The Liberal party theatre has been vastly entertaining to watch, but in the meantime, the end of the year is rushing up, and I have ‘Thank you’ gifts to make. As many other parents do, I like to give small gifts to my children’s teachers to acknowledge the work they have done during the year. But the list is long – three classroom teachers (my twins are in the same classroom, but I think they should each take something for their teacher), drama teacher x 3, music teacher. Then there’s my singing teacher, and my partner’s guitar teacher, and my hairdresser, and the school librarian who has been giving one of my girls some extra help, and the office staff at school…

In recent years, I’ve been giving people homemade sweets, wrapped in beribboned cellophane. I make chocolate fudge and caramel fudge, using recipes that came to me from my mother, and I think she got them from her mother. The measurements are all imperial, which gives you a sense of how old the recipes are.

Chocolate fudge

You need a saucepan with a thick base. I use an heavy old aluminium one. It’s quite heavy, with a thickish base. Going by proprioception, I think the base is over 0.5cm thick. It has a 2 litre, or 4 pint, capacity. If you have to use a thin-based saucepan, you should be okay on a electric element, but if you’re cooking on gas, it would be a good idea to use a simmer-mat to distribute the heat evenly.

Into the saucepan, put 2oz (50gms) butter, 2 cups of white sugar, 2 tablespoons of cocoa, 1 tablespoon of golden syrup, and 1/2 cup milk. (A cup is 250mls, and a tablespoon is 15 mls.)

Put the saucepan on a low heat, and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved. Then gently, gently, bring the mix to a boil. Watch it like kahu (a hawk); sugar mixes can boil over very rapidly, and they are awful to clean up (this is the voice of experience speaking). My mum advised me to keep a large metal spoon nearby; if the mix looks like it’s going to boil over, plunge the spoon into it, to bring it off the boil quickly. You also need to be very careful not to spill any on yourself, because the mix will be exceedingly hot, and sticky. If you have children, I strongly advise banning them from the kitchen while you boil the mix up.

Then you need to boil the mix for a while. It will reduce in volume, and start to look thicker and stickier. While the mix is boiling, get a setting tin ready. I use a small 20cm square cake tin. Grease it well, with butter. You could use baking paper to line it if you like; I never have, but that’s no reason not to.

After about 10 minutes of so, test it to see if it has reached the soft ball stage. Get a small amount of the mix on a teaspoon, and drip drops of it into a cup of cold water. Hopefully, it will form into shapes looking like nothing so much as, ah, tadpoles, with a thick round head and a long tail. Leave the drops for a moment or two (maybe 15 seconds), then carefully press them with your finger. If they feel squidgey and liquidish, the mix is not ready. If they feel hard, then alas, you’ve over cooked it. If they feel a bit soft but also a little resistant to being squashed, then the mix is about right. It’s very hard to describe exactly what they should feel like, and unfortunately, the best way to learn the “right” feel is by practice.

When the mix has reached the soft ball stage, remove it from the element, and add a drop or two of vanilla essence. Then, get a wooden spoon, and start stirring. You need to stir the mix, and then beat it, until it thickens into a solid state. This takes about five minutes, and a strong arm. Enlist your partner or your house mate or your teenage child or whoever to help you with this if necessary.

Once the mix has thickened, tip it into the cake pan, and quickly press it out evenly, using the back of the wooden spoon, or your hand. If you use your hand, be very careful – the mix will still be hot, and if you’re not careful, you can get a nasty burn (voice of experience again). It’s probably a good idea to have your cake pan sitting on a mat of some sort, or you will end up with a heat mark on your kitchen bench.

Cut the mix into squares, and leave it to cool down and set. I usually cut my fudge mixes into 64 squares – 8 by 8. The pieces may look a little small, but they are so rich that smaller really is better.

While the fudge is setting, get a teaspoon, and scrape the remnants out of the saucepan and off the wooden spoon, and eat them. Don’t let your children or partner or housemates see you doing this, or they will clamour for some. When it has set (a couple of hours, or overnight), carefully lever a corner piece out, and eat it, for quality control purposes, of course. Then lever the remaining 63 pieces out, breaking them up as you go, and store them in an airtight container.

Caramel fudge

Caramel fudge uses exactly the same method as chocolate fudge, but the list of ingredients is slightly different. Use 2 cups of white sugar, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of golden syrup, and a small cup of top milk or cream. I have no idea what a “small” cup is, but I tend to use about 3/4 of a cup. “Top milk” is the milk that used to be at the top of a bottle, before the days of homogenised milk. These days, all the fat is evenly distributed through the milk, so there is no such thing as top milk anymore. I use 1/2 and 1/2 milk and cream, or even better, all cream.

I find that this mix takes longer to get to the soft ball stage, because it has more liquid in it. It makes a slightly smaller quantity than the chocolate fudge recipe, but still enough to go into a 20cm square cake pan.

Once you’ve spent an evening or two making fudge, and consequently are feeling just a little bilious because you may have sampled just a bit too much, make up cellophane bags of fudge, and give them away. Sadly, I have no photos of pretty bags of fudge to show to you… I must have eaten them all.

I love making special celebratory and gift-giving food. I’m not making my grandmother’s Christmas cake this year, because we are going home to New Zealand for Christmas, but Dr Cat has made one. What special food are you planning to make this festive season? For yourself, or to share with others?

Cross posted at Larvatus Prodeo


12 responses to “Fudge

  1. The fudge sounds wonderful, I’d love to try making it but I’m scared of boiling sugar mixes 😉

    My default gift is fruit mince pies, the kids’ main classroom teachers, our gardeners and drama, singing, karate teachers get those. I take a 5kg box of cherries for the school staff room as a thank you to all the other school staff.

    We go through quite a few pies at our Christmas party each year, and there has to be some for Christmas day as well, I think this year I need to make at least 9 dozen, preferably 12 dozen (I do batches of 36). I should probably get started on the first lot very soon.

  2. Ohh I love fudge but for an extra festivity (sugar rush) add bits of bashed up candy cane on top

  3. There is a story here I can’t share, involving my wish to have Christmas at home and make lots of trad stuff and a certain cranky elderly lady who lives in Brisbane and has decided it is her turn. We have been asked to make ‘festive food’ to take to a BBQ next week, and that’s it. ::sigh::

  4. That’s a lovely thought, Deborah, dispensing fudge to thank people at the end of the year.
    My favourite is Russian fudge, as per the Edmonds recipe (I can post it here if anyone wants it). It is quite similar to your caramel fudge recipe, but also has condensed milk in it. You need to boil it gently for quite a while (half an hour) and take care that it doesn’t burn. It helped power me pedalling around Lake Taupo this weekend!
    Like Mimbles, I make mince pies as gifts. I’ve just made a batch of fruit mince from a Nigella Lawson recipe – it has lots of apples in it. I’ll let you know how it matures!

  5. Just caught up with your car accident, Deborah – that must have been nasty. Very glad you’re unscathed.

    I am usually asked to bring my luxury salad to the family potluck Christmas.

    Wash baby spinach/silverbeet/mesclun leaves and dry. Put in an attractive wide bowl and dress the top with too much sliced avocado. Drench with lemon juice. Fry too many bacon rashers and chop small (or chop first then fry). Scatter fried bacon bits over the avocado. Then fry far too many fresh macadamia nuts in the bacon fat left in the pan, and scatter over.

    You can serve it as a tossed salad if you like but I think everything on top in the American fashion keeps the nuts and bacon dryer. If out of macadamia, fresh hazelnuts are also good.

    Do not skimp on quantities: anything less than too many nuts and bacon bits is too few nuts and bacon bits.

  6. Many millions of years ago, my mother made us Shortbread to take as end-of-year Thank You for teachers. I remember it was always made with real butter, even when butter was comparatively expensive. I maintain the tradition for hairdressers, dog groomers, neighbours and anyone else who needs acknowledging at this time of year. Once in the tin, a Merry Christmas message is “written” in dots made with a skewer, so it is a personalised gift, and yes, wrapped in cellophane, with shiny curling ribbon around it.
    For the family, the Christmas cake is made (Rich Chocolate Tokay Fruitcake this year), and the Panforte ingredients await time to be mixed, along with another batch of shortbread!
    And that delicious sounding fudge – if it’s an old recipe from NZ or Australia, wouldn’t that tablespoon be 20mls? (15ml is a US tablespoon).

  7. Gosh your fudge looks quite healthy compared to the one I make (and I soak the raisins in booze too). I made Russian fudge at the wknd. The first time was a complete disaster (edmonds let me down!) but got another recipe off the net which worked better. I’m surprised about how many fudge making videos there are on You Tube.

  8. Hmmm christmas food
    Well I make paneforte, which is fairly simple and easy , I have been doing that for a long time
    We used to do a frozen pudding but you really need a mob of small children to eat that up
    My Taranaki born wife makes really good xmas pies but with bought filling these days
    We tend not to bother with real Christmas cake

  9. Thank you for keepin up the wonderful tradition of taking presents for teachers. I have been teaching for 3 years only and remember every card, bunch of flowers and gesture rendered in chocolate. The recipes look great, and I bet they will be super-appreciated.

  10. Panforte … good for you, Ray. I found it quite tricky at the mixing stage.
    Last year I made the following as a giveaway gift(an alternative to fudge):

    Cranberry and pistachio white Christmas squares

    375 g white chocolate melts
    1/4 c. cream
    1 c. dried cranberries
    100 g shelled pistachios

    Melt chocolate with cream, stir in cranberries and pistachios, spoon into a 20 cm square tin and smooth down top, set in fridge, cut into small squares when cold.

    It’s very festive and pretty.

  11. I used to make hazelnut chocolates from an Australian Women’s Weekly recipe for Christmas thank yous when my daughter was at school.

    As a thank you when going to a pre-Christmas function which requires something for the host I make a chocolate hazelnut Christmas tree – very easy but looks very impressive.

  12. I shared a student house with my dear friend D back in the mists of time, and one impoverished student Christmas we decided to make shortbread as presents for everyone. Made the shortbreads, wrapped ’em in red and green cellophane, put ’em under the (real) tree. Unfortunately we had the (real) tree in an unstable, too-small bucket of water, and woke up one morning to … well, you know. It’s really quite amazing how much of the dye in cellophane can transfer itself to soggy shortbread once it all gets wet.