In theory, fudge is the perfect fête item:
- cheap to make
- an old-fashioned favourite
- keeps for ages
- easy to pack and transport.
But no-one told me how tricky it is. I’ve made so many batches that didn’t work, that almost worked, that needed to be rescued. Occasionally, the batch of perfection that is smooth, very slightly soft, but still firm enough to cut.
The picture isn’t one of them. It was the crunchy, crystalline sort that was still OK to eat. It set me on a hunt for the repeatable fudge recipe that works.
Fudge lesson 1: make sure the sugar dissolves
The first fudge recipe didn’t explain that you have to make sure that the sugar has completely dissolved at low heat before starting to boil it up.
In theory, you can feel a sort of grittiness as you stir the mixture. I found that it’s better to pull the spoon out of the mixture, turn it over, and rub my finger along the back of the spoon. If there’s any suggestion of lack of smoothness in the mixture, then it will feel gritty.
Fudge lesson 2: beat it just enough
In previous attempts, I’ve often ended up with a sort of sticky goo that tasted pleasant enough but couldn’t be cut up into pieces. It turns out that this happens if you don’t beat it enough.
Armed with my ancient trusty hand-held Kenwood mixer, I beat the next batch. It went through four stages:
- Mixture looks runny. Beaters just turn it over.
- Mixture starts to look a little thicker. Beaters make a trail but the trail disappears.
- Mixture is quite thick. As I move the beaters around the pan, the trails have just subsided back into the mixture when the beaters get around one circle.
- Mixture is rather solid. The trails are permanent and I can see the bottom of the pan.
If you like really crumbly fudge, then stage 4 is the one to go for.
This batch was popular with my testers, but I thought it was way too crumbly. And it didn’t so much cut as shatter into fragments – not really presentable enough for a cake stall.
Fudge lesson 3: get everything set out in advance
My next step was obvious: try beating it to stage 3 and see if that gave me the right consistency.
I also came across David Lebovitz’s post on Maple Creams, on a day when I’d been given a nice large bottle of Grade A Amber maple syrup. Reading the recipe, it became clear that a maple cream is in fact a piece of maple fudge. His recipe is adapted from Anita Prichard’s Complete Candy Book. This one is adapted some more, and follows his advice to replace corn syrup with glucose (way down the page).
Recently, I’ve been able to find Silver Spoon Liquid Glucose in Sainsbury’s. You can also get it online from Dr Oetker and specialist cake decoration suppliers.
So this recipe calls for expensive, hard-to-find ingredients and specialist equipment. Ouch. But I’m planning to keep working on it.
And getting everything set out in advance? Yes, I really found that was crucial. Once the mixture is sufficiently beaten, it starts setting fast.
Maple and pecan fudge
Cup measure (250ml)
Chopping board and knife
20cm (8″) square pan
Medium-sized saucepan with heavy base
Pecans: enough to fill the cup measure when roughly chopped, about 150g
Butter: a small knob, about a teaspoon
Maple syrup: one cup
Caster sugar: two cups
Double cream: one cup (i.e. one 300ml pot less about two tablespoons)
Liquid glucose: two tablespoons
Vanilla extract: half a teaspoon
This needs to cool for at least two hours before you cut it up.
It lasts for at least two weeks in good condition; I kept a couple of pieces for three months and they were still OK.
- Roughly chop the pecans and set them aside.
- Use the knob of butter to grease the square pan. Make sure that it is thoroughly covered – this really helps to get the fudge out. Set aside.
- Pour the maple syrup into the saucepan. Add the caster sugar, cream, and liquid glucose.
- Check that the mixture comes no further than one fifth of the way up the saucepan. This mixture will rise up to four times its size while boiling, and it’s a nasty sticky mess if it boils over.
- Put the saucepan on the cooking ring. Turn the ring on to its lowest setting.
- Stir the mixture over the heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Check by running your finger along the back of the spoon: if it’s even slightly gritty, you haven’t stirred long enough.
- (Fussy person’s optional step: I also dipped a kitchen towel in water and cleaned down the sides of the saucepan. I don’t know if this was strictly necessary).
- Turn up the heat a bit (I went for medium) and put the thermometer into the mixture. The mixture will rise in the saucepan.
- Boil until the mixture gets to 115°C (239°F), stirring now and then. (This is the ‘soft ball’ stage. When I’ve figured out how to judge this reliably without a thermometer, I’ll write about it).
- Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool to 110°C (230°F). (I don’t know why we have to do this, but David Lebovitz told me to so I did it. Update: I misread David’s recipe. I should have let the mixture cool to 43°C, 110°F. I’ll try that another time).
- Add the vanilla extract.
- Using the hand-held mixer, beat the mixture until the beaters just leave a trail. Set the mixer aside.
- Add the pecans to the mixture and quickly stir them in.
- Turn the mixture into the prepared pan and push down flat with the wooden spoon.
- Leave until cool (about 2 hours).
- Turn out of the pan and cut into small pieces. (I cut out one small strip and removed it; the rest then turned out quite easily. It partly cut, and partly crumbled).
This was really melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Even my non-sweet-eating husband scoffed several pieces that were waiting to be photographed.
- It was still rather hard. Smooth, but not with that very slightly squidgy texture that the best fudge should have. Quite a few of the pieces broke apart rather than cutting nicely.
- This recipe has luxury and hard-to-find ingredients
- I used fancy equipment that surely wasn’t available in the olden days.
So the search is still on. I’ll keep you posted.