I have just finished my first batch of fudge, an incredibly rich chocolate macadamia nut fudge. It’s so rich it’s actually a little shiny/oozy on top, which means I added a little too much butterfat. I’ll cut it down in the next batch. But it TASTES incredible, largely because of the tinkering I’ve done with the recipe.
Before I go on to explain my philosophy of fudge, a little theory:
Fudge, at its root, is a gazillion tiny sugar crystals – too small to feel on the tongue. It also contains softening agents like fat (butterfat or cocoa butter), flavoring agents (cocoa, vanilla, etc.), and dairy (milk solids). But the majority of the fudge is made up of sugar crystals, and it’s the crystals that control the texture. If they are nice and small, then you get a smooth fudge that dissolves creamily on the tongue. If they’re big and coarse, then you get an icky, grainy fudge.
So the best way to make fudge is, interestingly enough, very much like the best way of tempering chocolate. You heat it to the correct temperature, then pour it out into a thin sheet and let it cool rapidly. This encourages the formation of lots of small crystals rather than large, coarse ones. Then you agitate it to form the crystals all at once. The difference is that which chocolate you have multiple crystal forms to worry about, so you then have to heat it up to melt out all the undesirable crystal forms, whereas with fudge you just want to create lots of crystals – no need to reheat.
Anyway, there are some factors that will slow down crystallization, such as corn syrup or glucose (very similar things), and fat. They contribute to a better mouthfeel. Fat in particular adds richness, though if you add too much it starts separating. (My first batch is actually oozing butterfat on top, which is why I said it was a trifle too fatty.)
I’ve eaten commercial fudge and I just don’t like it. It’s typically too grainy, too sweet, too firm/dry, and not flavorful enough. So when I make fudge, I aim for a rich, soft, intensely flavored fudge – the kind I’d enjoy eating.
So what changes do I make?
Well, first, adding a few ounces of chocolate to a kilogram of sugar does not create intense chocolate flavor. (Even if it’s good chocolate.) So I say goodbye to subtlety and “spike” my recipe with a LOT of cocoa. Valrhona cocoa, which is more intensely chocolatey than most other cocoas. (I trialed it once against Trader Joe’s cocoa and the latter was practically tasteless by comparison.) For every 100g sugar, I add 7.5g cocoa powder (which is more than it sounds like since cocoa powder is so fluffy).
Adding that much cocoa powder does three things: (1) intensifies the chocolate flavor tremendously, (2) firms up the fudge somewhat because the acid in the cocoa powder tightens up the milk proteins in the milk/cream, and (3) makes it burn a LOT more easily. Adding cocoa powder more or less ensures that you will have to stir constantly to prevent burning. But it produces a wonderful deep chocolate flavor that you just can’t get by adding chocolate.
The other major modification I do is to replace milk with cream. I like a lot of fat in fudge; it produces a softer fudge, and since my tastes in general run more to rich than sweet, I think it produces a more appealing fudge that doesn’t dry out as fast. It’s more expensive to produce, and probably doesn’t keep as long, but fortunately I’m not a business so that’s just fine.
Replacing the milk with cream does add a lot of fat – whole milk is 4% fat and manufacturing cream (the kind I use) is 40% fat. I think I added too much fat in this batch and will probably mix cream with milk in the next round. But the flavor is wonderful. Deep, dark, intensely chocolate, and unbelievably rich and smooth. I’ve been scraping up and gobbling all the leftover bits, and I don’t even like fudge!
Next up is another batch of dark chocolate fudge, this time with bits of candied ginger. I will reduce the amount of fat by removing the butter and some of the cream, but leave the quantity of cocoa powder and the rest of the recipe the same. I may also calculate out the fat percentages so I can apply it to other recipes later – once I get a fat content that is rich but not oozy. I use both white and dark chocolates in my fudge, and I have the exact formulations of each, so once I have a base recipe adapting it should not be difficult.
Mike is cooking dinner (broiled scallops with lemon butter and garlic, yum!) so I’ve been blogging while waiting for him to finish. I might be able to get one more batch of fudge in tonight, if I hurry. Not a very productive day, but then I didn’t get started until 4pm, between cycling and conference calls. But I’m taking Tuesday through Friday off, so I’ll be able to get a lot more done then. Tuesday in particular I plan to make four or five batches of fudge plus misc chocolate stuff.