This old fashioned fudge recipe uses cocoa powder and is super creamy. I was honored to give this recipe back to a family who only had the ingredient list from their grandma.
They’d tried and failed to make it a few times. So happy I could allow them to enjoy their treasured family fudge recipe again!
If you’re looking for a great hot fudge sauce recipe, do give mine a try. It is literally the best hot fudge sauce ever.
You can learn more about the science of making fudge here or, for ease of browsing, find all my candy recipes here in one place. Enjoy!
Watch my old-fashioned cocoa fudge recipe web story here.
Bringing Back a Treasured Family Recipe
This is what happened to reader Carol:
Her grandmother used to make this old fashioned fudge recipe every year, but she never taught the kids how she made it, and now that she’s gone, they were left fudge-less.
Carol did find the list of what she hoped were the ingredients for creamy cocoa fudge, but that was all she found. No rules. Just ingredients.
She sent me this message:
I ran across a list of ingredients for my Granny’s Fudge but no instructions. She is no longer with us, so I can’t ask her about it. I remember watching her when I was little, but she wouldn’t let me get too close for fear of me getting burned. She used to “tweak” it to make white fudge and peanut butter fudge.
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 Tablespoon cocoa
- 1 Tablespoon Karo
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup milk
- Chopped pecans
Thanks so much and belated Merry Christmas!
The Most Important Thing You Need to Know About Making Candy
Just the thought of making fudge, or any candy, can scare folks. And what’s scarier than a fudge recipe?
A random list of old fashioned creamy cocoa fudge ingredients with no instructions on how to make it. That’s what.
Successful candy making requires that sugar be cooked to precise temperatures so the finished candy is the correct texture. What are you supposed to do if there aren’t any instructions?!
You had better know your candy making techniques, and the most important thing to know about that is what sugar does–how it acts–when it is cooked to different temperatures.
Stages of Cooking Sugar
Have you heard of terms like “thread stage,” “hard ball stage,” or “soft crack stage?” These terms have to do with how sugar behaves once it reaches certain temperatures.
Back before we had access to precise thermometers, folks would test their sugar by plopping just a bit of the boiling sugar into a glass of ice water and then seeing what happened.
If the sugar made a blob that you could squish with your fingers, it was as the soft ball stage. If you could squish it but it took a bit of effort, it was at firm ball stage. If it ended up in shards that bent but then snapped, it was as soft crack stage.
Thank goodness we don’t need to use that method anymore. Because sugar is hot and the more times you take blobs of it and transfer them to a glass of ice water, the more of a chance you have of burning yourself. Nope, I’ll take an instant read thermometer any day.
You still need to know what temperatures give you what results, so I made this handy stages of sugar chart for you.
Adjusting Temperature for High Altitude Candy Making
Reader Charlie recently commented saying that his fudge tasted great but was crumbly. He did his own research and realized that it was because 234F was too hot at his altitude (5000 ft above sea level).
This information will help a lot of you, so thank you so much, Charlie. And I know your next batch of fudge will be Perfection!
Here’s the rule: reduce the temperature by 1 degree for every degree below sea level boiling temperature of 212F.
Make Adjustments for your Elevation Like This:
- Take the temperature of your boiling water.
- Subtract 1 degree from the target temperature for every degree below 212F your water boils.
If your water boils at 208F, then you will have to stop cooking your sugar at 230F (4 degrees below 234F since your water boils at 4F below 212F).
For reference, I found this Altitude Conversion Chart in a booklet titled “The Art of Candy Making” from the USU Extension/Utah County in Provo, Utah.
Recreating Carol’s Granny’s Recipe, Round 1
Using the ingredient list Carol sent me as a guide, I set to work, and I have to tell you:
my first attempt did not go well at all.
Some Reasons My Candy Making Went Wrong the First Time
- Because I’m impatient and like to do everything at lightning speed and
- I decided that Granny probably used evaporated milk. Evaporated milk has a lot of the water evaporated out of it, so there are more milk solids and it’s more likely to scorch.
Between going full speed on high heat and using evaporated milk, I ended up with scorched fudge.
The Beloved said he couldn’t taste it, but I could. And the 1/8″ of black burned milk solids on the bottom of my pan was a testament to my need for speed.
- Take your time. Cooking over medium heat will still let you get to where you need to go. It will happen more slowly so you have just a bit more margin for error.
- Be precise with your temperatures: both how hot you cook your mixture and–especially for fudge–what temperature you cool it to before you start stirring.
For round two, I slowed down to medium speed (and heat) and also used whole milk.
What did I end up with?
Let’s just let the photo do the talking: It turned out perfectly!
Fudge and Candy Making Equipment
Here are some recommendations for making your candy making life easier.
A heavy pot with sloped sides will make it easy to stir into the corners.
I’m giving you two recommendations for instant read thermometers, both made by the same company but at different price points.
Using a wooden spoon or high-heat silicone spatula is definitely the way to go because metal utensils will just transfer the heat up to your hand, and that would be bad.
A pizza cutter makes a surprisingly good candy cutter too, especially if you spray the wheel with a little bit of Pam or other pan spray.
I also use my pizza wheel to cut my butterscotch hard candy before it completely solidifies.
Rules to Remember
- Making fudge is all about concentrating the sugar so that when it sets up again as crystals, they feel smooth and creamy in your mouth and not grainy.
- Cooking it to too high a temperature causes it to set up really hard.
- Cooking it to too low a temperature causes it to be too soft or even runny like sauce (which isn’t bad. It’s just not what we’re going for).
- You really need an instant read thermometer or a good candy thermometer if you’re making fudge or any other kind of candy.
- Stirring is the key to making and controlling how the crystals set up. But if you stir too soon, or too late, you’ll end up with grainy fudge. Think of it the same way churning ice cream while it’s freezing ensures tiny ice crystals and smooth, creamy ice cream. This is the same principle.
- You really need a chart, a cheat sheet, to help you remember the stages of sugar. Like this one here!
Before we get down to the actual recipe, I want to make sure you a)have all the ingredients you need and b)know what to expect.
Here’s the rundown:
- sugar: provides the sweetness and the crystals needed to help the fudge set up into a creamy texture. For more depth of flavor, you can substitute with light brown sugar
- cocoa powder: you don’t need Dutch process for this. Plain old American cocoa powder will work just fine. Control how chocolatey your fudge is by using more or less cocoa powder
- corn syrup: helps to inhibit large crystals so you don’t end up with grainy fudge. You can substitute Lyle’s golden syrup here if you’d rather
- butter: adds fat for carrying flavor and also for mouthfeel
- milk: lends milk solids and liquid to moderate how quickly the sugar cooks. Also lends some complexity as the milk solids brown while cooking. I used whole milk. You can also use 2%. Do NOT substitute with evaporated milk, 1% or skim milk
- kosher salt: brings out the flavor in the fudge while counteracting any bitterness from the cocoa powder
- vanilla: chocolate’s best friend, the vanilla rounds out the flavors
- pecans: toast your nuts before chopping for maximum nutty flavor and crisp texture. You can substitute your favorite nut here or leave them out entirely
How To: Step by Step
- Everyone in the pool except for butter and vanilla.
- Bring to a rolling boil. Check temperature frequently until it reaches 234F. Remove from heat.
- Add butter and vanilla, but don’t stir them in yet.
- When the fudge cools to 110F, begin stirring. Stir and stir.
- It will start to thicken up after about 5 minutes or so. Continue stirring until fudge starts to lose its gloss.
- Quickly stir in nuts (if using).
- Spread into prepared pan to set up.
Temperatures to Remember
Cook fudge to 234F (238F if you’re making chocolate fudge and not cocoa fudge). Cool fudge to 110F before stirring
Packaging for Gifting
Old fashioned fudge and other candies make a great Christmas gift, even for shipping, at least here in the US where it is a relatively cool time of year.
Package in tins, boxes, or bags, add a cute tag, and your Christmas and holiday gifts are taken care of.
You can even include the written recipe on a recipe card if you don’t mind sharing. It will be the gift that keeps on giving!
More Candy Recipes
- Chewy Butterscotch Candy is a traditional recipe based on one from 1848 from Doncaster, England. I make it chewy because with the original proportions, cooking it long enough for it to get crunchy would make it be too bitter (lots of molasses in this one). As a chewy candy, it is excellent.
- Butterscotch Hard Candy: these babies are like Werthers but so much better. Deep butterscotch flavor, a lovely crunch that melts into creamy goodness, and they won’t stick to your teeth!
- Crunchy Butterfinger Candy Bars I tested this recipe 9 times to get it just right. It really is crunchy whereas many copycat Butterfinger recipes are chewy.
- Bourbon Honeycomb Candy Light and airy with a hint of bourbon from bourbon-infused honey. Drizzle it with chocolate. You won’t be sorry!
- Old-Fashioned Angel Food Candy This is like honeycomb but completely dipped in chocolate and then sprinkled with flaky salt. So good!
- Maple Peanut Brittle Because this brittle is made with maple, you can have it for breakfast. That’s right, isn’t it?!
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- 2 cups sugar, (14 oz)
- 1 heaping Tablespoon cocoa*, (See Notes)
- 1 Tablespoon corn syrup, (light or dark. Any liquid sugar will work here such as maple syrup, honey or molasses)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, (my addition. Rounds out the flavors and keeps the fudge from seeming too sweet)
- 1 cup whole milk, (8 oz)
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup toasted pecan halves or pieces, (use whatever nut you prefer or leave them out altogether)
To Make Fudge
- Line an 8"x8" pan** (See Notes) with parchment or non-stick foil with a piece that is long enough to line the bottom and come up and over two opposite sides of the pan. (use these as "handles" to get the cooled fudge out of the pan). Spray with pan spray. You can also spray or butter the pan well, but using parchment or non-stick foil will make it easier to get the fudge out of the pan.
- Place the sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup, salt and milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan that is much larger than you think you need. 3 quart size will work just fine.
- Stir well, and cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. You can stir it and scrape the sides of the pan until it starts to boil.
- Allow the mixture to boil until it reaches 234F. This is just under the soft ball stage, but this is the correct temperature for making cocoa fudge. (If you're making chocolate fudge, cook to 238F, which is the soft ball stage.)
- Move the pan off the burner and drop in the butter and the vanilla. Don't stir them in (if you stir too soon, you'll end up with grainy fudge).
- Let the mixture cool to 110F. The pan will feel warm but by no means hot. If you're using a "leave-in" candy thermometer, there will be no question. If you don't have one, occasionally check the temperature with your instant read thermometer (that's what I do).
- Once the candy has cooled to the correct temperature, begin stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. You can also scoop up a bunch of the warm candy and let it pour back into the pot. This will make you feel fancy, and it will help to bring the temperature of the candy down more quickly. Keep stirring and stirring until the candy is just starting to lose its gloss and thicken up.
- Dump in the pecans if using, and stir them in quickly.
- Scrape the now-quite-thick fudge into the pan and moosh it into the corners with a spatula. I sprinkled some flaky sea salt on top of mine. You can too if you want. Or not.
- Allow the candy to set up for at least an hour before slicing with a sharp knife.
- Store at room temperature in a tightly-sealed container for 3-4 days. But it will be gone before then.
*even though the recipe called for only 1 Tablespoon, I figured granny probably used a heaping spoonful--she may not have even used an actual measuring spoon. I used what probably amounted to 2 level Tablespoons of cocoa powder and ended up with a mild-tasting fudge. You will probably be fine to increase the amount to 4 or even 5 level Tablespoons if you want darker fudge. At that point though, you may just want to make chocolate fudge instead.
**I used a loaf pan that was 8 1/2" x 3" across the bottom and ended up with the fudge you see in the photos. Using an 8"x 8" pan will give you a thinner candy. You can also split the difference and make it in a 9"x5" large loaf pan. Your call.
Feel free to double this recipe. It will scale up with no problem at all.
NOTE: Cooking and resting times are approximate. Please make sure you're using an instant read thermometer to check your temperatures.
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Nutrition InformationYield 40
Amount Per Serving Calories 64Cholesterol 1mgSodium 34mgCarbohydrates 11gSugar 10g
Here’s the downloadable recipe card, friends! If you’d like some blank printable recipe cards, I have 3 different holiday designs for you to choose from.
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Thank you for taking the time to read today. Enjoy the old fashioned fudge recipe!
Take care, and have a lovely day.
Watch my Christmas fudge recipe web story here.