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« Squashed Resolve | Main | Top Cookbooks of 2008 »
Saturday
Dec202008

Fudge and Falling Snow

Muscovado Fudge


When I was a kid, there was nothing I wanted more than a white Christmas. Not pink leg warmers, not the latest Debbie Gibson album, and not even a stonewashed denim jacket were higher on my list than waking up on Christmas morning to a world clothed in white. Year after year I went to bed on Christmas Eve praying with all my might for a meteorological miracle (after all, it happened all the time in the movies!), but sadly those balmy California skies never took pity on me, and by the time I finally did get my white Christmas - in Germany, more than a decade later - it was nice, but not nearly as heart-stoppingly wonderful as it surely would have been when I was young.

As I sit here now, watching fat flakes of snow drift lazily to join the others already blanketing the grass, I wonder what that little California girl would have thought of this crazy December. Usually-mild Seattle has put two snowfalls under its belt already, the last one still causing havoc on the roads as these new flakes start to fall, and they say the worst is yet to come: up to a foot of snow in the next twenty-four hours, gale-force winds and blizzard-like conditions. She probably wouldn't have cared that the power might go out, that we might be eating cold clam chowder for the next few days, and that we might end up trapped in our rural neighborhood right up to Christmas, wishing we had ignored gas prices last July and sprung for a four-wheel-drive instead of a very sensible snow-phobic sedan. No, she'd undoubtedly find the whole thing quite magical - and on some level, despite my worry about all the potential inconveniences (not to mention my frustration at how quickly a few flakes bring everything to a standstill around here - yes I'm talking to you, Seattle!), I can't help but feel it too.

I suppose it helps that I don't have any Christmas shopping left to do, since if I did I'd probably be feeling a cold sweat creep across my palms right about now. Then again, that panic might just as well have forced me to the same conclusion I came to anyway: that this year, instead of braving shopping malls and potentially deadly crowds of bargain-hunters, I'd much rather give everyone a gift from my kitchen.

Jams, cookies, candy - you name it, I'm making it, and though I can't go into too many specifics (don't want to spoil all the surprise for those recipients who read this blog!) there is one you must know about, because a) it's really easy, and b) it was so good we've eaten almost the entire batch, so it obviously won't be ending up in any gift boxes unless the snow lets up and I can make it back to the market (...though in all honesty that would probably be futile since we'd just eat that batch too!). It's called muscovado fudge, and if you've ever wondered what a cross between toffee, caramel and crack cocaine might be like, wonder no more. This is some seriously addictive stuff.

I've always had a soft spot for fudge, despite (or perhaps fueled by?) a string of spectacular failures trying to make it when I was a teenager. I came to appreciate it even more when I moved to Britain and discovered that what they call fudge, unlike in the US, almost never has chocolate. Instead, it's a similarly-textured mixture of sugar, butter, and either milk or cream, usually flavored with a little vanilla or, if you're in Scotland, a splash of whisky. It's sweet stuff, to be sure, but offset by a bitter espresso at the end of a good meal, you could be forgiven for thinking you've died and gone to heaven.

This muscovado fudge takes that butter-sugar-vanilla concept and does it one better, though. Instead of white sugar it calls for dark muscovado, a moist, pungent sugar that smells like molasses, yet tastes like the most exquisitely complex toffee. In combination with the salt - a pinch inside to tame the sweetness and a sprinkle on top for an irresistible crunch - the result is pure caramelly, buttery, salty-sweet bliss. Like any good fudge it's soft and chewy and almost too easy to eat, and ought to keep just fine for a couple weeks if wrapped well in waxed paper - which makes it not only great gift material, but also a useful stash of emergency calories that just might come in handy during the white, white Christmas ahead.

Have a very Merry Christmas guys, and please, stay warm, dry and safe this week.

 

Muscovado Fudge

I feel like all I'm doing lately is calling for esoteric or hard-to-find ingredients, but trust me when I tell you not to substitute plain old dark brown sugar here. You might be able to get away with going half and half, but you really need at least some muscovado sugar for the right depth of flavor, and it should hopefully be easy enough for you to track down at a well-stocked grocer. The other thing you might want to try, if you're so inclined, is to add a handful of nuts - pecans or walnuts, lightly toasted of course, strike me as a particularly good match; just fold them in right before you pour the mixture in the pan to cool. And don't let me scare you with my tales of spectacular failures making fudge in my younger days - if you're careful to not reintroduce any sugar crystals after the rest of the sugar has dissolved (by washing down the pot and spoon), you'll have no problems at all.

Yield: about 64 1-inch pieces (recipe can easily be doubled)
Source: adapted from Delicious Magazine

1/2 cup (1 stick/120g) butter
1 lb (450g) dark muscovado sugar (you'll sometimes find it masquerading under the name 'molasses sugar')
1 cup (250ml) evaporated milk
1/3 cup (80ml) water

flaky sea salt, such as Maldon or Fleur de Sel

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

special equipment: a candy thermometer and waxed paper

Lightly grease an 8-inch (20cm) square pan and line with waxed paper, leaving an inch or so hanging over two opposite ends.

Melt the butter in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar, milk, water and a generous pinch of salt and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Take a wet pastry brush and wash any sugar crystals down from the sides of the pan. Wash your spoon as well. Turn the heat up and boil the mixture vigorously, stirring every now and then and washing down the sides of the pan a couple more times, for about half an hour, until the mixture reaches 235-240F (113-116C) on a candy thermometer (the soft-ball stage). To test, take the pan off the heat and drop a small blob of the mixture into a bowl of cold water. It should be firm but still malleable.

Take the pan off the heat and immediately plunge the bottom into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Remove the pan from the ice water and set it aside to cool undisturbed. When the bottom of the pan is cool enough that you can hold your hand against it, start stirring the fudge with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens, loses its shine, and begins to sound almost gritty against the pan base. Quickly stir in the vanilla and pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the top and sprinkle with a couple more pinches of salt. When completely cool, remove from the pan, cut into 1-inch squares (or whatever size you want), and wrap each one in a piece of waxed paper for storage. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

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Reader Comments (22)

Yup...watching the snow falling here at Queen Anne too, although maybe you get more of it over there at Bainbridge. I still have to do some last minute shopping infortunately....
Merry Christmas!

December 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRita

It is always a great idea to give people homemade gifts from the kitchen - and the fudge looks delectable!
Also hoping for that elusive white christmas - but the weather gods seem to send only rain our way....

Merry christmas and thank you for a great blog!

December 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterhannesofie

I'm not a big fudge fan, but the salt on top sounds fantastic!

December 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusy

Ah, those lucky recipients! Happy Christmas!

December 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercherie

ooooh....I am really excited to try this when I get back to my stash of muscovado after the holidays. I think muscovado is kind of like crack anyways, all on its own, so this has got to be good. (hhhmmm, and i really like toffee. this could be very dangerous.... i must make it.)

I'm really glad I did almost all of my shopping on the internet this year, and had everything shipped direct to my parent's house in Bremerton, 'cause we're snowed in at the end of several hills and I would not want to be out anywhere buying much of anything right now..... I'm definitely giddy over the snow like a little girl and ignoring the potential inconveniences. I think the thing I'm most bummed about is that the parents threw away our old (and admittedly broken) sled so my brother and I have nothing to go sailing down the hill on. *sigh*

good luck staying warm and snug as the storm continues to blow!

December 22, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterteal

Looks great ! Will give it a try!

Merry Christmas~~~~

My Taste Heaven

December 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMy Taste Heaven

Hi Melissa,

Welcome back to Seattle. I too was feeling the city come to a desolate stand-still in Ballard. I hand-craft flavored sea salts that I sell at the Ballard Farmers Market. The crowd was so sparse yesterday that it was difficult to not imagine not being spanked by snow.

But it was beautiful, unique, and Seattle. Love it.

Your fudge sounds amazing. If I get around to making it before heading back to the bay area for the holidays, I plan to finish it with Vanilla sea salt.

If your're curious, take a peak:

www.secretsalts.com

Cheers, and happy holidays.

December 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJanna

Your timing is often nothing short of miraculous. My beloved bride had recently brought home a pound of dark muscovado for me, that I wasn't quite sure what to do with. I've used some in spiced coffee, and a bit in a small batch of glogg, but I can adjust.

Sadly, it will have to wait for tomorrow. Even at this late hour I've just pulled a batch of simple shortbread from the oven, that we're waiting on to cool just enough to cut.and devour.

To you, your family, and all of your readers, blessings of the season - Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and every reason you can recall to make holy these days, and to commit yourselves to kindness, beauty, and joy. May peace and wonder reign in your homes. May the angels guard you in your travels and always.

December 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercorey

I found an old family recipe for something called divinity fudge that's awfully similar to this recipe (and nothing at all like divinity). I meant to make it and write about it this year, but completely forgot--thanks for reminding me! And it's funny, the only time I've ever made fudge (successfully or otherwise) was when I was 17--it felt like such a triumph I reckon I was scared to even attempt making fudge again. Merry Christmas, Melissa!

December 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLisa (Homesick Texan)

Melissa,

I just discovered your blog and now plan on sitting and spending a couple of hours rereading all of the back posts! I am an American living in France, and last year my son actually visited Bainbridge Island with his English class and absolutely fell in love with it, so between that and the passion for food, I feel doubly interested and doubly connected.

One note about this beautiful recipe - salt is one of our local specialties in this region of France, and desserts combining chocolate and salt, using salted butter - or salted butter caramel, are part of the local cooking tradition. It is a surprising, astonishing and amazing combination. I really want to try this recipe!

I look forward to discovering the rest of your food blog and invite you to come on over to mine.

December 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Wow! to your fudge. ;-)

Merry Christmas!

Paz

December 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPaz

God jul, Merry Christmas, from a Wghite Christmas country.

December 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBritt-Arnhild

The snow has been insane this year! We have just been "trapped" in Woodinville for 4 days, not being able to leave my parents-in-law house. Crazy stuff.

I need to get Delicious magazine again.. everytime I do, I really enjoy it. Great sounding recipe.

December 28, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatt wright

Oh yum. Just yum. Hope you and yours are enjoying the holidays Melissa :)

wow, this is so simple yet stunning!
I have yet to master the art of fudge making... I must be doing something wrong.

January 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAsh

As an Australian, I too used to dream of a white Christmas. And having lived in California too, I know that a white Christmas in either is as likely a blazing hot Christmas is in Seattle! Yet, while I've now seen many snow flakes of a Christmas day, I've come to love our wacky style Christmases here - fresh seafood, blue skies, singlet tops and heat-induced nap in the afternoon :) The fudge looks delicious... and I love hand made gifts - especially the edible variety! Merry Christmas to you too!

I spent my Christmas's at my Grandparents in Florida when growing up. Though I don't remember wishing for snow I distinctly remember looking out the window Christmas Eve and seeing and hearing Santa's Sleigh. Now that I am much older I know that really couldn't be, but there is a part of me that sort of kind of believes that I did.

Muscovado Fudge with Sea Salt on top? A definite must to try. One of my favorite flavors is caramel and sea salt so I'm sure I will love this too.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergastroanthropologist

My dear, my dear! We must grab some time to catch up properly. Alas, this is a comment on the fly, but I did want to let you know that: 1. That fudge is the most gorgeous confection I've seen all year. 2. Miracle of miracles, you and I are living in the same time zone now. (I'm in San Jose, a mere 2-hour flight from your own new stomping grounds. :) 3. Did I mention that the fudge, it is gorgeous? :)

January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBakerina

Hi, Melissa. I made this according to directions. It resulted in a nice texture interrupted by tiny bits of crystallized sugar. I'm wondering if it would help to instruct readers to be vigilant during the boiling process to clean the sides of the pan w/water and brush. I know that's when these crystals were introduced into the boiling fudge for me. I didn't see that instruction in your adaptation of the recipe but I should have done it since my gut told me to. Thanks for the post, though.

January 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSally

Wonderful post, great photo. Found you through Wrightfood, glad I did!

January 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

lovely!

May 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJaslyn

Although the photo of your fudge looks like it has chocolate in it, there is none listed in the recipe. Is the recipe correct?

May 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoann

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