Gel Stage Test
Not all soft spread recipes require the addition of extra pectin. Instead of using a commercial pectin product, these recipes cook the fruit mixture for a longer period of time to reduce the liquid in the mixture to achieve the desired consistency.
When preparing a soft spread recipe that does not require the addition of a commercial pectin product, you will need to test the recipe for doneness (gelling point). The gelling point temperature is 8 degrees above boiling at an elevation of 1,000 feet above sea level or lower (220°F). If you're at an altitude higher than 1,000 feet above sea level, you can determine the temperature of your gelling point by bringing a pot of water to a boil. When the water boils, check the temperature on your candy thermometer and add 8 degrees. This is the gelling point for your altitude.
Testing jelly for the gelling point can be done using the sheet test, plate test, or a thermometer. Jams, marmalades and preserves can be tested using a plate test or a thermometer. Butters and conserves are cooked until they round up on a spoon.
When performing these tests, remove the saucepot from heat so the soft spread doesn't continue to cook while you are testing the gel.
The sheet or spoon test. Dip a cool, metal spoon into the boiling jelly. Lift out a spoonful of the mixture; moving the spoon away from the steam. Tip the spoon over a dish so the juice will drop off. When the jelly mixture first begins to boil, drops will be light syrupy. After continued cooking the drops will become larger and start to show signs of sheeting. When gelling point is reached, jelly will slide off the spoon in one sheet.
Until you master this test, you can use a candy thermometer in conjunction with this test. As the temperature of the fruit climbs toward the gelling point, you'll be able to see the changes in the liquid and compare it to the sheeting from the spoon at 8 degrees above boiling.
The plate test. To complete the plate test, place a small amount of hot spread (about a tablespoon) on a chilled plate; set the plate in the freezer until the spread is cooled to room temperature (about a minute or two). Gently run your finger through the cooled spread, if it separates then slowly returns to its original form, it is ready to process. If the mixture rolls around the plate it isn't ready.
The thermometer test. This is the most accurate method for testing the gelling point. Use a candy thermometer that is easy to read. One degree over or under the gelling point makes a difference. Before using a candy thermometer it needs to be tested to assure its accuracy. When using it to test for the gelling point you need to determine the exact gelling point for your elevation. Hold the candy thermometer in boiling water, add 8 degrees to establish the gelling point. Once the gelling point is determined you can prepare the recipe. When reading the candy thermometer hold it vertical in the mixture and read the markings at eye level. Once the spread has reached the gelling point, remove the saucepot from the heat. It's a good idea to have two candy thermometers available in the event that one breaks.