How to make super-smooth fudge

  • By Jan Roberts-Dominguez / Herald columnist
  • Tuesday, December 12, 2006 9:00pm
  • Life

There’s no deep, dark mystery to turning out a velvety-smooth batch of fudge. It’s really nothing more than a fun activity you’d perform alongside Mr. Wizard in a beginning science class focused on controlling the size of sugar crystals.

If the sugar crystals get too large, you’ll get grainy fudge. Not that that’s an earth-shattering problem since most kitchens are equipped with one or more apprentices ready and willing to eat your failures.

But nice, delicate sugar crystal formation is definitely something to shoot for, since it yields perfection.

So here are three basic concepts to keep in mind:

1. Temperature: Fudge is cooked to the “soft ball” stage. Unless you’re a certified grandmother or experienced candy maker, there is only one reliable way to know when your fudge-to-be has reached this point, and that’s by using a candy thermometer. So use one. The ideal soft ball stage is 238 degrees, but the acceptable range is 236 to 240 degrees.

2. Balance of ingredients: As I said, your goal in making fudge is to end up with nice delicate sugar crystals so the mixture won’t be grainy. But the crystals tend to get too big without some specific ingredients that are natural inhibitors of their size. The short list of ingredients that help prevent large crystal formation include corn syrup, cream of tartar, milk, butter, and chocolate. You don’t need all of them in any given fudge recipe, but the interactions between those that are used form a high-wire balancing act that shouldn’t be tampered with – unless you know what you’re doing. So if you’ve got a tried-and-true fudge recipe, don’t fiddle with it.

3. Agitation: Some people think that at the point where you are beating the fudge (this is after it has reached the soft-ball stage and been removed from the burner), you are causing it to harden. But you aren’t. Cooling does that.

The beating is done to make sure that crystallization starts in as many places as possible. You are actually agitating the crystals into action. Then, as the fudge cools, the tendency to crystallization increases until a lovely network of small sugar crystals have all attached themselves to each other, forming an evenly smooth mixture.

On the other hand, if the fudge is agitated too much while it’s cooling – by jostling it on the counter or moving it around too much, for instance – then the crystallization process will start too early. The resulting crystals will be fewer in numbers, and larger in size.

* Fudge recipes using marshmallows or marshmallow cream take advantage of the fact that the egg whites and gelatin in the marshmallows coat the sugar crystals as they form, which keeps them small, and produces an unusually creamy fudge.

* You can also produce microwave fudge by melting together sweetened condensed milk, chocolate, and butter. The sweetened condensed milk is actually a boiled-down, concentrated sugar syrup, and by adding the acidic melted chocolate to that, the proteins in the milk become firm. Once the mixture reaches room temperature, these proteins are even firmer, resulting in a set fudge of soft consistency.

Different versions of this tried-and-true fudge recipe have been around for a long time. The marshmallow cream produces an especially creamy texture. Sometimes it’s called “Million-dollar Fudge,” and “See’s Fudge.”

2-3tablespoons butter (for greasing pan)

1 1/2cups walnut or pecan pieces

6tablespoons butter, divided

1/4teaspoon salt

3cups sugar

15-ounce can evaporated milk (2/3 cup)

12ounces semisweet chocolate chips or good-quality semisweet chocolate (such as Scharffen Berger semisweet Pure Dark chocolate, Lindt, Tobler, or Hershey’s Special Dark) chopped into 1/4-inch pieces

2teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1(7 ounce) jar marshmallow cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line bottoms and sides of two 8-by-8-by-2-inch pans with foil and grease well with the 3 tablespoons of butter. Spread nuts on a medium baking sheet and roast until lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. While nuts hot, stir in 2 tablespoons of butter (from the 6 tablespoons) and the 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour into a large mixing bowl.

Bring the sugar, evaporated milk, and remaining 4 tablespoons of the butter to a low boil in a large heavy saucepan, stirring constantly. When it comes to a boil, stop stirring. Clamp a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and keep the mixture at a low, steady boil over medium-low heat until the mixture reaches 238 degrees, which will takbe about 5 minutes.

While sugar-milk mixture is boiling, place the chocolate pieces, vanilla, and the marshmallow cream in the large mixing bowl containing the roasted nuts. Have everything in the bowl before the cooking time is up for the sugar-milk mixture.

When the sugar-milk mixture has reached 238 degrees, pour it immediately over the nut mixture. Stir quickly to blend everything. Pour into the pans. Cool until firm. Remove from pans and peel off foil. Cut into desired sizes. Makes about 60 1 1/2-inch squares.

Recipe from “CookWise,” by Shirley O. Corriher

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer, cookbook author and artist. Contract her at

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