Fudge used to be my worst confectionery nightmare.
It is an endlessly fascinating sweet with millions of variations – plain old vanilla fudge, chocolate fudge, little bits & pieces fudge, soft melty fudge, buttery leaves-you-with-shiny-fingers fudge, firm grainy fudge – but no matter what “foolproof” recipe I tried, it had always been a dismal fudgey failure. My many failed attempts put fear in my heart when it comes to either cooking or consuming the sweet little squares. This excerpt from Under the Tuscan Sun really struck a chord with me:
“Throughout her childhood, except for a batch of obsidian-like fudge, Ashley disdained the kitchen”
– Frances Mayes
I used to stand outside the American Fudge Factory shop and look on at the bulk fudge-making process with envy and grave resignation. I so much wanted to wield that gigantic spade device and magically transform a big pot of caramelised gloop into beautiful, melt-in-the-mouth fudge.
Then, a few weeks ago, I saw a copy of Ideas magazine with the words “We Love Vintage” on the front. If you really want to sell me something, use the word vintage. I’m a total sucker (more on that in an upcoming post…). While flipping through the magazine, a friend and I came across the recipe section which was all about old-fashioned sweets – and when we got to the recipe for fudge, her eyes glazed over and I swear she almost licked the magazine… the photo accompanying the recipe is absolutely gorgeous, an entire loaf of fudge! She was looking at that picture the way a bored cougar looks at Fabio the pool-boy… so I decided that I would give fudge another go, and give my friend a loaf of fudge for her birthday.
Due to a multitude of little life things, the fudge-making process was scheduled for 10pm on a Thursday evening after my wood-carving class… if you can help it, try NOT to make fudge at 10pm on a Thursday. It makes for a very sleepy and inefficient Friday (but Agnes’ appreciation for the gift more than made up for it 🙂 ).
The original recipe states that it takes about 30 minutes *faux-coughs to hide the word LIARS issuing forth from mouth*. I was being extra-careful and it took HOURS. In retrospect, a cast-iron pot definitely prolongs the cooling time (however, this allowed for a welcome nap – face-down on the kitchen counter). The recipe also states that it yields 16-24 squares *shouts the word LIARS without attempting to conceal it*. Unless you are making squares large enough to inflict damage when flung, this will make a small loaf plus about 24 squares.
800g (940ml) sugar – this recipe is not a friend of teeth. But it tastes really good.
35ml golden syrup
40ml liquid glucose (can be substituted with more golden syrup) (glucose is brain food… perhaps this fudge will make you smarter?).
1 can sweetened condensed milk
50g (55ml) butter
5ml vanilla essence
Heat the sugar, milk and a pinch of salt together over low heat in a saucepan. Have a pastry brush and some water handy to brush down the crystals that form along the sides; keep stirring over low heat until all the sugar dissolves. I had my doubts about this ever happening because that’s a whole lotta sugar – but after what felt like several months, it was all good.
Add all the other ingredients except for the vanilla essence and bring the mixture to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, giving it an occasional gentle stir. It will gradually change from a pale and oily concoction (at one point mine looked like butt-cheeks) to a lovely emulsified caramel bubbling away. As soon as it reaches soft-ball stage, remove it from the heat to cool down.
Soft-ball stage is a term that has caused me serious panic ever since I first came across it in high-school Home Economics. I understand the theory but somehow it has never really worked for me in practice. This time round, I was armed with a digital thermometer as well as the traditional method of dropping a bit of the mixture into cold water. If you use a thermometer, soft-ball stage happens at 112 – 115 degrees Celsius; in cold water, a little bit dropped in will form a soft squishy ball that holds its shape (mine formed soft snakey shapes, actually).
If you started this at 10pm, now is a good time to take a little nap. When the mixture is lukewarm (about 50 degrees Celsius), add the essence and then beat the bejeezus out of it with a wooden spoon. It will become dull and thick and creamy – the more you beat it, the smaller the crystals will be and the less likely you are to make fudge rock-formations. Pour it into a greased 20cm loaf tin (I didn’t trust this and used greaseproof paper to line the tin), or pour into a lined container to set. I hadn’t anticipated having so much fudge to deal with so hurriedly threw the remainder onto a bit of greaseproof – it kind of looked like a dinosaur poop. Cut into squares with a hot knife and store in an airtight container – or alternately, wrap the loaf and decorate with pretty ribbons.
Even though Ideas told fibs about the cooking time and yield, they were totally right about this recipe – it is PHENOMENAL fudge, with the perfect texture and flavour. This recipe has totally cured me of my fear of fudge – yay!!
Happy (very early) Birthday Agnes!!