Fudge is arguably the most delicious substance known to man. With its rich, creamy taste and seemingly endless variety of flavours, I can't be the only person who really likes this stuff. Oddly enough though, it's very difficult to find anybody who sells it, and it's usually pretty damned expensive.
I had no idea what fudge is actually made of. But when I looked it up, the recipe says, basically, throw three ingredients in a pan, boil it for a while, let it cool, done. As recipies go, that's pretty damned simple!
So I gave it a try. And it... didn't really work. The result was like fudge... but no, not really.
So then I went and did some more research, and found this other site that claims that you have to do all these complicated rituals and that you mustn't try to make fudge on a cold day and the moon has to be in the right phase and... seriously?? It's this hard?
The long and short of it is this: How hard is it to make good fudge? Is this something that an average person, with no expert training, working in a normal domestic kitching, should be able to pull off relatively easily? Or is this for the hardcore experts only? Is it realistic for me to be attempting this?
I honestly can't tell whether I just need a little more practise to get this right, or whether I'm attempting something so hopelessly difficult that I'm doomed to eternal disappointment.
(FWIW, my first batch was nearly inedable. I changed a few things, and my second batch was better, but still not quite right. If there's some hope that this could work, I can ask more specific questions. Right now I just want to know whether what I'm trying to do is feasible in the first place.)
Fudge is essentially caramel (sugar heated to 116ºC, usually with water) combined with some kind of fat - sometimes butter, sometimes condensed milk. It's not hard to make, but it does require precision and care at the caramelisation stage, and that means having a decent sugar thermometer.
If you just try and eyeball it you will fail more often than not. Dropping balls of molten sugar into water is all very well, but while you're trying to determine whether it's hard or soft, the caramel is burning. So get a sugar thermometer.
It does require a bit of practice, namely to know how your pans and hob/stove work together and thus how fast your caramel comes up to temperature. It's certainly not something like filo pastry or macarons that you need deity-like talents to do really well.
Like so many things, if you know what you are trying to do, fudge is not difficult to get right.
Fudge is a high fat candy. In the US chocolate is implied but the addition of chocolate doesn't change the process.
You want a solid, creamy candy with a smooth texture.
As Elendil wrote, it is important to ensure that you cook the candy to the correct temperature- but that is only half of the problem.
As the candy cools it will form crystals. In order to have a smooth texture you have to make those crystals as small as possible. The bigger they are the grainier the candy will be. The slower the crystals form the larger they will be able to grow.
For a smooth texture we want to form crystals as quickly as possible.
Crystals require a trigger to set them off- such as a seed crystal or agitation. If the candy is allowed to cool undisturbed and with no seed sugar crystals in the pot no crystals will form. It will be like a bomb ready to go off at the slightest provocation- this is what we want. After it is cooled we stir it like mad to form all our crystals all at once- fast and small.
Fudge is very forgiving in that it is easy to start over. Unlike an egg custard that when it breaks is unrecoverable- the sugar crystals that ruin fudge are easy to fix. You just add a little water, melt the candy back down, and start over.
Tricks to prevent premature crystallization
No-Fail Fudge - this is achievable! Fudge is magic and delicious ... And a chemistry project with full respect to all the prior responders. Here is a link to the no-fail recipe that I personally have seen mass-produced by a room full of novices for a fund-raising project. Follow the directions EXACTLY and you will have mastered no-fail fudge:
This recipe makes 2 1/2 pounds. The fudge party I attended produced 24 batches of fudge in one evening with 100% success rate! Best of luck!
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