Welcome to Mutherfudger’s
New to Fudge Making
3. Basic Technique
I have been making fudge for a few years now, but I am still learning. There are many different techniques and you just have to find which one works best for you. I still have the odd ‘fail’, and rather than giving up, it inspires me to learn more about the science of fudge making.
I prefer the traditional method of boiling cream, sugar and butter together as out of the different types I have made and tried, this gives the best balance of sweetness and texture. If you want fudge made with marshmallow, condensed milk or any of the other ‘cheat’ or ‘no-bake’ types, then look elsewhere.
OK, so I get that most of you are not interested in the science, and just want to make fudge so you can either shove it in yer gob, or give it away as a home-made gift. However, one of the interesting things I find about fudge is that there is a science behind it, and once you understand it, it can help troubleshooting.
Fudge, at its most basic and traditional, is three ingredients – sugar, milk (though cream gives a much smoother softer finish), and butter. Traditional fudge should NEVER require setting in the fridge. The set is achieved by getting the sugar to the correct temperature known as ‘soft ball stage’ (235-240°F/113-115°C). The smooth texture of fudge comes from the formation of tiny sugar crystals. Large crystals will cause your fudge to be grainy. The easiest way to do this is to ‘interrupt’ sugar crystal formation.
The white stuff you call sugar is actually sucrose, and this is made of two simpler sugars called glucose and fructose. Sucrose crystals have a hard time forming if you split, or ‘invert’, some of the sugars into glucose and fructose by adding an interfering agent such as fat, or acids like lemon juice or cream of tartar. Another way is to add a non-sucrose sugar, such as corn syrup, which is mainly glucose.
Adding sugar to water dissolves the sugar into a solution. You can’t add an infinite amount of sugar though, at some point, the water becomes saturated with sugar. The saturation point is different at different temperatures. The higher the temperature, the more sugar that can be held in the solution. This is what you are doing when you heat up the cream.
When you cook up a batch of fudge, you cook sugar and various other ingredients to extremely high temperatures. At these high temperatures, the sugar remains in solution, even though much of the water has boiled away. But when the candy is through cooking and begins to cool, there is more sugar in solution than is normally possible. At this stage, the solution is said to be’ supersaturated’ with sugar.
Beating a supersaturated syrup incorporates air and promotes the formation and growth of sugar crystals due to the rapid movement of the molecules, but if the solution is allowed to cool before it is beaten (110°F/43°C), only tiny crystals can form, leaving you with a smooth fudge.
Fudge, in the format we know now, is an American invention from the late 19th century. The first documented recipe is said to have come from Baltimore in Maryland. However, other products of similar texture and ingredients, and likely precursors, have been around much longer. For instance, Scottish ‘tablet’ has been made since early 18th century, proceeding fudge by almost 200 years. The main difference is while sugar crystallisation is unwanted in fudge, it is a requirement in tablet.
Another proposed precursor is Clotted Cream, made by boiling cream, then allowing it to cool slowly, to form clots and preserve the cream. This technique has been practiced in the south west of England from at least the late 10th century.
- Butter the sides of a large pot (this will prevent seed sugar crystals from forming on the side of the pot)
- Dissolve sugar with cream/milk on a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved
- Turn heat up high and stir until it comes to the boil (approx 15 mins)
- Turn heat down to med-low and allow to cook until you reach ‘soft ball stage’ 235°F/113°C stirring only occasionally (this can take a while, approx 40 mins)
- Turn off heat and move off hob. Add butter but don’t stir, and leave to cool until solution reaches 110°F/43°C (approx 30 mins)
- Add flavourings such as extracts, grated chocolate (chocolate should never be heated higher than 115°F/46°C so don’t be tempted to add it earlier), liquor, purees, plus any inclusions such as nuts
- Beat until it is paler and no longer appears glossy. You can do this in a mixer or with a hand held mixer, but I prefer to do this by hand. I can ensure it doesn’t get over beaten, plus it’s good for the bingo wings
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Don’t be tempted to scrape in the dried bits from the sides of the bowl in, as these bits likely contain seed sugar crystals. Allow them to cool on the side of the pan, then scrape off and roll into a ball – chef’s privilege
- Heavy bottomed preserving pan – its high sides are perfect for fudge making
- Sugar thermometer – test it on boiling water which should register at 100°C
- Long handled wooden spoon (plastic will melt, and metal will conduct the heat)
- 8″ square pan (or similar)
- Vanilla & White Chocolate Fudge
- Dark Chocolate and Walnut Fudge
- Pumpkin Pie Fudge
- Pecan and Caramel Fudge
- The ‘soft ball stage’ actually can go as high as 245°F, but supersaturated sugar solution can continue to cook even when taken off the heat, and so potentially over-cook. You could put the pot in a water bath to stop the temp rising, but I have never done so
- I recommend you use whipping cream or double cream (heavy cream), or full fat milk if you prefer, but I find a smoother finish is achieved with cream
- You don’t need a sugar thermometer. You can check if your fudge has reached ‘soft ball’ by dropping a spoonful in ice water. That said, the temp difference between success and failure is razor thin, so save yourself some tears and buy a sugar thermometer
- Get all your ingredients and equipment ready before starting. Fudge waits for no man… or woman
Fudge not setting – If the fudge flows to fill the space when you cut a piece, even after it has been cooling for several hours at room temp, it will never set. Traditional fudge should not need to be refrigerated to set. This is generally caused by one of two reasons; not boiled to a sufficiently high temperature, or not beaten enough. If you used a sugar thermometer, check that it is recording temperatures accurately. To fix the fudge, scrape it back into a clean pan along with about 65ml of cream, and dissolve over a low heat. Re-heat to the ‘soft ball’ stage. Once it reaches temperature, you can follow the instructions for cooling and beating as before.
Fudge is grainy – This is generally because it has been over beaten. You need to stop beating your fudge when the glossiness disappears, and it is noticeably thicker. You could try to follow the instructions as above, by adding the fudge back into a pot with cream.
Fudge has set too hard – If your fudge has set like concrete, it’s likely because you cooked the sugar to too high a temperature. You could try re-cooking by dissolving first, but if the sugar is burnt, the burned taste will stay and be unpleasant.