Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ah! Fudge

Ah! Fudge.

Sadie the stepdaughter sampling sweets.

Read the recipe here.

Two things about fudge: 1) it's notoriously difficult to make 2) I've never made it before. Recipe ... for disaster! (Cue musical sting.)

But this month's Martha Stewart Living, which calls like a culinary siren,
had a fudge recipe replete with "money shots": a pile of it on a cake plate, a feminine hand stirring the molten mixture, an assortment of add-ins positioned just so.

"If you can make it without it crystalizing," said Carolyn, the same Carolyn mentioned below, "I'll buy your recipe, pans, butter, mixer and anything else you use to make the damned stuff." Everyone she knew had given up on making "real fudge" (her words) in exchange for the Marshmallow Fluff fudge recipe.

A challenge. I could get fudge and cash out of this? Hey, I'm in.

The recipe I used was not the one in the magazine but one I'd found on the website (for a boring reason*). They're fairly similar (they both yeild fudge...): one has cream, the other butter; one uses chocolate and cocoa, the other, solely chocolate.

I took the opportunity to buy to some chocolate products I've been jonesing for: Scharffen Berger's 99% Cacao Unsweetened and Ghirardelli's Unsweetened Cocoa. They're not what you would call cheap (I paid $10 for under 10 oz. of Scharffen Berger) but if I was going to make fudge, I was going for the gold.

I've used Ghirardelli in the past and been happy with the results, but wasn't as sure about the S.B. Though it has a great reputation, I've also heard people say it's bitter. Nobody wants bitter fudge.

While prepping, I tasted an S.B. shaving -- much smoother than expected. The aroma is wonderful -- deep, rich, and alluring -- so much so that I took another taste. (On the other hand, after sampling the S.B., Sadie ran from the room shouting "Water! I need WATER! Waaaaaaaaaaaaterrrrrr!" So I guess the lesson here is that 7 year olds don't like unsweetened chocolate.) I won't be snacking on the 99% Cacao anytime soon, but it's a great baking chocolate choice.

This is a recipe in which I HAD to have mise en place -- not my usual M.O. (I'm a disorganized, messy cook). But no mise en place = crappy confection.

I won't say this recipe is hard, but it does require precision. (Well, sort of. More about that in a minute.) There's no way I could have made it without a candy thermometer and I watched it like a hawk.

I could have used a bit more information in the website recipe (the magazine's instructions were much clearer; I wish I'd read those as well before proceeding), especially when it came to the phrase "Brush down sides of saucepan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent crystallization." Um, when? Before or after the sugar has dissolved -- or both? How much water should I use? Can I ruin the fudge by over-brushing the sides of the pan?

So, I winged it (or, uh, "fudged" it). I kept the pastry brush in a mug of lukewarm water on my range, and violently shook it before wiping the down the sides of the pan (my dog got wet more than once). I probably did this every two minutes while at the stove.

After bringing the mixture to 236-degrees F (soft ball candy stage), I was supposed to pour it into a buttered metal bowl, dot it with small pieces of butter, and let it cool to 110 to 118-degrees F. But I forgot to dot it with butter (whoops). By the time I realized my mistake, the fudge had cooled to 118-degrees. Frantic, I tossed my chilled butter into the microwave for about 45 seconds, figuring I could approximate the effect the molten fudge would have had on the butter. After microwaving, I was left with a mix of melted and softened butter. (Incidentally, the recipe says to pour the hot fudge into a metal bowl, let it cool, and then scrape it into a mixing bowl. Since my Kitchen Aid stand mixer is fitted with a metal bowl, I cut out the middle man by buttering the mixing bowl and pouring the hot fudge directly into it.)

Another issue I had was the mixing time. The recipe says to "beat, stopping occasionally, until fudge keeps its shape when dropped from a spoon and sheen is gone, 3 to 8 minutes." There was no way my fudge was going to do that in 8 minutes. let alone 3. It took me at least 13 minutes to achieve that stage, all the while worrying that somehow, I was going to screw things up.

I did not. The fudge came out extremely well, though I'm chalking that up to beginner's luck. Sadie nearly exploded after tasting it (her first taste of fudge ever) and now she won't stop asking for it. (This was flattering for the first 10 minutes... I can't really blame her though; who doesn't crave chocolate, sugar, and butter?) It's lighter than I expected it to be; I imagine the milk and butter mitigated the cocoa and chocolate's darkness. It is very rich, as fudge should be, and extremely tempting.

Carolyn was impressed. She still hasn't paid me though, the welcher.

Next time, I'll throw in some nuts. I'd also like to try the Fluff fudge recipe and see how it measures up.

Grade: A (with nuts, I'm guessing A+)

*Here's why: efficiency. After I'd finished teaching Business Communications, I was going to pick the kids up from school, and head straight to the grocery store. Before doing that, however, I needed to find out what ingrediants I needed; I found this fudge recipe before I came across the one in this month's MSL. See? Boring.

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