In early January of this year, fellow foodie and blogger extraordinaire Lindsay Landis at Love & Olive Oil (http://www.loveandoliveoil.com/) issued a kitchen challenge that I could not walk away from… I mean navigate my browser off of. Sweeter than sweet, it was one heck of a dream challenge – make old fashioned fudge. The real stuff. The fudge our forefathers ate, way back before there were pre-made and pre-jarred marshmallow fluff, sweetened condensed milk, or even bags of ready-to-use powdered sugar or marshmallows ranging in sizes from “Gladys, bring me my glasses” to “I’m stopping by uHaul to rent a truck so I can get my bag o’marshmallows home from the store”. And don’t even get me STARTED on the various flavors.
No doubt about it, the fudge making industry has advanced light years from its meager beginnings, and attempting to forego the fudgy conveniences we’ve relied on is not as easy as one may think. Despite the fact that I admire, idolize and (if I’m being honest) I am even a smidge envious of Lindsay’s talents both on the page and in the kitchen, there was a time or two where I found myself raising my fists to the air shouting “Fudge you, Lindsay!” In the end, however, one bite into the old fashioned creamy goodness and I was singing praises to Lindsay once again.
Please note that when I used the word “dream” to describe this challenge, I didn’t specify if that dream was a fantasy or a nightmare. I did that on purpose for the simple fact that it is both. Hitting the right temperature and stirring the right amount is about as easy as aligning the planets using a baked potato and a toilet brush. I would describe old fashioned fudge making as being cooking’s equivalent to dominos; if you want the finished result to be amazing, the key is hitting every step of the process at exactly the right time. It is not a forgiving treat to make, which means you can’t multi-task while you are making it. There is no “I’ll make fudge while I’m giving the kids a bath”, or even “I’ll take pictures of every step of the process so that my blog readers will get a better idea of how I did it”. When something goes wrong, it goes really, really wrong and it happens fast. One second you have creamy fudgy dreaminess, the next you have a substance that could patch a leak in a dam or repair potholes. The moral of the story: Fudge is a fickle lover.
We are HUGE peanut butter lovers over here. I mean HUGE and LOVE in all caps. I couldn’t even think the word “fudge” without my family screaming demands that it be peanut butter. Even when I say, “I’m making chocolate” I still hear “You mean you are making chocolate fudge, too? Like, when you’re done making the peanut butter kind?” About the closest thing to acceptance of chocolate fudge I came to was when my daughter said, “Oh, you’re going to put chocolate in the peanut butter fudge? I bet that will be yummy”. Needless to say, I wound up making 3 kinds of fudge: Chocolate peanut butter fudge, plain peanut butter fudge and strawberry fudge. Not to get anyone’s hopes up falsely, only two of the three actually turned out. The peanut butter and chocolate/peanut butter combo were awesome. The strawberry? Not so much. In the immortal words of Meat Loaf: “Two out of three ain’t bad”.
That being said, I’m going to post all three recipes because #1 I’m not ashamed to admit mistakes/defeat; #2 I’m positive the failure was entirely due to technique and not the recipe; #3 I’m hoping this will be one of those things that falls under the “those that cannot do, teach” concept. #4 While I didn’t get the strawberry fudge I longed for, I DID manage to create one of the best strawberry preserves/jams/spreads the western world has ever tasted, and I did so completely by accident. According to my research and experience, that means I will never be able to make it again in a million years so this may well be the one and only time I will be given to share it with you. And so, without further adieu, bring forth the fudge!!
Wait! One thing I should probably mention is that I do not own a candy thermometer. Before I get a barrage of emails saying “You dork! You wouldn’t have had HALF the trouble if you would have gotten up off of your arse, loosened your purse strings and bought a damn thermometer!” Let me assure you that I am well aware of this. I made a conscious decision to not buy/use a candy thermometer, and the reasons for which are probably as stupid as the decision itself. I wanted to really be old fashioned about it, plus my Mamaw’s recipes only referenced sugars heated to various stages of ballness, with nary a mention of any temperatures. I wanted to see what the “soft ball stage” sugar crap was all about. I have to admit, I kind of had fun with that. I got to play with smooshy balls of pure cooked sugar in ice water. What’s not to love? Oh, right, the clean up and the fact that I can say more than one batch of fudge perished because I paid too much attention to playing with sugar balls and not enough attention to making fudge. But on a positive note, if there is ever a zombie apocalypse and we have to use the spears of our candy thermometers as weapons to impale the skulls of the countless number of dead and loving it walkers, I don’t have to worry about getting zombie brain matter off of a candy thermometer if I get a hankerin’ for fudge. And NOW on with the fudge:
Once you have that down, the peanut butter fudge is a breeze.
Ok, time to suck it up and post my failure…
3 cups granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ cup cream (milk)
1/3 cup water
½ cup strawberry jam (recipe below)
2 TBSP butter
1 TBSP lemon juice
3-4 drops red food coloring
Chocolate to drizzle
Prep an 8×8 pan by lining it with parchment paper. Lightly coat with spray oil
Combine the sugar, salt, milk and water in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Allow mixture to reach the soft ball stage.
Once at the soft ball stage, add the lemon juice, butter, food color and strawberry jam and stir to combine. The temperature will drop quite a bit. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the soft ball stage again.
Remove it from the heat and set aside to cool for 20 minutes
Begin to beat the fudge using a stiff spoon. You will stir vigorously. It will take some time, but you will notice the fudge getting thicker, heavier, more opaque. It will start to come together in the pan and will lose its gloss.
Scrape it into the prepared pan. Allow it to cool at room temp for several hours.
Once it is cool, add melted chocolate (if desired). If using the chocolate, melt the chocolate and spread it on the top of the fudge and refrigerate until set. Before cutting the fudge, allow it to come to room temperature for 15-20 minutes or the chocolate will separate if you cut it when it is too cold.
Strawberry Jam Recipe:
1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled
2 cups granulated sugar
1/8 cup lemon juice
In a wide bowl, crush strawberries in batched until you have 2 cups mashed berries.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, mix together the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.
Increase heat to high and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil, stirring often, until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage.
Transfer jam to storage container, allow to cool and refrigerate. If making jam in advance and you would like to store it, transfer jam to hot sterile jars, leaving ¼ – ½ inch headspace and seal. Process in a water bath.
That’s right, I tried making strawberry fudge using actual strawberries, none of those syrupy flavorings, extracts or powders that always seem to taste more like the containers they come in rather than the beautiful red berries of spring and summer. Even as I’m typing this I’m thinking “why the hell would I think I could do that?”, so I realize you probably are wondering that too. All I can say is that standing over boiling sugar for hours and hours followed by mixing until both arms are in a sling does something to a person. I’m also certain the amount of sugar I consumed while undertaking this Herculean task may have also played a role in my decision, therefore I am petitioning the FDA to include the following warning on all bags/boxes of sugar: “WARNING! Excessive use of this product may impair judgement, thinking and the ability to accurately recognize and/or accept the consumer’s actual skills, abilities and/or talents. Please use caution when using stoves, ovens and microwaves until you are familiar with its effects. Failure to do so may result in additional time and effort required to complete tasks such as cleanup. Additional symptoms of prolonged use may include: spontaneous shrinking of every article of clothing you may come into contact with, including clothing items found in closets, dressing rooms, stores and even in the closets of a friend who has finally agreed to let you borrow that perfect little black dress you’ve been begging her to borrow since last summer. Consume at your own risk”
This concludes my very first food/blog challenge. If you try making any of these, especially the strawberry, please let me know how you did! As always, thanks for carving out time from your busy day to visit my blog. Enjoy!
Yours Until the Hershey’s Kiss,