The most important thermometer you can have in your kitchen is an oven thermometer, as if your oven isn’t accurate you’re not going to get a whole lot of cooking and baking done. Following that, meat thermometers and candy thermometers are also very helpful. I use meat thermometers both for meat and for testing the internal temperature of baked bread. Candy thermometers I use for candy.
Candy consists mostly of sugars and caramels, but also includes chocolates. The temperature does not matter for most melted chocolate – especially if it is being incorporated into a batter or dough – but it is critical in tempering chocolate. Tempered chocolate is used for the hard chocolate shells on chocolates and other confections, as well as for decorations on top of cakes and cupcakes, and is a nice touch for chocolate-dipped things because when chocolate is tempered, it remains smooth and glossy after it has set. The process of tempering involves heating chocolate to 115F, cooling it down to about 80F and then reheating it to about 89F (for dark/semisweet chocolate). It’s a bit of a pain to do and, on the occasions I do it, a candy thermometer is helpful. A better tool, however, would be this neat Chocolate Paddle Thermometer. It is part spatula (handy, as this is not a feature of a regular candy thermometer), part thermometer and has a chocolate tempering temperature guide printed right on the front for easy reference. It practically guarantees success and takes all of the guesswork out of the sometimes intimidating tempering process.