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Penuche is a type of confection made by heating sugar and milk or cream to the soft ball stage, allowing it to cool briefly, and then whipping the mixture until it is smooth and creamy. After beating, the penuche can be blended with nuts and poured into a pan to set before being cut into chunks. Penuche can also be retooled slightly to make a distinctive icing or cookie topper; this practice is especially common in Hawaii.
This confection is sometimes known as brown sugar fudge or penuche fudge, and it is technically a form of fudge, although it lacks the chocolate most people associate with fudge. Like chocolate fudge, penuche can be tricky to make, and it requires patience in the kitchen. It is also extremely sweet, with a rich caramel-like flavor caused by the partial caramelization of the brown sugar during the cooking process. Penuche is generally easy to find in the American South and the Northeast, and it is especially popular during the holidays.
To make penuche, cooks first blend two cups of brown sugar and two thirds of a cup milk or cream over medium heat, stirring the ingredients constantly until they come to the boil, and then allowing them to heat a bit further, until the reach the soft ball stage. The soft ball stage is around 237 degrees Fahrenheit (114 degrees Celsius), and it can be measured by dropping a spoonful of the candy into a bowl of cold water; if it forms a pliable ball, it is in the soft ball stage.
The saucepan of penuche must be allowed to cool before stirring, or it will crystallize and turn gritty. Once it reaches around 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), cooks can add one teaspoon of vanilla, if desired, and then whip the penuche until it turns smooth and creamy before adding chopped nuts. After the whipping stage, the penuche is ready to be molded; the pan should be lined with wax paper or oiled to prevent the penuche from sticking.
After the penuche cools in the mold, it can be unmolded before being cut and wrapped for storage. Penuche will keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for a few weeks, and it may also be refrigerated or frozen. Hot weather can cause penuche to melt and become a bit sticky, which can be unpleasant. Penuche may also be made with maple syrup, for a slightly different flavor. The maple syrup variation is popular in New England, where maple syrup is in abundant supply.