Aunt Peg was one of my great grandfather's many siblings. As one of the elders of my family, she was adored
both for the sweets and goodies she churned out as well as her extremely generous nature. I knew her briefly as a child. When I was very young, my grandmother would bring me to my Aunt Peg's house to visit. They lived so close to each other that we would walk there, and I can remember sitting in her living room next to, and on top of, several crocheted items (all hand made, of course) while my grandmother and Aunt had coffee and talked.
They were very close. When my grandmother was a young girl, my great grandmother and great grandfather owned a store. During the day they ran it together, so my grandmother was cared for by Aunt Peg. My grandmother describes Aunt Peg as a second mother to her. "My most favorite person in the whole world," she calls her.
"She was the type of cook who would use a little of this and a dab of that..."
This fudge recipe, as well as her famous suckers and cakes, were (and still are) hugely popular treats in my family. But for my grandmother, they have always been her ultimate comfort food, returning her to all of the times she spent in my aunt's kitchen, as a little girl.
"She was the type of cook who would use a little of this and a dab of that, so she didn’t write recipes," my grandma told me.
As Aunt Peg grew older, my grandmother would spend a lot more time in her favorite aunt's kitchen, measuring out ingredients and recording instructions. Without that work, these recipes would be completely lost to time. Eventually, when I was old enough to start cooking, my grandma passed them on to me. I did my best to copy her steps, and follow her instructions, so I could re-create all the goodies she loved, just as she remembers them.
My grandmother no longer cooks like she used to. Since many of these recipes are made the old way, and can be quite a project, it has become a little more difficult for her to manage. I'm currently one of the very few people with these recipes in my possession, so this is my way of making them available to not only family, but to anyone who wants to give them a try and enjoy some sweets from Aunt Peg.
My favorite thing about making Aunt Peg's recipes is seeing how excited the members of the older generation in my family get to taste them again. For some of them, it's been decades since they tasted these recipes. When they do, you can see them transported back to that time in their life. The nostalgia just takes over and they become kids again. And that's the amazing thing about family recipes, and why it's so important to keep them going. They're magic!
About this Recipe
Admittedly, this recipe, while a little forgiving, is not very beginner friendly. It uses a bit of corn syrup, which helps prevent the formation of larger sugar crystals, so you're less likely to end up with grainy fudge. If you've never made candy before, though, it may still be a bit challenging. With that said, the ingredients used are very affordable, and it can be pretty fun regardless of the result. Even if it doesn't come out perfectly, it's usually very tasty anyway, so don't get discouraged if it doesn't turn out the first time. Practice makes perfect!
The recipe that was given to me by my grandma reads as follows:
2½ lbs sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 can cream
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp corn syrup (flavorless)
Put together in a pot and boil til done.
Place pot in sink of cold water and add 2 tbsp vanilla and 1 stick of butter
Add peanut butter and/or walnuts (optional)
Easy right?! (That's a joke. Don't worry, I've provided way more instruction below. Please don't panic.) This is the way Aunt Peg did it, and it does work. BUT there are some easy changes you can make that will help you out a bit, and won't change the flavor of the recipe in the slightest. While I am not a fudge making expert by any stretch of the imagination, the tips below have helped me make her recipe more successfully. So here is my advice to help you along with this recipe:
Use a candy thermometer. When my aunt made this recipe with my grandmother, there were no candy thermometers involved. My grandmother explained that in order to determine if the boiled sugar was ready to be removed from the heat, a clean spoon was used to drop some of the liquid into a glass of ice water. You would then feel it to see if it was ready. This would have to be done every few minutes. I don't do this because a candy thermometer is much easier and more precise. You can, however, use it as a double check to make sure your thermometer is working. The mixture is ready when a drop turns into a ball and can be picked up and squished easily without losing it's shape. You can also make sure your thermometer works by taking the temperature of boiling water; it should read 212F. If not, take that difference into account.
Use unsalted butter and add salt separately. This recipe doesn't specify whether you should use salted or unsalted butter, but I don't imagine my grandma or aunt bothered to go out and buy a different type of butter for this. I almost exclusively use unsalted butter in my kitchen, but what I've found is that adding the salt at the beginning (instead of having it incorporated into the butter you add at the end) is a little safer. The salt has a stabilizing effect on the mixture and keeps it from boiling up quite as high. Don't get me wrong, it will rise, so be prepared for that. But this keeps it a little tamer and less likely to get molten sugar on you and your stove (been there; would not recommend).
Watch your humidity. The ideal humidity for making fudge is 35% or below. Anything higher than this makes candy making difficult (yes, fudge is a candy). The success of your fudge, and any candy, depends on reducing the amount of moisture in your pot while retaining the elements you need. On a humid day, your fudge will reach it's optimal temperature, and everything will go well, but once it's left to cool, it will begin to pull moisture from the air and may not set completely. The old rule goes: if it's raining or snowing, it's not a candy making day. Trust me on this when I tell you it's true. HOWEVER, if you have great air conditioning in your house that keeps your ambient humidity low, you may not have trouble with this. Additionally, fudge making is typically easier in the winter, but can also be done in the summer without issue as long as it's not a humid day.
Use the right sized pot. The size pot I have indicated in the recipe has been the best for me. If you use a different size, go bigger, NOT smaller, for safety reasons. Once the sugar dissolves and begins to boil, it will begin to rise a lot. In the size pot I have indicated (with salt added at the beginning), it came up to almost the top of the pot (see photos below). I've experimented with larger pots, and if they are any wider than this, once the mixture boils down and concentrates, it is spread too thin in the bottom of the pot. If this happens, you will have two issues: 1. The mixture could scorch. 2. It will be difficult to get a correct reading with your thermometer since you will have to get so close to the bottom of the pot. This could lead to a reading that's deceptively high with the result of fudge that was not cooked long enough. If all you have is a large pot, you'd do better by doubling the recipe and making a lot of your friends happy with gifts of extra fudge. Or eat it. I won't judge you.
Pay attention to your temperature. In order to be able to keep its shape while maintaining a soft texture, the sugar must reach the 'soft ball stage' of cooking, which is 235 F. This refers to the fact that when you drop a small amount of the mixture into cold water, if it has reached temperature, it will form a soft ball. At this point, my aunt would have a sink full of cold water ready. She would run the pot over to the water and effectively stop the cooking and cool it as rapidly as possible while beating it vigorously. She would then add the butter and vanilla.
Don't leave the pot. This is not a stew or soup that you can leave simmer on the stove while you fold the laundry or watch tv. This is boiling sugar that needs to be supervised. It can also reach temperature more quickly than you expect, so leaving it alone is a good way to overcook your fudge. Get a chair and pretend you're a scientist because you're going to be watching that thermometer pretty closely for a while.
Let's Make Fudge!
The first thing you'll need to do is weigh out your sugar. I usually do this in a large bowl and then add the salt and cocoa powder to it and combine it well. Pour the bowl into your pot and add the can of evaporated milk, milk, and corn syrup. Turn the heat to medium (don't go higher than this), and stir the mixture until your sugar is dissolved. Add the thermometer to the side of the pot and settle in.
At this point, you shouldn't touch the mixture; you're supposed to leave it alone to prevent the formation of sugar crystals. I'm gonna be really honest...I touch mine. I give it a very gentle stir to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom every 15 minutes or so, but I mean GENTLY. My mom told me she remembers Aunt Peg stirring it a lot. I never watched her actually make fudge, so I'm not sure if that's true or not. Leave it alone as much as possible. If you have a really good nonstick pot, you may not even worry about sticking. It will now need to be left until it reaches the soft ball stage. The last time I made it, I timed it as needing a full hour to reach that temperature, but all stoves are different so use that as a loose guide, and keep your eye on that thermometer. You will see it change as it boils (see below).
When it looks like it's getting close to the right temperature, fill your sink with cold water. Don't add ice, this will cause the fudge to cool unevenly. When it finally reaches the soft ball stage, I remove it from the heat and do the water test because I'm paranoid. Using a clean spoon, drop some of the sugar liquid into a cold glass of water. It should form a ball and retain that shape. You should be able to grab it and smoosh it lightly between your fingers. If it just falls apart, or you can't grab it at all, put it back on the heat, it's not ready. Once it passes the water test, transfer the pot to the sink of cold water and begin beating the fudge vigorously. It will begin to cool and get just a little stiffer. Add your butter and vanilla, and whip them in. As you stir, you will notice a definite change in appearance as it loses a lot of it's shine. If it's still shiny, keep beating. When you're finished, it's time to throw in any add-ins you'd like.
Aunt Peg's fudge was always made with walnuts or peanut butter. I like it with walnuts, but I also like it plain. You can feel free to use any other add-ins that sound good to you! Marshmallows, coconut, caramel, candy cane pieces (my grandmother is probably cringing as she reads this "ugh you'll ruin it!") the world is your oyster...er...fudge box? This is a great base recipe and would work well with many different flavors. Once you feel good about your technique, go wild!
I like to have a cake tin lined with parchment ready (bottom and sides). I pour the fudge using a spatula to help it along, depending on how much it has cooled, you may need to scoop it. The container I use is an 8x8 inch tin and it's the perfect size. It allows me to cut them into the squares much more easily. Allow your fudge to cool completely before storing in the fridge.
Ok so let's get real for a second. This may not go perfectly every time. This recipe is DELICIOUS, but it's not the easiest thing to pull off since it requires a lot of precision and time. If you're reading this and thinking "my fudge always comes out perfectly," wonderful! Now, move along; this section is not intended for you. For the rest of us (and yes, this still happens to me from time to time, and it even happened to my aunt Peg occasionally), sometimes things just go wrong. But all is not lost! So what can you do if it doesn't come out right? Well it depends on what it looks like:
It's too grainy. Add it back to the pot along with a little more evaporated milk (or some water if you don't happen to have any more evaporated milk), and reheat it. You'll need to bring it back up to temp and beat it once again. You may not have beat it for long enough the first time.
It didn't set. If you really had your heart set on fudge, follow the same steps as above, but only add enough evaporated milk to bring it back to a liquid. Add a little at a time to be sure you don't overdo it.
However, if you're like me, and you just wanted some fudgy homemade chocolate, there are plenty of things you can do with fudge that's too soft:
The easiest is to make your own hot fudge. If it's too thick, gently heat it on the stove and add some cream until it's as thick as you like, then jar it up. If you'd like to serve it hot over ice cream, heat it slowly in the microwave for 10 seconds at a time, stirring in between until it's a liquid again, then serve. Don't overheat or it could become grainy.
If it's not quite a liquid, but too soft to cut, stick it in the freezer, cut it into bite sized pieces and then wrap it in wax paper. This is a good way to have bite-sized pieces of fudge at the ready. I like to keep these in the freezer so they stay easy to eat. I've also experimented with rolling them into balls and rolling them in cocoa powder to keep them from sticking together and freezing them this way. These taste like truffles, which is fun.
The point is, this recipe will take practice to get right, so if it doesn't work the first, or even the second time, don't get mad; get creative and enjoy the chocolate. As long as it tastes good, eat it.
Aunt Peg's Fudge
2½ lbs sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 12 oz can evaporated milk
1/2 cup milk (1% or 2%)
1 tbsp dark, flavorless corn syrup
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
2 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped, or to taste (optional)
Combine the first six ingredients in a 3½ qt. saucepan. Turn the burner to medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Attach the candy thermometer to the side of the pot and allow it to boil, undisturbed until it reaches the soft ball stage (235 F)- About 1 hour.
Fill sink with very cold water (no ice), and prep remaining ingredients (remove butter from wrapper, measure out vanilla, and prep any add-ins you'd like to use). Line an 8x8 cake tin (or other metal container) with parchment. Be sure to cover any area the fudge will come into contact so it does not stick.
When candy thermometer ready 235 F, remove from heat and place pot in the sink of cold water and beat vigorously. When the fudge has cooled a few degrees, add the vanilla and butter. Continue beating until the mixture is no longer glossy.
Scoop the hot fudge into your prepared container and allow to cool completely at room temperature.
Store in the fridge in an air tight container for 2-3 weeks.
Makes 2 pounds