Making fudge at home lets you flavor the candy as you like. Let your imagination run wild with unconventional blends like chili and chocolate, or stick with something more basic, like a creamy hazelnut and caramel flavor. Fudge is traditionally cooked until it reaches the soft ball stage, which ensures that it has a creamy, malleable but firm texture. To avoid runny or crunchy fudge, pay close attention to the cooking temperature and the stirring process.
The basic ingredients in fudge are sugar and butter. However, corn syrup, and in some cases, cream, milk or evaporated milk, are added to the mix to produce different textures and tastes. Similarly, flavorings such as vanilla syrup, other flavored extracts, nuts, dried fruit and chocolate are commonly used to flavor fudge and give it texture. Balance out your flavors by avoiding too much of sweet, herbal or textural ingredients. For example, a dark chocolate fudge may require more mint flavoring for a mint chocolate fudge, because the intensity of the dark chocolate can withstand more herbal flavor than a milder milk chocolate could. Similarly, be careful of using too many textural additives, such as hazelnuts or dried fruit, because they can mask the natural creamy softness of fudge.
In addition to a pot and spoon, you need a large pan that can comfortably hold all of the fudge you are making. Any shape of pan can be used, but rectangular forms make it easier to cut and portion your fudge into smaller pieces. The deeper the pan, the longer it will take your fudge to cool, but some people prefer large, rectangular slices rather than small-cut square. You will also need waxed paper and a candy thermometer. The waxed paper keeps your fudge pieces from sticking after they have been sliced, while the candy thermometer lets you know exactly when you need to stop cooking the fudge. Fudge that is cooked too long can be hard and stiff, as sugar cooked past the soft ball stage will harden when it cools.
To make creamy, slightly chewy fudge, heat a 2-to-1 ratio of sugar and milk together with 1 tablespoon of butter and 1/4 teaspoon of salt per cup of sugar. If you are using chocolate, add cocoa powder, using a 1-to-4 ratio of cocoa powder to sugar. Heat all of the ingredients except the butter in a pot on medium high, bringing to a gentle boil. Cook until the sugar has melted, whisking occasionally to prevent scalding. Over-whisking, however, can cause the fudge to turn grainy. When the mixture reads 235 degrees Fahrenheit, remove from the heat. At this temperature, a thin strand of fudge drizzled into a cup of ice water will turn soft and pliable. Whisk in the butter and any flavoring, as well as additives such as nuts, stirring gently. Pour the liquid fudge into a buttered pan, and set the pan in a sink partially filled with ice water. The water should rise up halfway on the pan’s sides. Let the fudge cool until warm enough to safely handle -- around several hours, although it should still feel warm -- and then slice it with a knife dipped in hot water.
Store fudge at room temperature in an airtight container. To prevent the pieces from sticking together, keep it in a relatively cool place, between layers of waxed paper. Fudge can also be stored in the fridge or freezer. Cold fudge will need to be brought back to room temperature before it will be soft and pliable again -- fudge hardens and becomes chewy when stored in cold conditions. Fudge made on a rainy or humid day may be stickier and less likely to hold its shape.
David Grimes has worked professionally as a chef since 2002, in settings as wide-ranging as a corporate caterer and as a sous chef in a Michelin-starred French restaurant. He has been writing about food since 2009 and published in "Time Out New York" and "Food and Wine" magazine.
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