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Fudging: The Facts

No matter what the flavor--chocolate, vanilla or peanut butter--top-quality fudge should feel as smooth as velvet on your tongue and provide a few minutes of pure, creamy bliss as it melts in your mouth.

Two pieces of equipment are necessary to successfully make a homemade batch of this candy: a pan that heats evenly and a candy thermometer to ensure accurate temperature control. The pan must also be large enough to allow the candy to boil vigorously without spilling over.

It’s no old wives’ tale that weather plays a role in fudge making. If humidity is high, the candy will absorb moisture and end up being too soft. You can compensate for this, however, by cooking the mixture to about one degree higher than called for in the recipe.

Another important tip: Never double a recipe. Do so and you’re courting disaster!

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All candy breaks down into two types: crystalline and amorphous. Fudge is a crystalline candy, meaning the finished product is soft enough to be easily bitten into or cut with a knife. Amorphous candies are very hard to extremely chewy.

The ingredients for fudge are combined and cooked to 234 degrees, cooled to 110 degrees without stirring, then beaten until creamy. Candy that isn’t cooked long enough will end up too soft; overcooking makes fudge crumbly or hard.

High-quality fudge has many small crystals. If the process of crystallization begins too early, fewer crystals form and they become much larger. You can control the process by carefully following these directions.

Begin by buttering the sides of a saucepan (Step 1), then combine the sugar, cocoa, whipping cream and corn syrup (Step 2) in the pan. Dutch process cocoa is recommended for this recipe; however, any unsweetened cocoa powder may be used (Step 3). Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring carefully (Step 4) to avoid splattering the sides of the pan as much as possible.

To be certain the sugar dissolves completely, place a cover on the pan for two to three minutes after the mixture begins to boil. This creates steam inside the pan and washes down any sugar crystals on the sides. Once the lid is removed, you shouldn’t be able to feel any sugar crystals when you rub a wooden spoon against the side of the saucepan.

After removing the lid, clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan (Step 5). Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, without stirring, until the thermometer registers 234 degrees, about 20 to 25 minutes. The mixture should boil at a moderate, steady rate over the entire surface.

While the fudge is cooking, prepare the baking pan. (Do this before beginning to beat the fudge; otherwise the candy may harden in the saucepan.)

To line the pan, tear off two pieces of foil about 18 inches in length. Fold each sheet to about eight inches in width, so it fits neatly into the bottom of the pan. Press the sheets into the pan in opposite directions (Step 6), allowing the foil to extend over the sides of the pan. Once in place, butter the foil.

When the candy mixture reaches the proper temperature, remove the pan from the heat, leave the thermometer in place and allow the mixture to cool without stirring. It will take about an hour for the temperature to drop to the desired 110 degrees.

When you first begin to beat the fudge it will be thin and very glossy. As you beat vigorously, it will begin to thicken (Step 7). Use a wooden spoon because wood is a poor conductor of heat and the handle will stay comfortably cool while you’re working with the hot candy.

Remember that beating doesn’t harden the fudge (this occurs during cooling); beating begins the process of crystallization. If this occurs throughout the mixture at the same time, the desirable small crystals will form.

One of the most difficult steps in making fudge is knowing when to stop beating. Once the candy becomes thick and almost holds its shape when dropped from the spoon, it’s time to quickly stir in the nuts and push the mixture into the prepared pan (Step 8). Do not scrape the pan too thoroughly; the remaining candy should be enjoyed separately because it is likely to make the batch grainy.

Smooth the candy into an even layer with buttered fingertips (Step 9). Then, while the fudge is still warm, use a sharp knife to score it into pieces (Step 10).

After the fudge has set until firm, use the foil to lift it out of the pan. Peel off the foil, place the candy on a cutting board and use a long, thin-bladed knife to cut along the score lines.

It’s easy to overbeat fudge, especially when you first begin making this candy. Salvage it by scraping the mixture out of the saucepan and kneading it with your fingers until it’s pliable enough to shape into logs that can be sliced into rounds or rolled into bite-size balls.

If the opposite happens--the fudge doesn’t harden--place it back in a clean saucepan with a quarter cup of milk or whipping cream and cook, stirring constantly, until it reaches 236 degrees. Cool as already described and beat again.

Grainy fudge may also be recooked with two tablespoons of whipping cream over very low heat. Break up the fudge as you stir until the candy is warm and slightly softened. Remove from the heat and beat again. Some cooks even prefer kneaded or twice-cooked fudge.

BASIC CHOCOLATE FUDGE

Butter

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2/3 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Generously butter sides of 3-quart saucepan. Combine sugar, cocoa powder, cream and corn syrup in pan. Stir slowly over moderate heat until mixture comes to boil. Cover saucepan 2 to 3 minutes.

Uncover and attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Boil mixture, without stirring, until thermometer reaches 234 degrees or soft-ball stage.

Meanwhile line 8-inch-square baking pan with foil. Lightly butter foil.

Remove pan from heat, but leave thermometer in place. Drop 2 tablespoons butter on top of candy mixture (do not stir in) and allow mixture to stand, without stirring, until temperature drops to 110 degrees.

Add vanilla, stir gently to incorporate, then beat mixture continuously with wooden spoon until fudge becomes very thick and almost holds shape when dropped from spoon. Stir in nuts and push mixture into prepared pan. While still warm, score candy with sharp knife into desired-size pieces.

After cooling until firm, use foil to lift candy out of pan. Peel away foil, place candy on cutting board and use long, thin-bladed knife to cut into pieces along score lines. Makes 64 (1-inch) squares.

Each serving contains about:

45 calories; 5 mg sodium; 4 mg cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 7 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0 fiber; 39% calories from fat.


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