I might make a couple of enemies around here with my next statement, so get ready: I think that fudge made with marshmallow fluff is Cheating. Fudge is all about achieving a very singular texture through temperature and crystallization control. The only safety nets one should have when making fudge are 1)a thermometer and 2)a little bit of invert sugar to hedge ones' bets. I think that using something that has gelatin in it makes it a)non-vegetarian and b)not real fudge. That's why they call it Fantasy Fudge. Fantasy as in Opposite of Real. It might be tasty, but it ain't fudge.
With nothing but my Thermapen, a wee dram of corn syrup, some spices and two tries, I have made what I humbly assert might be the Best Fudge Ever. It is soft-ish with just a hint of chew. It is creamy and wonderful. It has a subtle fruity spiciness from a bit of adobo sauce, ancho chile powder and ground cinnamon. The flavor sparkles because there is enough salt in it to balance the sweetness of 66 oz of sugar. I will now 'splain how I made it so that you can make it, too. If you want. And you should, because it is Scrumptious. I will also show you (this video, made in 2013, is made using the same base ingredients as the spicy fudge, but I swapped out the flavorings to make orange cardamom fudge. Once you have the technique down, feel free to change up the flavorings however you like).
This fudge is based on one that I used to make at the restaurant for mignardises. I had always thought that that fudge was a little bit hard, and now I know why. I had always used my (not so) trusty candy thermometer, and when I used the same one a couple of days ago and then checked its accuracy with my (very) trusty Thermapen, I realized it runs about 5-7 degrees cool. That might sound like Not A Lot, but when working with sugar, it can be the difference between soft ball and hard ball, or hard ball and soft crack. Lesson learned.
I made this recipe twice over the past two days. The first tasted amazing, but it never set up as firmly as I would've liked. I'll tell you why in a minute, but for now, let me just say that that batch won't be wasted. I'll be giving it out as spiced fudge sauce for ice cream. Waste not, want not. And it will be fantastic on vanilla or coffee ice cream.
Based on the failings of the first attempt, I tweaked the recipe a bit, and the second attempt was pretty close to perfect. I am Very Pleased and Full of Fudge. And I even have a little left over to give as gifts.
When I made the first batch of fudge, which called for 32 oz of half and half, I foolishly poured in a quart container thinking that it would be 32 oz. Wrong. Try 34 oz. I also cooked the fudge to 234F and used 6 oz. of butter. For attempt #2, I made sure to weigh everything (like I always tell you to do. See, my feet are made of clay). I also reduced the butter by 2 oz (I just thought it was a little too buttery the first time around), reduced the vanilla by about 1/4 (because I wanted to let the spices shine through), and I cooked it to 236F so the sugar would set up a bit more firmly.
Okay, now that that's all out of the way, I give you My Fudge.
Creamy, Dreamy, Spicy Fudge
Spice this in whatever way you deem appropriate. You could add some espresso powder, cardamom, curry powder--whatever strikes your fancy. You can also leave out the spices and just make a fabulous chocolate fudge. Stir in some nuts, crushed coffee beans, cocoa nibs and/or dried fruit right before pouring it into the pans. Focus on the technique, and you really can't go wrong. I quadrupled the original recipe, and it made 2 9" and 1 6" pans and I got a grand total of 228 pieces of fudge, not counting trimmings and the three pieces I've already eaten.
- 66.5 oz. granulated sugar (10 level cups, if you don't have a scale)
- 32 oz. half and half (half cream/half whole milk)
- 2 oz. corn syrup
- 1 pound good quality semi-sweet chocolate (I used 8oz each of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips and bittersweet chunks)
- about 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- about 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
- about 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder (the first batch used cayenne. Use whatever sounds good)
- 4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 3 Tablespoons vanilla extract
How to Make It
Butter the bottoms of your pans. Line them with parchment or magical Release foil cut to fit the bottom of the pan and up the two sides. Apply a very thin coat of butter to the paper or foil. Set aside.
Cut the butter into pieces and measure the vanilla. Set aside.
Weigh the sugar, half and half, corn syrup and chocolate into a large pot (I used my 5-quart Dutch oven).
Stir in the salt (go a little light to begin with, and then add more if you need it) and spices/adobo sauce.
Slap the lid on the pot and let boil for three minutes to wash any Errant Sugar Crystals off the sides of the pot.
Remove the lid and let boil until the mixture reaches 236F. Take it to 240-242F if you'd like a firmer fudge. I like mine a little softer, so there you go. It only took about twelve minutes for the mixture to reach 236F, so watch it carefully. If you don't have a Thermapen I strongly urge you to get one. They are Exceedingly Responsive and Accurate, which is very important when working with sugar.
When the mixture has reached 236F, turn off the heat and move the pan of bubbling fudge off of the burner. Put the butter and vanilla in, but don't stir it in.
Let the mixture cool until it's about 125F. Mine was 120F near the edge of the pan and about 132F in the center. The average was close enough. Many recipes tell you to cool the fudge to 110F, but I don't think that gives you enough time to really work the fudge before it sets up too firmly to deal with. Oh, by the way, if you make a mondo batch like I did, it'll take about two hours or so to cool to the correct temperature.
It will take a little while for you to incorporate the butter, and there might be some wee rafts of milk solids on top of the fudge. This might cause you some Concern, but worry not. It'll all blend in. This is another reason to start beating the fudge before it gets to 110F--you'll have plenty of time to get the butter well incorporated. I also pulled up big spoonfuls of liquid fudge and let them run back into the pan from about 18" up. Partly 'cause it was fun, and partly to aerate and cool the mixture more quickly.
Once the fudge gets very thick and turns from a shiny gloss to a satiny gloss (about 105F or so), pour into prepared pans and let set up for several hours. I refrigerated mine overnight before cutting it since it's a bit on the soft side.
And that's how you make fudge, no marshmallow fluff needed. I bet you want to know why you can't stir until it reaches a certain temperature, right? Well, sugar is a crystal. When you melt it and then cool it again, the crystals dissolve and then reform. You can encourage crystallization by stirring. If you start stirring before the mixture is cool enough, the crystals will be large, and large crystals equal grainy fudge. Starting to stir at around 125F encourages the formation of wee tiny crystals, and wee tiny crystals give fudge its satin-matte finish and creamy mouthfeel.
Here are some pictures that illustrate how I "de-panned" my fudge and cut it. You can use whatever method you like, but this worked for me.