Let's begin with a full disclosure that what you are about to read outlines a not-terribly-stellar moment in my life in the kitchen.
Last week, I decided to make a batch of homemade fudge for Christmas, basing it on one of my own recipes for a dark chocolate fudge frosting. Most chocolate fudge gets its flavor from cocoa powder, but that rich, dark frosting contained both cocoa and bittersweet chocolate. It seemed like just the thing for a little Christmas indulgence.
Despite the facts that it was a humid day (not the best conditions for making candy) and I had not made fudge in years, it began well. The sugar, cocoa, and milk mixture came to its rolling boil and, stirring it often, I let it reach the soft-ball candy stage. That's when everything started downhill. I noticed the bittersweet chocolate was still sitting on the counter where I'd left it—and it ought to have been added long before it had cooked to the soft-ball stage. Without thinking, I dumped it all into the candy.
The language that followed was not, shall we say, temperate.
Experienced candy makers already know what happened next: The temperature dropped too quickly; the chocolate didn't fully melt; and the thing seized up and turned into a grainy mess. But I was not about to give up on all that sugar, cocoa, and bitter chocolate, so I let it cool, then spread it in the parchment lined pan, patted it flat, and left it to get cold. It was grainy and crumbly but not, I was pretty sure, beyond rescue, so I covered it to wait for a day to attempt that rescue when the humidity and my frustration levels were lower. What followed, of course, was four overcast days of intermittent showers.
At last, earlier this week a nice clear, cold day came our way. I broke the mass of grainy candy up and crumbled it into a heavy saucepan, whisked in about a cup of evaporated milk, and brought it back to a boil, whisking as the candy melted into the milk until it was completely smooth. Once it was boiling, I put in the candy thermometer and let it come back to the soft-ball (234° F.) stage, took it from the heat, let it cool to just under 120 degrees, and then beat it with a wooden spoon until it was losing its sheen, and spread it onto new parchment to cool.
Once it was firm, I cautiously laid a knife on it and cut. The texture was exactly right. Whew.
Lesson learned: Even old hands in the kitchen need an occasional reminder to pay attention.
Dark Chocolate Fudge
Since many of us are going to be staying close to home with this abruptly artic weather and renewed virus outbreaks, this is a nice homemade treat to make on Christmas Eve and to enjoy throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Makes about 3½ pounds
3 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups evaporated milk (or heavy cream)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped, or bittersweet chips (about 1 cup)
4 ounces (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon Homemade Bourbon Vanilla (see page 000) or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Whisk together the sugar, cocoa, and salt in a heavy-bottomed 3½-4 quart saucepan. Whisk in the cream and bring it to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Raise the heat slightly and add the bittersweet chocolate. Stir until it's melted and the mixture is again smooth. Let it come back to a boil, again adjust the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 234 degrees on a candy thermometer (the soft-ball stage), about 20 minutes.
2. Remove it from the heat and add the butter and vanilla. Don't stir them in. Let it cool, undisturbed, until just warm (around 110° F.). Meanwhile, butter a 9 by 13 inch baking pan or casserole and line it with parchment, then butter the parchment. (Buttering the pan keeps the parchment from sliding around.) Beat the candy with a wooden spoon until it is losing its gloss and immediately spread it in the prepared pan. Let it completely cool before cutting it into bite-sized pieces. Store the fudge in an airtight tin with a sheet of parchment between each layer.