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Old-Fashioned Fudge Is a Pure and Simple Treat

December 07, 1989|MARILYN MYERLY | Myerly is the author of "Wild About Fudge."

Looking for something homemade, handmade and very special to give as a gift this Christmas to friends or family?

Save the marshmallow creme to top off your cocoa, save the cream cheese for cheesecake and try your hand at making real honest-to-goodness fudge. It's made with only pure ingredients, which means it's as good as fudge can be. And if you've never had real, pure fudge properly cooked, you'll be surprised at how good that can be.

Even better, with this new cooking method, the fudge will be smooth as satin, yet hold its shape in deep, soft, swirling folds.

I enjoy really fine candy now and then but several years ago I wondered why it was that fudges made with only pure ingredients (sugar, milk, butter, etc.) often failed. It seemed that they either turned out too hard or too sugary or impossibly syrupy--even though I diligently watched the candy thermometer and carefully wiped away the sugar crystals from the side of the cooking pan.

I knew that people added things like marshmallow creme, cream cheese and even mashed potatoes to fudge to give the candy attractive form. But never did I find that these ingredients enhanced the fudge.

So I started experimenting and my curiosity caught hold. Eventually it grew into what became a major project, with notes an inch thick and fudge from here to Tuesday. It was fun, fascinating and surprising, and now I know how to make dreamy smooth delicious fudge in 75 flavors--chocolate and way beyond chocolate.

Let's start with candy thermometers. They are essential when making real fudge because fudge must cook to a specific temperature and only a candy thermometer can accurately register that temperature. However, many candy thermometers are inaccurate. To confuse everyone further, finishing temperatures vary depending on the altitude where fudge is cooked.

But there is a wonderfully simple solution to all this: Read the thermometer as it stands in boiling water, then cook the fudge until the thermometer registers 26 degrees above that temperature. By doing this, anyone anywhere using any candy thermometer can be assured of always cooking to the correct finishing temperature.

And then there is timing. Syrups, such as corn syrup, molasses and honey are usually essential in fudge because they give it a silky smoothness. But I found, after many failures, that prolonged cooking makes fudge too syrupy, and syrupy fudge eventually turns hard and sugary. For perfectly textured fudge, time the cooking so that it reaches its finishing temperature just 15 minutes after the fudge comes to a boil. Because of this, an electric range is ideal for cooking fudge, because once you find the correct setting, it should not be necessary to adjust the heat.

So here is the solution: follow these simple steps to find your finishing temperature and both timing and temperature will come out perfect every time.

-- Place thermometer in a small pan with three inches of water and the bulb one-half inch above the bottom of the pan. Let the water boil briskly for four minutes.

-- Without removing the thermometer from the boiling water, and having your eyes at the same level as the top of the mercury column, read the thermometer carefully. Jot down the reading. This is your first temperature level and it is the basis for figuring the finish temperature of the fudge. Success depends on the accuracy of this reading.

-- Add 10 degrees to that number. This is the second temperature level.

-- Add six degrees more. This is the third temperature level.

-- Add 10 degrees more. This is the final, or finishing, temperature level.

These temperature levels will help you time the cooking of the fudge. The goal is for the fudge to cook for 15 minutes between the first and finish temperature levels. You have a few minutes' leeway either way.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind:

-- Fudge takes about 30 minutes to prepare.

-- High-quality extracts are essential.

-- Only use unsalted nuts for stirring into fudge.

-- If fudge seems too thick or hard, break off pieces, knead like clay, then form into any attractive shape. Salted nuts pressed onto the top of kneaded fudge are especially delicious.

-- Keep fudge tightly wrapped to preserve flavor and texture.

To make fudge, you need the following equipment:

Cooking pan: Heavy four-quart pan, measuring seven to eight inches across the bottom. This allows the thermometer to be properly submerged.

Stirring pan: Cake-pan type, about nine by 13 inches.

Stirring spoons: Wooden are best. Paddle-shape ideal.

Metal spatula: Pancake turner type.

Candy thermometer: The larger the better for easy reading.

ULTIMATE PURE CHOCOLATE FUDGE

2 cups sugar

1 cup milk

1/2 cup cocoa (regular type such as Hershey's) or 2 1/2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons butter

3/4 teaspoon instant coffee granules, optional

2 tablespoons butter, cut into several pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup nuts and/or dried fruit, optional

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