I love fudge, especially with (toasted) almonds or a ribbon of caramel running through it. It can be sickeningly sweet and it's totally bad for you but the trick is to just have a little. It's meant to be a treat to be savored, not a full-on serving to stuff down. I first discovered fudge as a teenager when I worked in my dad's office in San Francisco one summer with my sister and my cousin. We would "take a break" and go down to the See's candy shop near his office building and each get a piece of chocolate. I usually got either the almond turtle or the fudge. More often than not I chose the fudge. Heaven. Later on, I discovered another wonderful purveyor of fudge, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, which was even better as they offered more varieties of fudge, including caramel. Load up the empty calories, there's nothing better.
I also remember trying to make fudge on my own. The first recipe I tried was the recipe on the label of the Kraft marshmallow creme jar which conveniently used all of the jar (you don't want leftover marshmallow creme, it's just too sticky/icky) plus melted chocolate chips. As my first try, I thought it was pretty good. It got even better when I would add toasted almonds, roughly chopped, as it offset the sweetness of the fudge and gave it a little texture. I graduated to "fudge from scratch", i.e. with milk, sugar and the good chocolate. In culinary school, our chef instructor explained the tricks to getting that smooth, creamy texture of fudge and how it can quickly go wrong and become grainy.. Ironically his demo fudge came out - you guessed it - grainy.
In recent years, I've been on the search for a good fudge recipe. The ones I've tried were just too sweet or weren't creamy enough. I don't know whether my taste buds are becoming less tolerant of sweetness (which is a pretty horrifying concept to me as a baker, let me tell you) or if my standards for fudge are just getting higher and the ones with marshmallow creme and anything overly sweet just weren't going to cut it anymore. Plus the texture was important to me - a good piece of fudge will be moist and creamy, not dry and crumbly.
So when I saw this recipe for "creamy" dreamy fudge from Gale Gand, I had to try it. It makes fudge the old-fashioned way with milk and chocolate, boiled to soft ball stage, then beaten until it's the proper texture. During the heating stage, it seemed to take forever for the candy thermometer to hit 234 degrees or the soft ball stage but when it finally did and I poured the fudge into my Kitchen Aid to start whipping it up, everything looked really promising. The fudge was steaming as it was whipped around in the mixer but it gradually went from liquidy to something firmer. The directions say to beat it for 3-6 minutes, add the nuts then beat for another 2-3 minutes. Everything was all good for the first 3 minutes and I started thinking I had discovered THE fudge recipe. Then minute 4 hit and the wheels started to come off my fudge bus. It started losing its gloss all right. But it was supposed to, right? So I let it beat some more. Mistake. By the time I added the chopped toasted almonds and beat it for another 2 minutes (cringe), the texture of my fudge went from creamy and dreamy to dull and nightmarish. I valiantly tried to rally by pouring it into the prepared baking pan and telling myself it would still work out once I smoothed it out. Heh. Not so much.
The top looked dry and unappetizing. The only thing that gave me the slightest bit of hope is the fudge really was creamy once you put it in your mouth. It wasn't crumbly - it just looked like it was. At least while it was marginally warm. I let it cool, still holding out hope that all was not lost in my attempts to make good fudge. Once it was cool and I inverted it and cut it, the bottom side was still "creamy" looking but the rest of the fudge had given up the ghost. My fudge = FAIL. In the picture, you're looking at the bottom of the fudge top side up. It only dried out from there. Sigh. The depressing thing is I don't think it was necessarily the recipe. If only I hadn't beaten it so much, the texture might not have changed so drastically for the worse. So now I'm determined to try this recipe again and see if I can make it work. The taste was good. But dry fudge just won't do. Back to the drawing board.
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 ¼ cups milk
3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)
1. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan and set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, stir the chocolate and milk over low heat until the chocolate is melted. Add the sugar, corn syrup, and salt, hook a candy thermometer onto the pot, and cook the mixture to the soft-ball stage (234˚F). Add the butter, then scrape the mixture into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
3. Beat on medium speed until the mixture begins to lighten in color, 3 to 6 minutes, adding the vanilla in the first minute. Add the nuts and continue beating on low speed until the fudge loses its gloss and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. (note: watch how long you beat this - depending on your mixer, it might not need to be beaten so long - check at the 3-minute mark)
4. Pour into the prepared pan, spreading it out evenly, preferably with an offset spatula. Let cool completely before cutting into 1-inch squares.