How to make old fashioned fudge. With commentary based on my own attempts.
This recipe is based off the old Hershey recipe for old fashioned fudge. It consists of an ingredient list and a very short paragraph. If you follow that recipe correctly, you will get your fudge. However, I attempted this recipe more than no less than half a dozen times, and found it was easy to screw up. This recipe will elaborate on the Hershey, and provide some insights into what makes a good batch of fudge.
Here are the ingredients and their quantities:
3 cups white granulated sugar
2/3 cups cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups milk
1/8 tsp salt
4 tbs (1/2 stick) butter (unmelted)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Fudge made the "old fashioned" way is a made up of simple ingredients. Sugar and milk with a 2:1 ratio, cocoa powder, butter, with vanilla and a pinch of salt for flavor.
Newer recipes will often call for additional things like corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk. These particular ingredients help to make the outcome a little more "foolproof" in the end result. With a traditional recipe only using sugar, you're working with a much smaller margin for error.
Highly recommended: a precise thermometer. I've used digital thermometers, but a good candy thermometer is best. With traditional fudge, it's very important to nail the soft ball stage.
If you're paranoid about your thermometer (I am/was, I have multiple thermometers), you can take the temperature of boiling water. A well calibrated thermometer should read 100C. My candy thermometer is analogue, and actually has a nut you can adjust to calibrate it.
Highly recommended: an electric mixer for beating fudge. You'll get more consistent, more reliable results this way. Also, it's less work.
In a large sauce pan (4 qts or so) mix the dry ingredients together: sugar, cocoa powder, salt. Make sure they are well blended.
Mix in the milk, and stir without heat until evenly mixed in.
Turn the heat on to about medium, to medium high. Gently and slowly stir until it starts to reach a boil.
Once it reaches a boil, stop stirring, and turn the heat to medium low. If you stir while it boils, you risk the chance of the sugar (over?)crystalizing, and you get graininess. Setting to low heat is important. You want the mixture to heat up nice and evenly.
You'll want to drop in your candy thermometer at this point. Keep the heat on medium-low, and wait for the temperature to reach the softball stage. You'll get slightly different answers at the range for softball, the general consensus is about 234F-239F. The lower end (~234F) is ideal for fudge. If you go higher than 239, you start to enter in hardball stage and things will start to resemble the consistency of taffy, or worse. (If this happens, don't worry! you can salvage your fudge no problem. I'll explain more on this later).
Once the fudge reaches ~234 (softball), turn the heat off and immediately transfer to another bowl (I use a kitchenaid mixer to beat the fudge, so I put it in there), and add the vanilla and butter. The butter should be at around room temperature and NOT melted (melted butter could warp the precise softball-stage fudge). Do NOT scrape the edges of the saucepan into the new bowl when transferring, as stuff on the edges can get too hot and introduce sugar crystals that can give fudge texture an undesirable graininess. This is mostly why transferring is done in the first place.
In the new bowl, allow fudge mix to cool to about 110F-114F. If you don't wait long enough, you could risk introducing more grainy textures.
When cooled to about ~110F, it is time to beat the fudge, or vigorously stir it. Many recipes say to do this until the fudge "loses it's gloss", but honestly I have no idea what that looks like. There should be a noticeable consistency change though: the fudge mix will get thicker. If you're mixing by hand, it will get increasingly more difficult to work.
With my kitchen aid mixer, I use a fairly low setting with the paddle for about 5 minutes (I do use a timer for this). When I've stirred it by hand, I do anywhere from 6-10 minutes. (I have not had as much luck doing it by hand doing it by hand though). In my experience, the consistency of good fudge can range from being very easy to pour, to being lightly malleable. It is possible to overbeat fudge. Overbeating will cause fudge to get too hard.
After you've beaten the fudge, pour/scrape in a greased glass pan big enough so that it's about 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick. Place pan in fridge for 1-4 hours to let it set. Going into the fridge, the fudge will probably look goopy and sticky and disappointing. That's okay!
If done right, the fudge will cool down and have a very nice matte finish to it. At that point, you can cut it into squares. You now have fudge. Hopefully.
How to Reset Fudge
If you mess up the fudge somehow (and I have, many times), it is usually possible to salvage this fudge by "resetting" it.
To reset fudge, put as much of the fudge as you can into your sauce pan and add about 1 cup water. Stir and bring to a boil, stop stirring, and then let it reach softball stage again like before. From there, you let it cool properly, beat it, and then put in a pan again to let it set.
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