Have you ever had truly old-fashioned fudge? The kind that relies entirely on granulated sugar for its structure, and so manages to be both creamy and crumbly at the same time? I found an amazing fudge shop in Edinburgh back in the day when I studied abroad, and I have carried the memory of those dreamy confections with great affection, hoping that some day I would be brave enough to attempt to make old-fashioned fudge myself someday. They had every kind of fudge you can imagine: cookies ‘n’ cream, classic chocolate, vanilla, rocky road, strawberry, caramel, peanut butter, lemon, maple, and more. On top of those flavours, they had fudge combinations such as peanut butter and chocolate, chocolate and caramel, and vanilla and chocolate. It was heaven, and remains a highlight of my time in Scotland. (There was also the time I nearly fell off of Arthur’s Seat, but that isn’t dessert related, so the relevance of that experience is limited.)
I have noticed that as time goes by, old-fashioned fudge recipes have fallen by the wayside. They have largely been replaced by marshmallow cream-laden confections, which surfaced in the 1960s. These recipes are in turn slowly but surely being usurped by the ghastly combination of sweetened condensed milk and flavouring. People love the latter fudge because there is no real cooking involved; you heat up the milk and add chocolate, or peanut butter, or some such. That’s it. I am not a fan of this type of fudge, as I feel its flavour notes are flatly one-dimensional. Recipes using corn syrup also claim to be old-fashioned; they aren’t. Ironically, Hershey’s, the original mainstream source for this fudge (the recipe was perennially listed on the back of its cocoa cans), now lists corn syrup as one of the ingredients for its fudge. The recipe on Hershey’s cans of cocoa used to not contain corn syrup. We’re really in a new age. Truly old-fashioned fudge uses sugar, butter, cream, and cocoa powder. That’s it.
There is the potential to crystallize the sugar while you make fudge the old-fashioned way, but I think this fear is overblown. If you coat the inside of your saucepan with butter before you begin cooking the sugar, it becomes next to impossible for the sugar to crystallize. Clearly the presence of fat acts as a stabilizer, although I’d be hard-pressed to explain this phenomenon in more detail. 😉
There is simply no beating the texture of this kind of fudge, in my opinion. It’s creamy and melts in your mouth. I added Frangelico liqueur to this and it was out of this world. If I could only choose 3 desserts for my time on a desert island, this fudge with Frangelico added would be one of them.
Old Fashioned Fudge (see bottom of post for peanut butter fudge variation)
Yield: One 8″ pan; size of pieces cut is entirely up to you
1 – 2 TBS softened unsalted butter, for coating the sides of the pan
1 ½ c. white sugar
1/3 c. cocoa (Dutch process is fine)
3/4 c. heavy cream
generous pinch of salt (Kosher is fine)
2 1/4 TBS unsalted butter, cut into about 4 pieces
1 tsp. vanilla extract, optional
1 – 2 TBS peanut butter OR Frangelico liqueur, optional
Generously butter the sides of a 3- or 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan (this only works with softened butter; cold butter doesn’t apply enough butter). This will prevent the sugar from crystallizing during cooking. Attach a candy thermometer to the saucepan. Make sure the bottom of your thermometer is not directly touching the bottom of the pan, as that could give a falsely high reading.
Line a 6×6″, 7×7″ or 8×8″ (the last one yields thinner fudge, of course) with aluminum foil or parchment paper and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
In large bowl, sift cocoa over sugar. Sifting is mandatory, as it ensures the cocoa is free of lumps. Add salt and stir well. Place mixture inside buttered saucepan and add cream; stir.
Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring well. Stop stirring when a rolling boil is reached. Cook to soft ball stage (235°F to 240°F; I find 237°F or 238°F to be optimal, yielding fudge that is soft enough and not hard) and immediately remove from heat. (Retain candy thermometer inside pan.) Immediately place butter, vanilla, and peanut butter or Frangelico atop fudge mixture; do not stir. Allow to sit until mixture reaches around 195°F and stir until it just starts to lose its shine (this took 2 minutes or so for me). Do not wait for the entirety of the mixture to lose its sheen; if it has started to lose its sheen in one or two spots, it’s done. Pour immediately into pan. Cut before fudge is completely cool, as it becomes crumbly after cooling.
You can also beat fudge immediately upon removing from heat. It takes close to 10 minutes to beat the fudge if you start right after cooking, but the end result is creamier. As soon as the fudge starts to lose its sheen, it is done. Do not wait for the entirety of the mixture to lose its sheen; if it has started to lose its sheen in one or two spots, it’s done.
Peanut butter fudge variation:
Leave out cocoa powder and prepare fudge as directed. At the end, place butter, vanilla, and 1/3 cup peanut butter on top of fudge. Proceed as directed for cocoa fudge.
Keep fudge in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
Source: Hershey’s (the older version of their recipe omits the corn syrup that is posted in this link)