Oprah Magazine has a terrific story about making candy in the October 2010 issue that I just ran across again. Seems like I’m seeing candy recipes everywhere. If you want to get into the candy game, start with chocolate fudge, a great food science lesson about sugar crystallization. Soon you’ll be rolling out batches for much appreciated and easy holiday gifts.
Yes, you need a candy thermometer. Don’t glaze over, it’s candy lab science and it’s fun. Fudge is classified as a crystalline candy which means its primary structure is made of sugar heated until dissolved and then crystallized under conditions that produce very small crystals so the mouth feel of the candy is creamy and smooth. You’ve got to get the sugar syrup to the right stage of concentration of water and sugar (soft ball in this case) so that the fudge won’t turn hard and gritty. Keeping the crystals small without turning into large unappealing crystals is the key. Ever had grainy fudge or grainy ice cream? Those are large sugar crystals. You don’t want that. That’s why so many folks love the foolproof Kraft Fantasty Fudge recipe and the Marshmallow Fluff Never Fail Fudge recipe. They contain the marshmallow products, made from egg white and corn syrup, both crystal inhibitors. Crystal inhibitors include:
- acid like cream of tartar, vinegar, fruit juice
- fats like butter, cream, chocolate, peanut butter
- protein like egg white, milk, evaporated milk
- viscous sugars like corn syrup and honey
- cooling and agitation–beating the fudge with a spoon when it is lukewarm
Notice in the classic Candy Lab Fudge recipe below, it contains less chocolate, and very little butter so you have a higher change of going grainy. You must beat it with a spoon when lukewarm to help keep the crystal size small. Now look at the Kraft Fantasy recipe, not only do they inhibit crystal growth with the Marshmallow Creme, the recipe further insures creaminess with lots of chocolate and butter.
With all that fat, can you get away without the Marshmallow Creme? Well, yes, substitute 1/4 cup of corn syrup and you’ll be happy with the results. With all those inhibitors, you don’t even have to beat the fudge when it’s lukewarm. Marshmallow or corn syrup, the Fantasy-style fudge is the way to go because it’s too easy and too good especially if you use really good chocolate. And now you know why.
I have a personal disclosure to make: I have a thing for Marshmallow Creme because back in the 1980’s I worked on the Marshmallow Creme account and ran the “Secret Ingredient” recipe contest for Kraft for a few years. People entered all kinds of dessert recipes that were kept smooth and creamy because of the “secret ingredient’s” magical powers to inhibit crystal growth. It works wonders in ice cream and sorbets, too.
So free yourself to experiment with the fudge recipe. Change up the chocolate with a combination of unsweetened and semi-sweet, add any kind of nut, peppermint extract, or crushed peppermint candy, crystallized ginger, white chocolate, dried fruits, espresso powder, or peanut butter. You can even make a layered fudge with two different flavors. How about almond butter? I’ll have to try that.
Candy Lab Fudge
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional
Combine the sugar, milk, corn syrup, and butter in a heavy medium saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium high heat to boiling, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Cook to the soft ball stage on a candy thermometer (234 to 240 F). Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate until melted. Cover and allow to cool to lukewarm without stirring, at least 15 minutes probably more. Add the vanilla and salt and beat vigorously until the candy becomes creamy and loses its sheen. As the sheen goes away while stirring, you are building the tiny sugar crystal structure of the candy. Stir in the nuts, if desired. Pour quickly into a foil-lined and lightly oiled 8 or 9-inch baking pan. Cool completely and cut into small squares.
Kraft Fantasy Fudge (Cheater Fantasy if you use the corn syrup instead of the Marshmallow Creme)
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 small can (5 ounces) evaporated milk (about 2/3 cup)
1 jar (7 or 7 1/2 ounces) Marshmallow Creme or Fluff or 1/4 cup corn syrup
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts, optional
Line an 8 or 9-inch square pan with foil. Bring the sugar, butter, milk and corn syrup, if using, to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly to keep the bottom from scorching. Boil about 4 minutes or until 234 F on a candy thermometer, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in the chocolate and marshmallow creme, if using. Stir until melted. Stir in the nuts and vanilla. Pour into the prepared pan. Cool completely and cut into small squares. Makes a lot!