This year for Valentine's Day I am giving myself the gift of a really good candy thermometer plus an empty kitchen, where culinary kibitzers will be banned for hours--perhaps all day if necessary. Because I plan to master the art of making fudge once and for all in 1988.
Fudge is, and always has been, my bete noir at the stove. I have tried to make a really acceptable batch of the stuff since I was old enough to stand on a kitchen chair and stir a pot, but never with any solid success.
The Perfect Slice of Fudge
Perhaps I am being unreasonable in my demands, but I don't think so. To my mind, the perfect slice of fudge must be a textural anomaly: extremely firm to the hand yet melting on the tongue without losing its essential graininess. I also prefer fudge that is not too sweet nor acridly bitter. My ideal is a candy that must be consumed in small doses lest one's teeth and gums ache from self-indulgence.
To that end, the refrigerator is filled with butter, cream and milk; and boxes of sugar, chocolate and vanilla are flanked on my kitchen counter like soldiers prepared for an attack.
My mother made fudge by rote--at the spur of the moment usually--at night when she couldn't sleep. Of course, the entire household awoke as the first scent of warm cocoa hit the air, and we would all leave our beds to collect at the kitchen table, where we would wait impatiently for the dark and lovely confection to cool and be instantly demolished.
My sister's fudge was simpler. She merely followed the instructions on the back of chocolate pudding cartons. But her output, while neither as rich nor as exotic as our mother's, never failed to harden as she beat it to the "hard-ball" state, or worse yet, stiffened to chocolate cement in the pan as mine has inevitably done throughout the years.
I must explain that in my long life I have made acceptable fudge, but it has always been the kind one dubs "the cheater's variety," laced with marshmallows, cream cheese and even gelatin on one terrible occasion, which requires a long stint in the refrigerator to properly coalesce. That kind of fudge is fine for preschool candy makers or as a form of kitchen therapy, but it no longer suits my taste.
For Valentine's Day, I plan to use the following recipe that I know well from generous samplings provided by good fudge makers.
EDNA LEWIS' OLD-FASHIONED FAIL-SAFE FUDGE
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup whipping cream
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely grated
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
Generously butter 8-inch square cake pan. Combine melted unsalted butter, cream, granulated sugar and brown sugar in medium saucepan. Attach candy thermometer to pan. Heat to gentle boil, stirring constantly. Continue stirring while mixture boils gently 5 minutes. Thermometer temperature will rise to approximately 225 degrees.
Add chocolate and continue to boil, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Temperature must reach 232 to 234 degrees. Test mixture's readiness by dropping small amount into saucer of cold water. Soft ball should form.
Remove saucepan from heat and add vanilla. Beat fudge with heavy wooden spoon while cooling, scraping sides of pan while beating. When temperature drops to 200 degrees, stir in pecans and continue beating until fudge loses gloss and temperature drops to 165 degrees, about 5 minutes.
Spread fudge in prepared pan. Let cool until pan is lukewarm to touch. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. When completely cool, remove from pan. Store in tightly covered container or wrap each piece in wax paper or plastic wrap. Makes about 24 (1 1/2-inch) squares.
This recipe (a new one to me) is from the recent soft-cover picture cookbook "Candy Making" by Ruth A. Kendrick and Pauline H. Atkinson (HP Books: 1987, $9.95). The authors are a mother-daughter team who together have more than 90 years experience as candy makers. They have at least 14 other fudge variations in their book.
CREAM AND SUGARY COFFEE FUDGE
2/3 cup coffee
1/3 cup whipping cream
2 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup shelled pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
Generously butter 8-inch-square cake pan. Heat coffee with cream in medium saucepan over medium heat until hot. Slowly stir in sugar and salt. Bring to gentle boil, stirring constantly.
Attach candy thermometer to pan. Continue to boil, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Temperature must reach 232 to 234 degrees. Test mixture's readiness by dropping small amount into saucer of cold water. Soft ball should form.
Remove pan from heat and dot with butter. Sprinkle with vanilla. Do not stir. Let stand until temperature drops to 180 degrees, about 15 minutes. Stir in pistachio nuts and continue to stir until fudge loses gloss and temperature drops to between 165 and 170 degrees.
Spread fudge in prepared pan. Let cool until pan is lukewarm to touch. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares with serrated knife. When completely cooled, remove from pan. Carefully wrap each piece in plastic wrap and store in tightly covered container. Makes 25 (1 1/2-inch) squares.