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.
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 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