We interrupt the general preparations, festivities and frivolities with a practical post. Shandora asks for an easy recipe for beginners (with measurements in grammes.) This is a tall order as making fudge is something that can easily be not quite right, so I will divide the post into two parts, recipe and helpful hints.
Chocolate fudge (why start anywhere else except chocolate? )
450g granulated sugar
150ml full cream milk
150g plain chocolate
50g runny honey
Grease a tin approx 18cms square or equivalent.
Heat all the ingredients gently in a large heavy-based sacepan, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil to 116 deg C (soft ball stage).
Remove from the heat, stand the pan on a cool surface for 5 minutes, then beat the mixture until thick, creamy and beginning to 'grain'.
Pour into the tin.
After a few minutes, mark the fudge out in squares.
When completely cold, turn out and cut through into squares.
Tips for fudge-making.
grease - use butter as there is always butter in fudge. Use plenty, especially in the middle of the tin, as this will help when it is time to turn out the fudge at the end.
boil - don't be tempted to have the heat up too high. All fudge recipes are prone to sticking, some more than others. The reason for specifying a heavy-based pan is to minimise the mixture sticking, so a lot will depend on the type of pan you have.
You need to achieve what is often described as a 'rolling boil' where there are continuous bubbles but not too much more than that. It's better to take time and need patience waiting for your fudge to cook than to have burnt fudge. Stir from time to time, using a wooden spoon.
If you have the heat too high, you will notice that when you stir across the base of the pan, you will feel the mixture lifted off the bottom of the pan and the bubbling will become much fiercer. If this happens, turn the heat down a little. Towards the end of cooking time this may happen more often and the fudge will tend to 'catch' and little brown overcooked bits will start appearing in the mixture. This isn't a disaster, usually, but if it starts to happen you should turn the heat down and stir more often. If this is all that happens then the worst result would be a slightly more caramelised flavour to your fudge. If you don't take care with this, though, you will get really burnt bits, which will spoil the flavour and make your pan difficult to clean!
116 deg C (soft ball) - you are often advised to use a sugar thermometer for making things like fudge, as you are supposed to be able to judge the temperature more accurately. Over the last thirty years or so I have had several sugar thermometers and without exception have found them more trouble than they are worth. For jam, I use the saucer test and for sweets I used this method:
Half-fill a cup with cold water. To test the temperature of your fudge, drop a little off the wooden spoon into the water. Using your thumb and forefinger, collect the fudge together to form a little ball.
The temperature needed for fudge is described as 'soft ball'. The next stage (for some toffee) would be hard ball. What you are aiming for for the best fudge is as firm a soft ball as you could still describe as soft ball without it turning to hard ball! Imagine hard ball as feeling a little like the sort of toffee you have to break up with a hammer. Soft ball is like what I would call caramel.
If you cook your fudge too much, it will not have the right texture when set and will be more like toffee except that the beating you've done will break it up into fragments. If you don't cook it enough, though, you will never get the fudge to really set properly. I don't think I have ever overcooked fudge, but I have undercooked it through impatience.
If you are thinking you have done something completely wrong because all you have in your cup of water is a sugary, buttery mess, then it is just much too early!
cool surface - you can use a stainless steel draining board for this, moving the pan from time to time onto a cool patch once the heat has transferred to the draining board. Best of all, though, is a marble slab. This really speeds up the cooling process and saves beating time. If you can, keep your marble slab in a very cool place, or if you are making the fudge in the winter, take it outside to get really chilly while you are waiting for the fudge to cook.
beat - there are no shortcuts to beating fudge that I have discovered. You just have to beat with a wooden spoon till your arms are thinking of dropping off! Do not be tempted to use an electric beater; the beaters really don't aerate the mixture in the right way and when it starts to thicken, even a really sturdy electric beater isn't really up to the job. The five minutes standing on a cool surface will save you beating time.
beginning to grain - when you're making fudge, beating really does mean beating. What you are supposed to be doing is introducing plenty of air into the mixture as it cools and begins to set. The first sign that this stage is near is when the fudge starts getting rather crystallised around the sides of the pan. The mixture itself should be developing very fine lines through it as you beat. These are in fact small areas of cooler, slightly crystallised mixture. As soon as you see this happening and feel the mixture becoming noticeably thicker, pour your mixture immediately into the greased baking tin.
If you do this too early, your fudge will be more creamy but also possibly not quite as firmly set as it should be.
If you do this too late, your fudge will be too crumbly and it will be impossible to cut it into squares.
mark - I have found that the best way to get the maximum number of whole squares of fudge (rather than triangular pieces and crumbs!) is to mark the squares out when the fudge has been in the tin for about five or ten minutes. You should be able to get the knife to draw through the top of the surface and leave a clean line behind. If you try this too early, the fudge will just settle back into the line. Too late, and you will not be able to mark the squares easily. Having done this marking out, the final stage will ensure beautiful squares.
turn out and cut - once the fudge is completely cold, I turn the tin upside-down onto a wooden board. If you have greased the tin properly, the fudge should just turn straight out onto the board.
Using a very sharp, large knife, cut through from the 'back' of the fudge to meet the lines you have marked out on the top earlier. This is fairly easy to do if you have a good eye and have divided the widths up evenly.
You will always get some crumbly bits, especially round the edges, and some cuts will not go straight so that you end up with more triangular shapes, but with practice you should get more and more skilled at this.
As to what fudge should be like, for those who've never tasted it, I shall invite other readers to supply descriptions in comment form!