I might as well get this out of the way right up front: I am a fudge snob. I grew up close by to two absolutely fabulous candy stores that made homemade fudge (Mill Creek Chocolates in Port Elgin, and The Tobermory Sweet Shop, where I also spent a summer working). As a result, I find most fudge (especially the storebought stuff) to be a poor imitation of the “real thing”. Real fudge is creamy, melty, and so sweet that even as a small, sugar-driven child I had a hard time eating more than a teensy piece.
So you can probably guess that when I make fudge at home, it’s good stuff. No sweetened condensed milk here. No marshmallow fluff. No microwaving. No powdered sugar. Just awesome.
Now, to make fudge properly, you really, REALLY need a candy thermometer. Digital is best, of course (mine cost less than $15 and has been SO worth the investment). There are dozens of “tricks” out there for how to tell when your fudge has reached the proper stage (most common being the ‘cold water test’), but 90% of the time you’re going to end up with over- or under- cooked fudge if you’re not going by temperature, because things like the ambient humidity and the temperature of your ‘cold’ water are going to affect matters.
The real difference between a high-quality homemade fudge and most of the stuff you’ll find out there these days is the sugar crystals. A really good fudge should be creamy, not grainy. Getting the temperature and the ratios of the ingredients just right will help to keep your sugar crystals smaller. The waiting time between boiling the mix and stirring the mix also helps — any crystals that start to form too early (usually along the top, where cooling is faster) will be broken up and re-absorbed during the stirring. You could, of course, just spend 15 or 20 minutes stirring your fudge after cooking to inhibit crystal formation, but that’s a LOT of work — better to wait while things cool down a little, and then get to the stirring when it’s really needed. One final trick: I also use a small amount of corn syrup, in addition to the sugar, as corn syrup is liquid at room temperature and this will help to improve the texture.
My basic vanilla fudge has only five ingredients:
- 3 cups white sugar (you can use brown, but it gives a different flavour)
- 1/4 cup corn syrup
- 1/4 cup salted butter
- 1-1/4 cups whole milk or light cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
And that’s it. Put it all into a pot over medium heat, and stir until it reaches a boil. Then stop stirring. Put your candy thermometer into the pot and just watch while the temperature climbs to 240 degrees Fahrenheit (should take 3-5 minutes). Remove the pot from the heat, and then wait. Don’t stir it yet. Give it time to cool down to somewhere between 120 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit (this will take 15 minutes to a half hour, depending on the temperature in your kitchen). Then you can start stirring. Stir and fold the mix over on itself until it looks opaque and is becoming quite thick (about 3-5 minutes, depending on just how vigorous your stirring is). Pour the mix into a pan (an 8×8 for shorter, wider squares, or a bread pan for taller slices). It should be thick enough that you’ll actually need to press it down into the pan; it won’t flow easily into all the corners. Let it cool down completely (put it in the fridge to make it firm and easy to slice), then wrap it to prevent moisture loss.
This recipe gives you a delicious, plain, simple fudge — but it’s only the beginning. There are so many variations on plain old vanilla fudge, and with a little creativity you can create your own mixes, too.
For a chocolate fudge, use only 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and add 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder.
For a peanut butter fudge, use only 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and add 1/4 cup of peanut butter. If you’d like a “crunchy” version, stir in peanuts once the mixture has cooled after boiling, just before you pour it into the pan.
For a maple fudge, just replace the corn syrup with maple syrup. You can reduce or leave out the vanilla.
For a coffee fudge, either add a shot of freshly-made espresso to the mix, or dissolve a tablespoon of instant coffee granules in a tablespoon of hot water and add that. You can add coffee to a chocolate fudge to get a nice mocha flavour, too.
For a peppermint fudge, just replace the vanilla extract with peppermint extract. Same goes for any other extract — try orange, rum, anise, almond, or coconut! For seasonal peppermint fudge at Christmas, add crushed-up candy canes to the mix once it has cooled down after boiling, just before you put it into the pan.
For a pumpkin pie spice fudge, reduce the vanilla to 1 teaspoon. When the mixture has cooled to stirring temperature after boiling, add 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice and blend well. Alternatively, you can use other spices — cinnamon works nicely all on its own, or try adding chili powder or ginger to a chocolate fudge for a hit of the unexpected.
One of my personal favourites is chocolate with peanut butter swirls, which is achieved by first making chocolate fudge as described above. Just before pouring the mix into a pan for the final cooling, add a couple tablespoons of peanut butter. Give it a quick swirl, then put the mix into the pan and get the pan into the fridge before the peanut butter gets a chance to melt.
Another excellent option is rocky road fudge, which can be made with either vanilla or chocolate fudge as a base. As with the peanut butter, wait until the last moment to add nuts, marshmallows and chocolate chips — quickly swirl them in, then get the mix into a pan and into the fridge for cooling.
Feel free to experiment with other flavours, and tell me in the comments what you’ve tried! I’m thinking of doing a chocolate fudge with pretzel pieces, next — or possibly maple with plain popcorn mixed in.