I’m going to be truthful with you about something. I’m not a hard-hearted fellow, but I’m a bit of a Grinch when it comes to the holidays. They don’t hold as much magic and splendor for me as they did when I was a child, and I suppose that’s all just a part of getting older. I detest the commercialism of Christmas, and how folks basically turn into gift-grubbing zombies from Black Friday through December 26th (this is, of course, an exaggeration on my part – not everyone is like that! Calm down and have a cookie…). I prefer the quieter ways of celebrating – like staying warm and cozy indoors bundled up under an afghan while the snow flies outside… a good cup of coffee or cocoa nearby, sided with a plate of homemade sugar cookies… some Christmas music softly playing in the background… perhaps a good book to read… a beautiful Christmas tree shining and resplendent before me to admire. I relegate all of my shopping to the online variety. (Okay, I suppose I do enjoy the holidays a little more than I care to admit.)
The holidays definitely are an occasion for peaceful reflection. They are a time to step back, review the year, and celebrate with good friends and family. This is what I value most about this time of year. The holidays also are a time when bakers typically go a little crazy, stocking up on loads of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs and churning out dozens upon dozens of delicious Christmas cookies. Not me. I usually take the holidays off as a baker, unless I am invited to parties or events for which I am asked to bring a sweet treat (which happens quite frequently – and I am happy to oblige). Whenever I have made lots of Christmas cookies, I’ve found that all of those wonderful ingredients I invested in go to waste – with so many varieties of cookies in the offing, and even after handing lots of them out, a ton of them still go into the garbage because – let’s face it – some cookies have a short storage life, go stale and – yep – we get tired of them. So I vowed not to do that anymore.
I mention all of this because plenty of folks I know like to make – not cookies – but candy for holiday gifts; peppermint bark, spiced nuts, and fudge being some popular varieties. I’ve never been a huge fan of fudge – it’s typically grainy from so many sugar crystals and cloyingly sweet; so much so that your mouth hurts with one bite and you’re begging for a huge glass of milk to swill it down. Not so with this week’s Baked Sunday Morning’s selection – Velvet Chocolate Walnut Fudge with Olive Oil and Fleur de Sel. If you enjoy making your own homemade fudge and have been seeking a recipe for fudge with a perfect, silky-smooth texture – you’ve come to the right place.
The starting point, or I should say ‘base’, for this luscious fudge – like many fudge recipes – is light, airy, heavenly marshmallow creme. Good old Fluff always does the trick, but if you’re in for a fun little challenge, try making your own. The recipe is included in the link below. You may be surprised that it’s not as hard as you think.
In a saucepan, you will then mix the marshmallow creme with both granulated and dark brown sugars, evaporated milk, butter, and salt, and let this thick, gooey mixture cook over low to gradually medium to medium high heat until a candy thermometer registers 230 degrees F. Now, I won’t lie to you – this is a tricky step. Make sure you use a good heat-safe spatula or a whisk to keep this syrupy mixture in constant motion as it heats. Do not walk away from the pan. The reason I tell you this is that the sugars and the marshmallow creme have a tendency to heat up rather fast. They may caramelize and burn to the bottom of the saucepan if you’re not careful, so you need to keep stirring. I had a panic moment for a bit there, and wondered if the mixture would, indeed, ever reach 230 degrees, but it eventually did. Look for steam bubbles to rise and break along the surface as you vigorously stir. If you’re new to candy making, don’t be too worried about this – and don’t fear recipes that include a candy thermometer! If you purchase a decent one (it doesn’t need to be expensive) and know how to read it, it will do its job and you will be fine!
Here’s where the decadence comes in: an equal mix of bittersweet or dark chocolate and milk chocolate is then gently folded into the warm sugar mixture. I’m a bit of a chocoholic and self-professed chocolate snob. As the recipe and many of my fellow bakers would suggest, when making fudge, a top-quality chocolate – if you have it and can afford it – is key here. Unfortunately, I cannot afford it, but I typically find that Ghirardelli baking chocolate chips work sufficiently. I would not advise using Nestle or Hershey’s chocolate chips; they contain more stabilizers and do not melt as smoothly and luxuriously as the Ghirardelli. For the nuts, I actually swapped out the toasted walnuts called for in this recipe for toasted pecans. I’m not a walnut fan and, while I make most attempts to stay true and not stray from Baked’s recipes, this particular recipe sounded too delicious for me to taste once and abandon, as I knew I would if I had used
icky, disgusting walnuts… so I went with a nut I knew I would eat and be happy with. Pecans are a good substitute for walnuts, as they almost have a similar crunchy texture to them, especially when toasted nicely in the oven.
Once the chocolate and nuts are stirred in, the mixture becomes denser, thicker, and definitely more the consistency of fudge. Pour this into a foiled-lined, buttered 8-inch pan, smooth the top with an offset spatula, and let sit for about 20 minutes or so. I then lightly scored the top surface of the fudge with a small, thin knife into 16 squares, and used the blunt end of a chopstick to indent a small ‘x’ mark on the top of each piece (the recipe suggests using a small spoon, but I found this did the trick nicely). This ‘x’ holds a nice drizzle of olive oil when you cut and serve the fudge, sprinkling it with a pinch of fleur de sel (or good, flaky sea salt).
Now – “wait a minute!”, you may be yelling… olive oil? Sea salt? Trust me. Trust Baked. They know what they are doing here. I never would have believed it, but this extra flourish elevates standard fudge to a new level, though I will go out on a limb and say this isn’t even ‘standard fudge’. One bite, and you discover that – thanks to that hard work at the stovetop cooking down those sugars – gone is the typical sugar graininess you might usually find in homemade fudge. The dark and milk chocolates work harmoniously and provide a warm, balanced flavor that isn’t too overly sweet, and this warmth is further deepened by the flowery, earthy olive oil and the slight bite of the fleur de sel. I confess that I usually enjoy my fudge like I enjoy my chocolate bars – smooth, simple, and unadulterated by nuts or any kind of add-ins – but I did really like the textural contrast and crunch of the pecans in this fudge. Each bite is to be savored, truly. While not as rich as some fudges, don’t get me wrong – it’s still rich… you may want to have that glass of milk handy. It’s an excellent pairing!
One final note: there is some confusion in the book in regards to the yield. The suggested yield at the top of the recipe is 24 pieces, but the instructions mention to cut the fudge into 16 squares. I followed the instructions and cut 16 squares, which also made it easier to make the ‘x’ indentation for the olive oil on top. However, bear in mind that fudge is exceptionally rich and decadent. If you make 16 squares as well, you may find that one square is sufficient, or best split, between two people. If you can cut these into 24 equal pieces, all the better (maybe make your indentations into a small, straight trough instead of an ‘x’). Baked suggests that this fudge would be the perfect holiday gift, packaged with a small box of fleur de sel and a mini bottle of good olive oil. I would agree! (In case you were wondering which olive olive I would suggest, I’ve become a tremendous fan of Paesano Extra Virgin Olive Oil.)
Whether you’re like me and prefer those cozier, quieter holidays… or if your kitchen is a flurry of Christmas baking excitement in the next week or two – one thing is for sure: you can’t go wrong with adding this very welcome, elegant fudge to your repertoire, either for sharing as gifts or enjoying yourself:
Happy holiday baking from the (somewhat) Grinch himself! Now that my tree is finally up, I’m back to that couch, coffee, afghan and book… as the snow is just starting to come down outside. I think a piece of fudge may be in order as well…
*Stay tuned for a special bonus blog on Wednesday, December 11th, with the cookie recipe I made for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013! You won’t want to miss it!