Friday, March 04, 2005

Duck Fudge

Question: What do ducks like to eat?
Answer: Duck Chow (duh!) but they like to have fudge for dessert.

There is no shortage of blog material for today. Eminent domain, assassination plots, Ward Churchill, U.N. sex scandal, blah, blah, blah. The last couple of posts have been about weighty matters like those. Tonight, I am tired. Tonight, I will talk about fudge.

Now, this is real fudge; not that marshmallow "fantasy fudge" stuff. I have always wanted to learn to make real fudge and I think I can teach you how to do it. Everyone says making fudge is hard. Don't listen to them. It's just precise; not hard. And when you know why it works, the how is easy.

Let me define what I like in a good fudge. Bad fudge is hard and gritty; without much chocolate flavor. Good fudge should be very chocolate, smooth but with just a bit of "tooth" to let you know that your are eating small, precisely formed sugar crystals, lovingly suspended in a cocoa and fat matrix.

First some hints.

  • Never get water in your fudge. It will "seize" and then your only option is to turn it into hot fudge sauce (but that's another recipe)

  • Temperature is critical. Sugar reacts to the heat applied during cooking. The reaction is always the same for the same temperature but the temperature window is very small. We are looking for the "softball stage" which occurs between 234-240 degrees F. I was not consistent in my results until I purchased a digital thermometer. The liquid ones are too hard to read and the bi-metallic ones are too slow to react. Get a digital ($15-$45).

  • Making the sugar crystals consistently is the key. Using a recipe that includes corn syrup helps make small crystals by hindering large crystal formation. Using a fat (i.e. butter or peanut butter) also hinders large crystal formation.

Now for the ingredient list:

3 cups sugar
4 heaping tablespoons cocoa
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup evaporated milk
6 tablespoons butter, plus extra for buttering dish
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix the dry sugar and cocoa in a large (3+ quarts) metal saucepan. The boiling fudge will fill the pan. Add the corn syrup and evaporated milk. Turn on the stove and cook the fudge, stirring constantly, over medium heat. Depending on your stove you may be able to go to medium-high. Don't burn it but it should only take about 5 minutes to begin to boil. Stop stirring once it begins to boil. Cover and let it boil for exactly 3 minutes. Covering helps to retain the moisture and raise the temperature.

Critical Step Put your thermometer in the fudge and boil until the temp reaches 234-240 degrees F. It will be very close already so don't leave it. If you find the temperature "sticks" at something less than 234 degrees then turn up the heat a little. You must get to 234 degrees. I find that I like the fudge to reach 235 degrees. Your thermometer may vary so be prepared to experiment. Hard fudge means the temperature got too high. Try 3-6 degrees lower next time. If the fudge is too soft, heat it 3-6 degrees hotter. Once you reach your desired temperature, remove it from the heat. If you are using a gas stove, just turn it off. If your stove is electric, remove the pan from the burner. You want the boiling to stop. Add butter, pecans, and vanilla BUT DO NOT MIX. Just let it sit in the pan.

Critical Step The fudge must now cool without being disturbed. Jostling the pan as it cools can cause instant large crystal formation (especially if the temperature got too hot). Let the fudge cool to 130-140 degrees F.

Now is the time when we "make" small sugar crystals. You will want to beat the fudge with a wooden spoon (no metal and I don't like plastic) until it has cooled to 105-115 degrees F. You want a brisk stirring motion that keeps the crystals small but don't whip air into it. You will notice that the butter begins to incorporate and that the fudge begins to thicken and lose some of it's gloss. Pour into a slightly buttered glass dish and let cool to room temperature. Cut into squares and enjoy!

Please let me know how your fudge turns out. I figure if we all turned off the computer and made some fudge than maybe the world will be a little bit brighter.

Update: Thanks to a little prodding from Harvey, I decided to enter this recipe in the Carnival of the Recipes. So welcome to all those visiting from the Carnival. In your honor, I want to update the recipe a little bit.

Remember that I said the butter serves to keep large crystals from forming? Well, you now understand why it works, so lets change the how a little bit. The fat in the butter helps make the crystals small and it tastes great. Can you name another fat that tastes great with chocolate? How about peanut butter! Try substituting peanut butter for the butter. The fat in the peanut butter performs its job but now you have peanut butter fudge!

Go make a batch of fudge and let me know how it turns out.