When Mom and I heard that the Love & Olive Oil February Kitchen Challenge was going to be old-fashioned fudge we practically did a touch-down-like chest bump. We looked at each other and smirked. Fudge… we can do fudge. Ever since before anyone can remember there has been a tradition of Christmas fudge in our family. And no one would ever dare to put a can of marshmallow fluff within a 10 mile radius of our kitchens. We do fudge the old-fashioned way, with sugar and candy thermometers, and beads of sweat running down your temples as you watch the shine fade away into perfect, creamy decadence. We were going to blow this challenge out of the water.
To be brutally honest, I considered not even making a new batch of fudge. Family challenges prevented us from going “home” for Christmas this year so my mother and I got slightly inebriated after Christmas dinner and whipped up a batch of chocolate perfection. It was so beautiful, so creamy, so decadent that we thought we could just use that batch to craft our triumphant blog post from. Then we realized that we lacked sufficient photographic evidence to make it real. No matter! If we can make fudge two-sheets to the wind, we can certainly whip up another batch with no problems.
And that’s probably when the Fudge Gods decided to smite us.
Our old standby recipe comes from the back of a Hershey’s Cocoa can. I wasn’t entirely sure that using cocoa powder would count as cheating (even though the L&OO challenge didn’t say anything about this) so we found another recipe that called for actual bittersweet chocolate. Our plan was to make a batch of our old standby recipe on Saturday and proceed onto more difficult challenges with the new recipe on Sunday.
Rule #1: Never Make Fudge When It’s Raining
I woke up on Saturday morning to a flood of… snow. My mother is convinced that in this modern era, our technological advances such as climate controlled heating and cooling should negate Rule #1. We also weren’t sure that Rule #1 applied because it wasn’t actually raining, it was snowing. Is it any type of precipitation?
I can safely tell you, yes, it is any precipitation.
Things were going really well, in the beginning. We selected the correct pot to ensure that nothing boiled over, our digital candy thermometer was set and confirmed to not be touching the bottom of the pan, and our soon-to-be-chocolate fudge was boiling away. We were watching the timer and when it reached 232oF we whipped that puppy off the burner and into its ice-water bath.
And this is where things went wrong. Somehow, we got a little distracted. I looked over and there was a little plate of butter… We nearly forgot the butter! We rush to put it in and to our horror it just sits on top. We gave it a good 6 minutes and there was still a large chunk of butter sitting on top of the fudge mixture. So, we cut it up into little pieces (can you even do that?!?), and the little pieces sat on top of the fudge mixture. Mom assured me that they would “mix in” when we got to the mixing stage.
If we were a little distracted before, we got managed to get even more distracted. Social media is evil when it comes to fudge making. We looked up and the candy thermometer was reading 104oF!!! What?!? How could this have happened??? We start to pour the mixture into our Kitchen Aid…
The Fudge Beating Debate
I’d like to take a break from the debacle of our fudge making experience to relay to you our family’s Fudge Beating Debate.
- My mother and I have always beat our fudge with a Kitchen Aid.
- My uncle Dale has always beat his fudge by hand.
Both have produced spectacular results, but no one can decide which method is superior. This past Christmas during our inebriated fudge-making escapade we found that there is something to beating fudge by hand, or at least at a speed that simulates beating it by hand. If the fudge is beaten at high speeds it takes more time to develop the mixture into “real” fudge. But if the mixer is turned down to a low speed, the fudge seems to become ready in record time.
Rule #2: Gloss is Evil
We had a distressing time getting our cooled fudge mixture into the Kitchen Aid, and I feel sure that we scraped some sugar crystals into the bowl as well. The mixture, having been left to cool below the magic 110oF temperature, was drastically close to what we refer to as The Fudge Disaster of 1992. We managed to get it all into the bowl and we started beating it on low. We thought we had redeemed ourselves! It was looking beautiful, creamy, gorgeous, albeit a little shiny.
You can easily predict if your fudge is going to turn out by whether or not the gloss has left the mixture. This is usually preceded by a jostling between the fudge makers and complaints of “you’re in my light! I can’t see…” and we have a theory in our house that without a second person getting in someone’s light the precise moment of fudge perfection cannot be attained. We thought we had it, the gloss was dulling and it was almost not stringy to the touch so we took a gamble and poured. But as we were pouring our hearts sank. It just didn’t feel right. It was gritty.
We considered scraping it all back into the pot and starting over as Mom recalled that her mother has done that in the past, but we were convinced that Day 2, it would be perfect.
It was not perfect on Day 2.
If At First You Don’t Succeed…
Open another bottle of wine… Or at least, that’s maybe what we should have done. Instead, we trudged on to the next batch of fudge with a higher level of difficulty. Because if the first “easy” batch doesn’t turn out it makes perfect sense to just keep increasing the difficulty level!
Important Note #1:
When chopping chocolate with a cleaver ensure that you know where your fingers are at all times. I am happy to say that we have all of our appendages after this little fudge making experiment. We don’t even have a maimed appendage. This part of the second fudge batch was extremely successful. I reminded Mom as she started to hack away at the chocolate bars that my blog is generally a G/PG rated blog and that gory stories of accidentally removed fingers probably wouldn’t fit in very well. I also assured her that I have learned from Game of Thrones that one can function very well without parts of most of your fingers or even adequately without several entire fingers. It’s good that I finished these books before making fudge so that I could offer this wisdom.
This new recipe called to melt the chocolate and then cover to boil. Wait, cover to boil?? Won’t that get water (condensation) into the chocolate and make it seize?? Despite our reservations we popped the lid on that pot and let her boil away. Much to our surprise, when the timer went off and we pulled off the lid, it still looked beautiful!
We went along, pleased with the prospects.
Important Note #2:
The benefit of completely screwing up the day before is that you now have fantastic knowledge to make adjustments to your cooking plan. And we decided that the downfall of our previous batch of fudge must have been due to the following circumstances:
- We allowed the mixture to boil only to 232. Even though our old standby Hershey’s Fudge recipe has never failed us (OK, failed us once) we noticed that 232 isn’t technically “Soft Ball” stage. Seeing the error of our ways, we decided to boil the mixture to 235.
- Social media is the world’s downfall. No more iPad. We put it away – far away.
- Remember the butter.
- We allowed the mixture to cool below 110. We know that this was a direct result of circumstance #2, but as a result we needed to be more careful and allow a wider margin of error. To fix this problem we decided to do two things:
- Only submerge the pot into a cold water bath and not an ice water bath – assuming this would give us better cooling control.
- Cool to only 113 – giving us three degrees margin of error if we somehow got distracted or the iPad made it’s way back into our hands.
- Beat the mixture by hand. If it works for Dale it’s gotta work for us.
With the ground rules established we continued with the fudge and took every precaution to follow our amended plan.
Is There a Candy-Making Stage Called Cement??
I just don’t know. Really. It’s unfathomable. We had everything worked out, we followed the plan down to the letter. But when it was time to start beating, the only thing that I could do that even resembled beating was to whack at the lump of immutable fudge in the middle of the pan in rapid succession with my wooden spoon. Suddenly beads of sweat began to accumulate on our temples and we started to panic. In a moment of brilliance we remembered the candy-making cookbook that my grandmother “willed” my mom. And scrawled inside the cover were some simple instructions:
If fudge won’t get hard after beating it, put back in pan, add 1/4 c more of milk – & cook 2 degrees higher than before. If too hard cook 2 degrees less than before. P-13
PERFECT! We popped that pan back on the burner and started over. Adding 1/4 cup more milk, sending up a quick prayer, closed our eyes and started stirring. And would you believe it? The fudge melted back into a beautiful chocolately liquid! Mom and I both realized we’d been holding our breath for quite some time so we took a few minutes to enjoy the renewed oxygenated high we were both experiencing. We just knew this was going to fix everything.
This time we decided to do away with the cooling water bath all together. That must have been our downfall.
The fudge cools and I tentatively lift the spoon and breath a sigh of relief when it comes free easily. The recipe says that you only need to beat the mixture for about 5 minutes until it’s thick and glossy. Except that it only takes about three turns of the spoon before I’m stumbling over my words trying to tell my mother that I think it’s already ready. But by the time she’s prepared the pan, I already have a terrible fudge sandbox. Oh the panic!
Wait, not to worry. Page 13 of the candy-making book that saved our tails also says that if you over-mix (which beginners often do – except that we’re not beginners) you can simply put the mixture back over the heat until it “loosens up” enough to pour in the pan. It also says that this will not alter the texture of the fudge. Books from the 1930s must know what they’re talking about so we put the pan back over the heat and try to stir the fudge sand back into some kind of liquid mixture.
Except it doesn’t happen.
And a nervous giggle escapes both of us. At this point we are utterly drunk on our failure. Perhaps if we were actually drunk we wouldn’t be having this problem. Instead, Mom pours more milk into the pan. I gape at her. No where in the instructions does it say to do this if you’re not going to be boiling and cooling again. She says that she doesn’t care, that we’re just going to wing it and I’m pretty sure that the insanity of making fudge has completely gripped her. This woman… this woman rarely deviates from a recipe so much as to not use a measuring spoon when adding seasonings. This woman who nearly has apoplexy when we attend a cooking class at our favorite restaurant and the chef has a difficult time boiling the skills down to a written recipe is now MAKING UP HOW TO FINISH A BATCH OF FUDGE. Trust me people. The world is ending. I’ll wait while you all prepare for a Zombie apocalypse.
I will admit, adding the milk did help to melt some of the fudge sand. I wish I could say it melted all of the fudge sand. Instead, we got something that looks a lot like Fudge with Cocoa Nibs. Except they’re not cocoa nibs. And it doesn’t taste nearly as good as cocoa nibs. And, in fact, in all the insanity we forgot to add the Vanilla. So it doesn’t really taste like much of anything.
Important Note #3:
If making Fudge, be sure to have plenty of wine on hand.