Fudge

As I said in the previous post, I’m making fudge. I don’t like marshmallow fudge or peanut butter fudge or most of the other ‘fast’ fudges. Me, I like old-fashioned fudge. The problem with old-fashioned fudge for most people (and for me sometimes) is that the final fudge is grainy; or if not, it’s gooey. I’ve gotten to where I get a pretty consistent batch these days, so if you’ll allow me I’ll pontificate a bit.

First, the basic recipe. (source remark. This recipe came from the Betty Crocker cookbook my parents had in the 1960s. I later found an identical recipe from a 1920s cookbook. Possibly excluding the corn syrup, it’s much much older than either.)

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup, 1/2 stick) butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla (see footnote 1)

Combine all but butter and vanilla. Mix and heat to soft ball stage, stirring as needed. Remove from heat and add butter without stirring.
Allow to cool to lukewarm. Add vanilla, beat till no longer glossy (see footnote 2), pour into forming pan (with a release agent). Allow to set. Cut, serve.

footnote 1: Assuming you’re using vanilla extract. If using vanilla beans, I highly recommend soaking about two inches of a bean (split and scraped) in the milk for about 15 minutes. Remove the shell, leave the seeds, and continue – and don’t add any at the end.

Footnote 2: The reason you wait to add vanilla extract is that the heat is enough to evaporate most of it – to include flavor – almost immediately. As to beating till no longer glossy, you’re looking for the surface to simultaneously incorporate the fat from the butter AND begin to develop tiny crystals. Thus you’ll go from glossy to a semi-gloss surface.

OK, time to discuss a few foibles on my part.

First foible is in the mixing. I mix the dry ingredients together and stir thoroughly. I want all the lumps gone. This prevents the occasional surprise lump of dry cocoa powder within the fudge. Mix the dry, add the milk, start heating.

Second foible is the heating – I use a low to medium-los setting. Yes, it means it can wind up taking me 30 to 45 minutes to reach soft-ball. On the other hand it gives me a couple of benefits. Major benefit – I don’t have a spot on my pan so hot it burns the fudge while everything else is far from done. This means I don’t have to stir as much as thoroughly. In fact, I’ll often let it simmer for five to ten minutes at a time, stirring as much to check the bubbles as to ensure everything is mixed and heating equally. Minor benefit – I creep up on soft ball instead of blowing past it into hard ball when testing time comes.

Third foible – I said lukewarm for the stirring. I actually start a bit earlier; at the point I think I won’t lose the vanilla.

And now it’s serious discussion time. Let’s start with footnote 2 above. Stir to semigloss. See, what’s happening in the stirring is you’re forming seed crystals, and as you begin it will continue. When you start stirring you’re introducing cooler spots – spots at which crystallization can begin. If the fudge is cool enough the crystals will stay and not re-dissolve into the syrup. On the other hand if you wait too long the fudge is ready and willing to leap into crystallization. You can tell when you’ve gotten to this point as instead of going to semigloss you get a matte finish and the fudge starts to set in the pan. Oh, it’s still good and most folk will eat it without hesitation (sugar, butter, a touch of vanilla…) it’s not going to bring blissful looks as the chocolate melts on the tongue.

As I said I start stirring when it’s warmer than ‘lukewarm’ — as hot as it can be while I still think the vanilla (mostly) won’t evaporate. When I stir it vigorously, I’m looking for the change in appearance. I’m also looking for a touch of change in consistency – I want it to start thickening. Not a lot, mind you, as I don’t want it setting up in the pan. I tend to aim for something about the consistency of pancake syrup. At that point I pour it into a buttered pan and let it sit for an hour or so. The starting crystals are fine enough and thoroughly mixed enough I don’t end up with grainy fudge. Well, I need to note it’s not the smoothest possible.

If I were really wanting great and butter-smooth fudge I’d keep stirring till the fudge got closer to setting than pancake syrup. I’d go for something a bit thicker than molasses. If I hit the point exactly right it finishes setting less than a minute after hitting the molding pan. Because I’ve prevented any large crystals from forming (due to vigorous constant stirring) I get, well, butter-smooth fudge. My current technique comes very close, however, so I’m fine with it — I never seem to have leftover fudge, anyway (grin).

Oh, one last personal note which I’ve made several times before. I add a touch of red (cayenne) pepper to the fudge while mixing the dry ingredients. Not much – less than an eighth of a teaspoon – as I don’t want any hint of heat. I just want that catalytic effect where the capsaicin unlocks more taste receptors and carries the chocolate to them.

Enjoy yourselves.

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