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Fudge is a delicious and decadent chocolate candy, and it is quite challenging to make properly. Cooks who are not perfectionists sometimes run into trouble when they make fudge, creating grainy crystallized masses or runny, watery fudge. By following instructions precisely and experimenting a few times, you can learn to make fudge that will be reliably delicious and evenly textured, and you can also play with additions like nuts and dried or crystallized fruit.
Fudge needs to be left unstirred while it cooks because it is a type of fine crystalline candy. If the fudge is stirred while it cooks, it will form large crystals that will turn the mixture grainy. If the fudge is left alone and allowed to cool before stirring, it will form naturally small crystals, making the fudge smooth and creamy. Stirring can also taint the fudge with floating particles in the kitchen, which will form a seed for crystals to grow on. When you make fudge, make sure that the equipment and the kitchen are spotless.
Before you start to make fudge, make sure that you have the right equipment. You will need a candy thermometer that you know registers the correct temperature. You can calibrate a candy thermometer by boiling a pan of water and placing it in the boiling water to check that the thermometer reads 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), although be aware that water boils at lower temperatures in higher altitudes. You will also need a heavy saucepan with high sides to make fudge, and a buttered dish. Set up your dishes and measuring implements before you start, because interruptions in the middle might damage your fudge.
To make fudge, start small with a basic batch and perfect it before moving on to making more complex fudge. Combine one ounce (28 grams) of chocolate, one tablespoon of butter, and one cup of milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, and stir in two cups of sugar and a pinch of salt until completely dissolved. Stop stirring the fudge mixture and clip the candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan. When the fudge reaches the soft ball stage, meaning that a spoonful dropped into cold water forms a flexible ball, which happens at approximately 235 degrees Fahrenheit (112 degrees Celsius), remove the saucepan from the heat and allow it to cool to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), without stirring or jostling it. Add one teaspoon of vanilla and stir with a wooden spoon until it turns a light dull brown and stiffens before pouring the fudge into the prebuttered nine by nine inch (22 by 22 centimeter) dish.
While you make fudge, be very careful about the side of the saucepan. Try to avoid bumping whole crystals into the fudge by gently washing the pan while the fudge is cooking with a damp cloth or pastry brush. This will dissolve and loosen crystals clinging to the side of the pan, so that they will not form occlusions in the fudge.
Even the best cooks sometimes have accidents when they make fudge. Do not be discouraged by fudge failures: try to use them as learning experiences, to figure out why the candy went wrong and how the error can be avoided in the future. While candy is very challenging to make, the home made flavor makes it well worth it.
Also, if you live in a climate with very hot and humid summers, waiting until winter for fudge is never a bad idea. A cold, clear, dry winter night is good fudge-making weather. Something about that high humidity will keep the fudge from setting properly.
There are some fairly easy fudge recipes that use chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk that usually turn out properly every time, but they aren't the traditional cooked fudge.
A candy thermometer, a good pot and a wooden spoon are three of my indispensable fudge-making tools. You need a pot, like Club Aluminum, that transfers the heat evenly, and a wooden spoon doesn't add a metallic taste to the candy, and doesn't damage the
pot. Also, a candy thermometer is a great investment. You can get the kind that clips to the sides of the pot and you can tell immediately what the temperature of the mixture is, without having to drop some of the candy in water, which takes time. Most candy thermometers also have notations like "soft ball" stage on them, so you know what range you're looking for.
Fudge is worth the effort, certainly, but you really do need a candy thermometer to do it right. That takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process.
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