There are a few basic facts about my day-to-day existence that I just can’t seem to retain in my head: a. I never enjoy, and should never order, falafel, b. with ‘Strictly It Takes Two’ comes automatic self-loathing, and c. making fudge is one of the most stressful pastimes in the world.
In fact perhaps it would also be helpful if I could retain the date of my Dad’s birthday. Then perhaps I wouldn’t have spent my Thursday evening up to my elbows in Mr Muscle oven cleaner, yellow marigolds and maddeningly tenacious burnt-on fudge mess after panicking about greeting him empty-handed a whole month after his birthday.
‘It’s just so simple’, I thought smugly as I realised I had the 300ml of milk, 350g caster sugar and 100g of butter required, and thought of my Dad’s little face lighting up at yet another special-occasion-helping of what are essentially slabs of cake icing. Only sweeter.
What I’d somehow miraculously forgotten though was that every time I attempt fudge I end up cursing, sweating and generally writing off at least one pan/cooker. This is not the wholesome Betty Crocker-esque activity you might have envisaged.
So rule number one is, DO IT ALONE. No one wants to watch a loved-one weeping into a pan of sugary goo that’s somehow miraculously curdling and burning simultaneously. Phew, close escape for me then seeing as I had originally invited my boyfriend to join me for this seemingly cosy but ultimately enraging activity (close escape for him too really… I wonder if he’d have been the first case of molton fudge facial disfigurement at Homerton Hospital A&E …)
Everything started quite well. I put the sugar, butter and milk in the pan (semi-skimmed or whole milk is best and, really, why on earth were you contemplating slimming fudge anyway?), and remembered not to panic that this sloppy mess couldn’t possibly ever resemble anything that Duchy would put his name to. I gently heated the mixture until the butter had melted and the sugar dissolved as instructed by James Martin (I trust any celebrity chef with my sugar if, like James on Ready Steady Cook, they compulsively pop a delightful spun sugar decoration on every dish, whether it be lemon tart or lasagne).
The problem arose when the fudge rose. Making fudge has to be the lion taming of the baking world. I’d forgotten just how belligerently fudge boils and before I knew it, the mixture, at this stage still very thin and milky, had boiled right over the top of the tiny pan I’d naively thought would do the trick, and was welding itself to the hob.
So. Heed James’ words and use a ‘heavy based’ saucepan. And make sure it’s a biggy. Also, I’d strongly advise against using a non-stick pan, or at least one of such poor quality as provided by my landlord. Within minutes black specs were appearing in the fudge and, in case you haven’t tried fishing little bits out of scorching fudge before, let me tell you, IT HURTS.
My next fatal fudge, after I’d transferred some of the mixture into a separate pan, was to get bored and hungry and start making dinner. ERROR. Fudge is confectionary’s answer to risotto. It’s just so very needy. Neglect your mixture for just one minute and it’ll be sticking to the bottom of your pan, projecting molten geysers into the air and generally carrying on in a way that begs you to lavish it with more love and attention. So my advice to you is to time your fudge making carefully so you don’t get stranded diligently stirring for 15 to 20 minutes with nothing but the Archers for diversion.
Fudge is tricksy however and it’s really tough, even if you’re glaring at it for 20 minutes, to tell when it’s ready. You only really know it’s been a success when it finally sets or when it doesn’t set too soon. i.e. in the pan. Of course it depends what sort of fudge you like best. Taking it off the heat slightly sooner produces a nice squishy variety that clings to your molars in a strangely pleasing way. While boiling it for a bit longer and on a more intense heat produces the more brittle Scottish tablet variety (trust the Scots to make even fudge ever so slightly austere and gritty).
The best strategy I find is to not panic and crank the heat up when it doesn’t seem to be thickening but to let your mixture boil reasonably gently for just over 20 minutes. For all those who haven’t the faintest idea of what James Martin means by fudge being ready when it reaches the ‘soft ball stage’, I’d advise that this is when it looks like a deep caramelly coloured lava- think one of Wonka’s more sinister child-luring experiments.
Also, leave it a bit longer to cool in the pan than the five minutes James advises. Then when you start to beat it, it should take on that nice matt finish which signals the final panic-inducing stage of trying desperately to get the fudge into your pre-greased tray before it solidifies.
Anyway, here’s the recipe I’ve always used: http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/513459
There are plenty out there that use condensed milk, golden syrup, sugar thermometers and all kinds of other fancy bits and bobs but, as you might have gathered, the whole process is deceptively tricky, so you might want to keep things simple.
Oh, and don’t forget to put your vanilla essence in after you’ve taken the pan off the heat. I’ve done this a few times and the end result is surprisingly untasty. Luckily I remembered to add it this time…how else would I be able to pass off the black specs of non-stick pan lining as vanilla pods…