I don’t give fudge enough credit. It’s on a short list of foods that I never think to eat, but then when I do have it I’m like “damn, where have you been hiding all my life??” I was recently in Pacific City, Oregon for a project and had some fudge from a little market near the beach at Cape Kiwanda. It reminded me how much I love the stuff, and I figured we should make some!
A lot or recipes out there for “fudge” are really just a thickened, sweetened ganache. That is, simply a mixture of dairy and chocolate that is melted and sets thanks to the content of cocoa and cocoa butter in the chocolate. This style of “fudge” is often much sweeter than the real thing, and while it’s damn tasty, it isn’t what we’re tackling in this post.
We’ll be making authentic, old fashioned fudge; a sugar confection that is cooked as a syrup and then cooled and thickened. These days the term is synonymous with chocolate but in reality fudge doesn’t have to have any chocolate at all. Except then what’s the point? The American variety of fudge, popularized in the late 1800’s had cocoa powder and chocolate added to it and a star was born.
Creating fudge is all about controlled crystallization. Crystallization is a topic large enough for its own post (coming soon) so for now I’ll just say that we will be creating a sugar syrup and by agitating that syrup while it cools we’ll create tiny crystals that are strong enough to set the fudge and make it firm, but small enough to avoid detection with your tongue, resulting in a smooth texture.
I add sea salt to this fudge after it has been cut. Be sure to use a good quality sea salt, not the iodized or kosher stuff you usually bake with. Because I add sea salt, I have cut the salt in the fudge itself in half. If you don’t want to add sea salt at the end of the recipe, double the quantity in the fudge (2g instead of 1g).
the rules of candy crystals
A lot of people get nervous when it comes to making candy and controlling crystals, but like everything else in the world of pastry, as long as you know some basic rules and stick to them, you’ll be just fine.
Rule 1 – Give the sugar plenty of time to dissolve in the liquid. You don’t want any large sugar crystals present when the syrup starts to thicken, so warm the syrup over low heat and stir it often to ensure all of the sugar fully dissolves before the syrup comes to a boil.
Rule 2 – Keep things clean. Crystals need a base of operations to start forming (known in the nerd-dom as a nucleation site). Specs of dust or dirt on your cooking utensils can do the trick, so make sure everything is squeaky clean before getting started. While you’re making the fudge, continue to keep your cooking pot clean, because nothing is as tempting to a crystal than another crystal. Specs of sugar on your thermometer or the side of your pot can quickly create a chain reaction of crystallization that will seize your fudge into a chunky mess.
Rule 3 – Respect the temperatures. The cooking temperature of fudge is specific because it represents a point at which your syrup has just the right percentage of sugar to water.
Rule 4 – Be prepared. When fudge is ready, it’s ready fast. Have your mold or pan ready to go long before it’s time to pour the fudge in it. Even the brief amount of time it took me to film the step put me in a bit of a bind in getting the fudge in smoothly (don’t worry, I avoided disaster thanks to some tricks I’ve learned from messing this recipe up many times in the past)
some notes on your equipment
Make sure to be precise in meeting your final cooking temp. The best way to do this is with a digital probe thermometer (they’re good for lots of cooking, including savory, so it’s worth the small investment). I would avoid classic candy thermometers, the kind with a wooden ball on it that clip to the side of the pan. They are often inaccurate, can’t easily sample temperatures from all over the pot, and the little ball almost always chars thanks to indirect contact with the burner below the pot.
You’ll need a pastry brush to wash down the sides of the pot during the cooking process. Don’t use the brush you use to baste ribs. Any oil in the bristles from past recipes will potentially ruin your fudge, so make sure it’s a clean brush, preferably new (and one you save for all future sugar needs). I like this one.
The best type of sauce pot to use is one with straight walls, because heat transfers most evenly up the sides, as opposed to a beveled wall pot. If the beveled kind is all you have, that’s fine. No need to go out and get a new one unless you plan to make lots of fudge.
old fashioned fudge with sea salt
170g whole milk
190g heavy cream
50g light corn syrup
60g butter unsalted
20g vanilla extract
40g cocoa powder Guittard Cocoa Rouge cocoa powder
140g chocolate, 64% Guittard L’Harmonie
sea salt as needed
Prepare a baking pan or mold before starting. I like to use a little butter to grease the mold and then place a layer of plastic wrap down. The butter will hold the plastic wrap in place and make unmolding easy (more on that later).
Combine the sugar, salt, butter, whole milk, heavy cream and light corn syrup in a sauce pot and begin to heat it over low heat, stirring often. Brush the sides of the pot down with clean water to remove any undissolved sugar that builds.
When the liquid is hot (usually when the butter has fully melted), whisk in the cocoa powder. At this point wash down the sides of the pot with your brush and clean water.
Bring the mixture to a boil, and STOP WHISKING! Whisking while the syrup is boiling can create premature crystallization, which would ruin the recipe. I generally give a final brush around the sides of the pot at this point.
Let the mixture cook to 234ºF/112C. Just make sure the syrup doesn’t go over 240F/116C or you’ve entered into the next stage of sugar syrup concentration and will likely end up with grainy fudge.
Remove the sauce pot from the heat and let it sit for 30 seconds to allow the boiling to settle. This will also give the mixture some time for carry-over heat to bring the temperature up a few degrees.
Pour the fudge into a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and add the chocolate.
Begin mixing on the slowest speed. While the fudge is mixing, take a moment to clean your spatula. You don’t want any crystallized pieces of syrup being incorporated to the cooled fudge or it can set of a chain reaction and leave you with dreaded grit.
Mix the fudge on low speed until it thickens and just starts to lose its shine. This is going to take about 10min. depending on the batch size, speed of the mixer and temperature in your kitchen. Once the proper stage does occur, you’ll have to move quickly.
Pour the fudge into the baking pan/mold. I let it set for just a minute or two and then cover it with another layer of plastic wrap to touch so it doesn’t form a skin while setting.
Let the fudge set in the fridge for 30min to 1 hour. To remove the fudge from the mold, I run the mold upside down under hot water, which warms the layer of butter I added and allows you to remove the fudge easily.
Trim the fudge and cut as desired. Coat the top of the fudge with a light coat of the sea salt and gently press it into the fudge.
Keep the fudge well wrapped at room temperature. Enjoy!