used to decorate wedding cakes.