Fudge. Who can resist its deep, dark chocolate tastiness and creamy, velvety smoothness?
Cindy Cole couldn't. She loved the confection so much that when she and her husband, Tom, opened Cole's Gourmet Popcorn and Treats, fudge took a front-and-center position, ahead of the huge collection of nostalgic candies and sodas.
"When we used to go to Branson, Mo., I loved going in the craft malls and watching the ladies make fudge. I could stand there for hours," Cole said. "Tom would have to convince me it was time to go. But I wanted stay and watch them pour the fudge into pans so it could stand and cure. The best part was when they gave out samples."
So when she had the opportunity to have a retail sweet shop, learning to make fudge was on her bucket list.
"I like to have about 21 flavors in the case," she said. "We love making different and unique flavors, like Moose Poo and Moose on the Loose."
The catchy names may not sound appetizing, but consider the ingredients. The "poo" is made by mixing marshmallows, peanut butter and caramel into chocolate fudge.
"We can hardly make Moose Poo quick enough," she said.
After making fudge for three years, Cole has learned a thing or two. For example, the No. 1 enemy of fudge? A dry climate.
"We cut generous quarter-pound squares of fudge," she said, "and wrap each one in cello to keep them from drying out. When it's unwrapped, the candy will be just as creamy as the day it was made. But it really doesn't last very long here. We make 33 pounds each of vanilla and chocolate fudge each week."
Holiday munching makes this a great time to give fudge-making a try.
Start with high-quality ingredients, and pay close attention to cooking time, especially at our altitude, says Mari Younkin, executive chef and owner of The Colorado Cook.
"Use a heavy-gauge Dutch oven," she said. "A 4- or 6-quart one is about right. A candy thermometer is a must to determine when the fudge has reached a soft-ball temperature. Over 5,000 feet, that is 224 to 230 degrees."
If you are using a sea-level recipe, reduce the finished temperature by 2 degrees for each 1,000 feet above sea level. This adjustment controls the degree of evaporation needed to achieve the proper sugar concentration for a good textured fudge.
"Use a wooden spoon to beat the fudge mixture until it is slightly glossy," she said. "Metal spoons cause the sugar mixture to cook unevenly."
Younkin advises storing fudge in an airtight container for quality and freshness. Fudge also keeps in the freezer for three months.
Have you ever had fudge that's gritty instead of velvety?
Sugar's tiny microcrystals give fudge its firm, smooth texture. The key to nongrainy fudge is in the cooling. The recipe calls for heating the ingredients to the soft-ball stage. Then allow it to cool undisturbed to about 110 degrees.
If you stir during this cooling phase, you increase the likelihood that seed crystals will form too soon. Seed crystals are a surface to which sugar attaches. Once a seed crystal forms, it grows bigger and bigger as the fudge cools.
When the fudge has cooled to about 110 degrees, start the crystallization process: Stir and keep stirring until the candy becomes thick. The more the mixture is stirred, the more crystal seeds you get. Instead of getting a few huge crystals (and grainy candy), you get lots and lots of tiny crystals, which make for thick, smooth candy.
To prevent gritty fudge, Younken offers two recipes using marshmallow cream.