There's been this unwritten rule that we don't do fudge here. Rumor has it that a test cook tried for months and ended up getting carpal tunnel. I get it: Fudge is known to be difficult to make. But it doesn't have to be, and our foolproof recipe proves it. Keep reading to see how—after making 177 pounds of fudge—we figured this out.
Growing up, I thought it more practical to bribe Santa with a plate of chocolate fudge than a squad of gingerbread men. At its best, fudge is soft (but not too soft), sweet (but not too sweet), and rich (but not too . . . oh, who are we kidding? It's a holiday!). To return to this tradition, I began researching recipes in cookbooks and online. Many old-style recipes follow an exhausting formula: Boil sugar, butter, and cream until it reaches a specific temperature, and then add chocolate and stir for upwards of an hour for a smooth consistency.
That's fine for a fudge shop with specialty equipment, but I wasn't up for that much labor. So I looked for recipes with special ingredients that promised to make the process easier, from sweetened condensed milk to Velveeta cheese (no kidding). I tested a dozen existing recipes but found the results unexciting, gummy, and more sugary than chocolaty. The closest contender was one made with marshmallow crème, but the fudge came out much too soft.
After a bit more research and testing, I knew that my fudge would achieve the correct texture only if I cooked the sugar mixture to a temperature between 234 and 238 degrees (what candymakers call “softball stage”). When the temperature is within this range, enough water has been driven off from cooked sugar that it will hold its shape yet remain pliable once cooled.
More kitchen tests showed me that marshmallows, rather than marshmallow crème, were a better route to the creamy-but-firm texture I needed, thanks to the small amount of cornstarch that coats each marshmallow. (They're also easier to work with.) I learned that canned evaporated milk was the best choice for dairy, as whole milk gave me inconsistent results, heavy cream's richness masked the chocolate flavor, and sweetened condensed milk was just too sweet.
1. Chocolate Toffee FudgeToffee and coffee play nicely with chocolate, so we used instant espresso powder and buttery toffee bits to liven up this fudge.
2. Chocolate Cherry FudgeWe bumped up this adult fudge with dried cherries rehydrated with almond extract and cherry liqueur.
3. Chocolate FudgeWinning Digital Thermometer: ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4|$99.00 Winning Candy Thermometer: ThermoWorks ChefAlarm|$64.00
4. Chocolate Peppermint FudgeDress up this fudge for the occasion by adding potent peppermint extract and sprinkled crushed peppermint candies.
5. Chocolate Peanut Butter FudgeThis fudge is amped up with swirls of creamy peanut butter and sprinkled crunchy salted peanuts.
One of the fudges I made during my initial tests called for brown sugar, which gave it a slightly more complex flavor, more like the nostalgic, candy-store quality I was after. My tasters preferred the cleaner flavor of light brown sugar to dark brown here.
While many chocolate fudge recipes call for vanilla extract, after extensive testing I decided to leave it out; my tasters noted that it confused the chocolate flavor. But we did find that just a bit of salt really amplified it.