Rounding up a variety plate of fudge

My late Grandma Mae was the first and one of the only people I knew who made fudge from scratch. She was more known and revered for her peanut brittle (see my blog post of December 2010), but along with her famed peanut confection,  laid out in dishes every year were also samplings of peanut butter and chocolate fudge, as well as a beloved (by some) divinity and homemade peanut clusters. 

She likely conjured these goodies up in the old-fashioned way, with boiling syrups and sugars and butter, peanut butter, cocoa, chocolate bark, egg whites and pecan. Old-fashioned candy-making seemed to be something she took to over baking. In fact, I was searching my memory and don’t remember Grandma making a single cookie! Still, she opened up her own confectionary shop each Christmas, blowing out all the stops, and that’s probably why this was only an annual occasion (and also maybe why there were no cookies from her at Christmas).

I knew my Grandma put pride and a whole lot of work into her fudges. They were yummy (although I liked the brittle better), but also were sometimes susceptible to all that can make me a little peevish about fudge, and what has kept me from making fudge much myself. The homemade fudges, to me, were always a little too sweet, which I know is the point, but when even the little sugar hound that I was prickled up after one bite, there’s something to that. And, as for sugar, it often develops a grainy, undissolved quality in fudge, which can also give the candy a dry texture.

Still, fudge intrigues me. I look at recipes and eat samples, some made by friends, that are so divine, I consider making it myself. This year, I channeled Grandma and share here three variations of fudge, easy to make and just in time for the holidays

Feeling pea-nutty

Of my grandmother’s fudges, her peanut butter was my favorite. Of course, throughout my childhood, I pretty much lived on a diet of peanut butter exclusively and would take it any form. My grandma’s peanut butter fudge was a pale blonde, a little crumbly, but definitely full of peanut butter flavor. I also was treated to a friend’s peanut butter fudge, which was moist and rich, like a cube of slightly sweetened peanut butter. I thought I’d found my holy grail when he gave me the recipe, but the version I made ended up grainy, so it was either a problem on my end or (gasp!) a recipe holdback on his. Still, I was willing to try other recipes, and my artist and fellow baker friend Deanna Lamour raved about one she had made (and I trust her Virgo good taste). When I discovered it was called “Easiest Peanut Butter Fudge,” I was all in.

The recipe does come together quickly and easily, beginning by melting butter, adding a large amount of rich brown sugar and a little milk, boiling for two minutes, then adding peanut butter and vanilla. 

Off the heat, the peanut butter mixture is poured over confectioner’s sugar and beaten until smooth, making a very lush, velvety looking concoction, like a thick batch of frosting, but better.

The fudge is poured into an 8-inch by 8-inch dish and spread to an even smoothness. It is then placed in the fridge to chill.

The fudge is then cut into squares. This is.a lovely golden, smooth, creamy fudge, with just the right amount of sweetness (I think the brown sugar adds richness without being overpowering) and a full peanut butter flavor. I think my grandma would love it.

For the recipe, go to https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/22724/easiest-peanut-butter-fudge/.

Snowy white chocolate and cream cheese

Sometimes in the middle of a chocolate onslaught, you begin to crave vanilla. At least that’s what happened to me last year, amid all the bought chocolates and made chocolates of the 2019 holiday season, I started dreaming of a vanilla or white chocolate fudge. My dreams sometimes take til the next season (because time becomes scarce) to become reality and this year, as I made my contenders for homemade holiday goodies, high on my list was such a fudge.

I found a number of recipes that sounded good, but the ones with cream cheese drew my attention. Cream cheese would add a tang and a texture ideal for fudge. 

I found the right recipe, but made my own demands of added elements to the fudge. I thought some chopped dried cherries and toasted pecans would not only look great in the fudge, but add so much flavor and texture to all that snowy white, too.

A little butter and cream cheese are creamed with some lemon zest (woo!) and vanilla. And then, confectioner’s sugar is mixed in.

I used white chocolate melting chips (they are larger and thinner and better for melting projects), melted and slightly cooled, but still pourable. The melted chocolate is then added to the cream cheese mixture.

The cherries and nuts are folded in to round out the festive mixture.

I had lined a square pan with foil and sprayed it with cooking oil. The fudge was spread into this pan and smoothed to an even layer. It then took some chilling time…I actually let it chill overnight.

The fudge lifted easily out of the pan was very firm, but still easy to cut. I loved the way it looked…the something different candy I was looking for, and a little nod to my grandma’s divinity fudge.

I loved the flavor of the fudge. Sweet to be sure, but tangy from the cream cheese and light with the bright flavor of lemon zest and those tart cherries and a little bit of rich crunch from the pecans. The flavors actually improved over the days. As good a one-bite dessert as you’d want to present on a festive winter table.

You can find the recipe I adapted for this fudge — and make it your own —  here: https://www.thespruceeats.com/cream-cheese-fudge-520866

The long, rocky road to rocky road

Back in 2019, when I purchased Donna Hay’s “Christmas Feasts and Treats” (Harper Collins Publishers; 2018), I believed I was coming to the end of a very bad year and only the early stages of grieving the loss of my mother. Hay’s book, full of magical recipes (some of which I made and presented on this blog), was itself a bit of therapy, an escape into the beauty of what can be created during the holiday season, which can sometimes be a mixed bag of emotions, for sure, particularly with losses. Still, the true faith in being able to stir up a little magic in one’s kitchen is a constant that has comforted me, at Christmas and other times throughout the year.

One recipe I wanted to make from Hay’s book last holiday season, but didn’t quite get to it, I vowed to make this year. And if any year deserves a pan of Rocky Road, it would seem it would be 2020.

Hay’s Rocky Road is not all candy sweet. It’s a bit of a hardcore dark chocolate fan’s fantasy of road. There is the requisite chocolate and marshmallows, of course, and Hay includes coconut, cranberries, pistachios and Turkish delight. For mine, I put a little bit of a different spin, keeping the coconut and cranberries, but adding chopped dried apricots (delightful with dark chocolate) and toasted walnuts instead of pistachios. I think Hay’s recipe is adaptable to whatever you want in the mix.

First, all the marshmallows, coconut, fruits and nuts are assembled together in a large bowl.

Dark chocolate is melted with a little vegetable oil, which I believe is a little bit of genius, as it keeps the chocolate supple and glossy. Some of the chocolate is held back to finish the top of the fudge.

The chocolate is mixed with the marshmallows and other ingredients in quite a messy, but yummy-looking tangle.

The mixture is spread into a parchment-lined pan (I used a 13-by-9-inch0. And the reserved chocolate is spread across the bumpy “road” as a topcoat. The fudge is then chilled for awhile.

The Rocky Road retains its glossy beauty, the nutty-marshmallow-y-fruity mix of ingredients still retain a bit of a presence on top (bumps in the road) and definitely show themselves more fully in the cut bars.

It is so good! For a rocky year, it is a deserved treat. All the tart fruits, the lush coconut and walnuts, the bouncy sweet marshmallows, imbedded in that dark chocolate. For eating, for giving, it’s a winner. 

Rocky Road

Adapted from “Christmas Feasts and Treats,” by Donna Hay (Harper Collins Publishers; 2018)

Makes about 20 to 24 bars

  • 2 lb. dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 7 ounces (about 1-1/2 to 2 cups) mini marshmallows
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut, shredded or flaked
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Line a 13-by-9-inch pan with parchment paper. Place the chocolate and oil in a large, heatproof microwaveable bowl. Melt in 30-second intervals in the microwave. Reserve about 1 cup of the chocolate for topping the rocky road. 

Place cranberries, marshmallows, coconut, apricots and walnuts in a large bowl and mix together. Mix all but the 1 cup of the reserved melted chocolate with the other Ingredients until thoroughly mixed.

Spoon the mixture into the lined pan and spread evenly. Pour the remaining chocolate over top and spread evenly with a palette knife. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until set.

Remove rocky road from the pan and slice into long bars to serve. 

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