Oh, fudge!

My Granny was not a good cook. There, I’ve said it. She just wasn’t. Granny had many talents, but they were all put into practice far, far away from the kitchen. Unless you count arranging flowers on the kitchen table, but that had nothing to do with food.

I remember one time when I was spending the night and Granny tried to make spaghetti for supper. Upon realizing that she was out of Ragu, she proceeded to pour a bottle of ketchup over the hot pasta. After all, tomato sauce is tomato sauce, right?

In theory, yes. In practice, no.

But there was one thing that Granny could make — fudge. And Granny didn’t make any old cop-out fudge. She made the hard kind on the Hershey’s Cocoa can (recipe below). The kind that requires one to intuit things like “soft ball stage.” The kind that, if you don’t hold your mouth just right, well, it winds up being nothing more than grainy ice cream topping.

Granny could make it every time! She never failed.

And it was Granny’s fudge that I looked forward to every Christmas. I would watch her slowly, constantly stirring stirring stirring the mixture. I would watch her let one drop slip off the end of the spoon into a glass of water. And I would watch her examine that drop to see if it sent the proper message of doneness.

If it was time, she would take the pot off the stove, add some butter and vanilla, and beat beat beat it with a wooden spoon until it started to look right. Into a buttered pan it would go, and a little while later it was a perfect square of fudge. Yum yum.

I still make fudge every Christmas because it reminds me of Granny. Unlike Granny, though, I cannot make the Hershey’s Cocoa recipe set up to save my life. I have problems with foods that must “set” — any sort of Jello dish usually defeats me.

I use the Carnation Classic Five-Minute Fudge recipe (also below). It’s a cop-out because it uses marshmallows and there are no ball stages or anything terribly complicated involved. I don’t care. It has never failed.

Now just about every year it winds up that I only have one weekend with Sonny between Thanksgiving and Christmas because of a custody arrangement, bad luck, fate, and the alignment of the stars and planets. One piddlin’ weekend for us to pack in all the fun holiday things we want to do. One weekend. Two days.

In past years, when he was smaller, we’d go to The Birmingham Zoo‘s Zoolight Safari, we’d go visit Santa Claus, and we might go see a Christmas movie if one was playing. But this year, now that he’s a teenager, he didn’t want to do any of those things. “Well, what do you want to do this year?” I asked him. “What is the one special Christmas thing that you’d really like to do?”

“Can we make fudge?” he asked.IMG_0907

So make fudge we did. Since we are products of too much Food Network, we started Saturday morning planning what flavors we would make, as if plain fudge isn’t perfection. We dispensed with bacon (it’s been overdone) and margarita (couldn’t find lime flavoring), and we decided to try plain chocolate, chocolate jalapeño, peanut butter, dark chocolate cherry, white chocolate peppermint, chocolate chili, and s’more.

We made fudge all day long and into the evening. We made fudge until we were so tired and sticky we could hardly stand it. Some of the batches turned out great (you’d be surprised what a shot of Sriracha does to a recipe of fudge). Some not so great (apparently fudge flavored with maraschino cherry juice will never really set up, even if marshmallows are involved).  And there were some couldn’t help but be good (did I mention plain is always the best).

Sonny and I spent the day cooking and tasting. Measuring and stirring. Laughing and joking. We wound up covered in chocolate. We washed a mountain of dishes. We had to mop the floor. We ate fudge until we were nearly sick.

We spent the day — our day — making so much more than just fudge.

Hershey’s Cocoa Fudge

(from http://www.hersheys.com)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa or HERSHEY’S SPECIAL DARK Cocoa
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 Directions:
  1. Line 8-or 9-inch square pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan. Butter foil.
  2. Mix sugar, cocoa and salt in heavy 4-quart saucepan; stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to full rolling boil. Boil, without stirring, until mixture reaches 234°F on candy thermometer or until small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water, forms a soft ball which flattens when removed from water. (Bulb of candy thermometer should not rest on bottom of saucepan.)
  3. Remove from heat. Add butter and vanilla. DO NOT STIR. Cool at room temperature to 110°F (lukewarm). Beat with wooden spoon until fudge thickens and just begins to lose some of its gloss. Quickly spread into prepared pan; cool completely. Cut into squares. Store in tightly covered container at room temperature. About 36 pieces or 1-3/4 pounds.NOTE: For best results, do not double this recipe. This is one of Hershey’s most requested recipes, but also one of the most difficult. The directions must be followed exactly. Beat too little and the fudge is too soft. Beat too long and it becomes hard and sugary.

Carnation Classic Five-Minute Fudge

(from http://www.carnationmilk.ca)

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (4 ounces) miniature marshmallows
  • 1-1/2 cups (9 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, optional
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Combine butter or margarine, evaporated milk, sugar, and salt in a medium, heavy-duty saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil stirring constantly for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. Stir in marshmallows, chocolate chips, nuts, and vanilla. Stir vigorously for 1 minute or until marshmallows are melted. Pour into a foiled-lined 8-inch square baking pan. Chill until firm.