Before Christmas I asked my mom what she’d like for a gift, and she gave me the old just-glad-to-be-happy-and-healthy malarky before she finally conceded that books are always a good idea. Now, last year I’d given her books by authors who’d be appearing at the Savannah Book Festival, where my sisters and I would be meeting her. So that was clever, I thought. That made this year a less-clever repeat, and since I had to double check that I wasn’t getting anything she’d already read, the present was getting on toward lame.
But then I was doing my holiday baking using the official Szlasa Family Cookbook I’d put together a few years ago, and I noticed the note Mom had written about her mother’s fudge. She’d said something about how she loved the fudge, which Grandma would mail to us every year, but that she thought it was such a terrible pain in the neck to make that she usually made a different version. Aha! I thought. If I mastered Grandma’s fudge, it would be a thoughtful little surprise to supplement the books (which, truth be told, I’d chosen in part knowing that they’d be loaned to me later).
I bought a candy thermometer and set to work.
The recipe required a bunch of constant stirring followed by a period in which I was not permitted to stir at all. During the “stir constantly” portion I had that Holly the Elf scare, but I got back to it quickly. Afterwards, it took considerable self control to stop stirring during the “do not stir” period, especially with a gloppy mixture boiling in one of my favorite pots. But I did it. To no avail. The recipe was a flop: a gooey mess.
A gooey, tasty mess. I’d left it overnight in the hopes that something would change, so when I tried to take this photo, children kept swooping in and scraping tastes off the plate. I definitely hadn’t produced fudge, but the gloppy stuff was delicious enough that we couldn’t bear to throw it away. It’s stored in our freezer now, waiting to get heated up and thrown over some vanilla ice cream.
So it was back to the drawing board. I suspected that I hadn’t heated my fudge mixture properly, since I wasn’t entirely sure I’d read my thermometer right and it was my first time trying to test the “soft ball” stage. I decided to do a bit of online research. Like Grandma’s secret recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies, which turned out to be in a Betty Crocker cookbook, the fudge recipe turned out to be a well-known one. It used to be on the Hershey’s cocoa package, and in fact, people speculated that it had been removed years ago because people struggled to execute it properly. In any case, here’s the recipe. I also found this video very helpful: it showed me what the soft ball stage was supposed to look like, and it specifically showed that what I’d reached last time was not the soft ball stage.
I decided to try just one more time. This time was during the day, with everyone around. Cute W also found it difficult to watch the boiling gloop without stirring. Then I set it aside to cool to 110 degrees. It was finally at about 115 degrees when we were sitting down to lunch, and as I was halfway through my leftover quesadillas, Cute W reminded me that I’d better check on the fudge. Yep, it was suddenly too cool, and pretty thick, with an oil spill of butter on the top. I ignored the advice to use a wooden spoon because I needed something with power. I used an electric mixer and the thickness of the fudge proved a shock for mixer as well: it sent up a small plume of acrid burnt-electric fumes in protest. Then I had to muscle the stuff into the waiting pan before things got any harder. Possibly there was some panicking involved:
I thought that it would be a horrific mess to clean up, but some hot water melted it into submission quickly. And this time I’d hit it: Grandma’s fudge!
It was a teensy bit dry, but honestly? It was pretty similar to the texture of Grandma’s, so that was just fine with me. And Mom loved it, so hooray for me. We’ll see if the girls ask for it again next year.