Thursday, December 16, 2010

Peanut Butter Fudge: For Sara (or, How I Plan To Pay The Babysitter Tonight)

Confection making is a process that requires patience and the right tools...things I rarely have by the end of the baking season. This year, I lost two mini scoops, a heat-proof spatula and my candy thermometer to the in peace, my pretties.

However, their loss is due more to the fact that I produced well over a hundred dozen goodies in the past 3 weeks than it is to anything else. Maybe Santa will drop some new toys in my stocking so I will be ready for next year--I was very naughty excellent all year.

Fudge is one of those confections that has been made for decades and decades with nary a candy thermometer in sight. I figured if the old gals in their gingham aprons can do it, so can I. Guess what? I can and did, because there's more than one way to skin a cat (where did that saying originate, anyways???).

How, you say, did I manage? Well, with a cup of cold water and spoon. I tell you, I've been all kinds of high tech this season with paper tubes and chop sticks.
cold water, really hard
to get this stuff...

How does this process work? Well, candy making involves different stages of caramelization of sugar. 
Thread ball (spun sugar) : 230-233
Soft ball (fudge): 234-240
Firm ball (tee hee, yes please): 244-248
Hard ball (divinity, taffies): 250-265
Soft crack (butterscotches): 270-290
Hard crack (don't do drugs; toffees, brittles): 300-310

If you buy a candy thermometer (*NOT a meat thermometer), it will have a glass bulb that is protected by a plastic sleeve that you remove when cooking. The sleeve has all this information on it, by the way. Unless you are an idiot like me, you're thermometer will last you a long long time....unless you, ahem, leave it in the sink and then smash it with a pot.

8x8, lined
Back to the cup of cool water. While cooking confections, the old girls would simply drop a bit of the boiling bit of whatever into the water and judge from how it dispersed or not what stage it was. This takes practice; it takes patients. But, because fudge is the first stage after thread stage, you won't have to go very far up the scale today.

First, let's gather up the ingredients and equipment. 

You'll need an 8x8 pan, sprayed and lined and sprayed again. I prefer to line my pans for hot confections with heavy duty aluminum foil.  You also need a heavy large sauce pot and either a heat-proof spatula or a wooden spoon. Have either your candy thermometer or cup of water and spoon at the ready by the stove top.

In the sauce pot, combine 
3 tbs butter
1 cup evaporated milk
2 cups of sugar

Measure out
1 cup of mini marshmallows
12 oz of peanut butter (not the natural stuff this time and you can use smooth or crunchy depending on your preference)....if you don't have a kitchen scale (and you really really really should), it's *about* 1 1/4 cups of peanut butter

boil, boil, toil and
Turn up the heat on the sauce pot and stir continuously as you melt the butter and dissolve the sugar. If you are using a thermometer, it should be clipped to the side of your pan, with the bottom bulb suspended in the mixture, never touching the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring as the mixture begins to bubble and boil. Be sure as you stir to get around the edges of the pot so no area of the bottom of the pan is left untouched.
As the mixture boils, you will start to see the bubbles become bigger, fatter and slower to pop than they were at the beginning of the process. Feel free to begin testing the confection by dropping a bit of it into the cool water.

there are little drops in there
if you look REAL hard...
Does it just spread out and disperse? It's not ready, keep boiling and stirring.
Does it drop to the bottom in a solid lump? It's ready to remove from the heat.

If you are using the thermometer, it should read 234 degrees. Remove the pan from the heat.

Now stir in the marshmallows and peanut butter. Stir until it is all completely incorporated and then scrape it all into the prepared pan.

You made fudge. You rock.

Cover the pan with a bit of plastic wrap and chill it until it is cooled and firm.

When you are ready to cut it, pull the foil lining up and out of the pan and use a sharp knife to cut it into 1 inch squares. (You can trim the sides off to eat make for cleaner cuts on the sides of the pieces).

Chocolate fudge, pumpkin fudge, white chocolate fudge....they all work off of this basic process so try them all. If you don't get it right the first time, put the stuff on top of some ice cream, declare yourself victorious indeed for trying and give it another go.


Anonymous said...

MMMM....looks so good. Hey, for a nut like me, those temperature readings would drive me crazy! I'm always a'fearin' that if they get a few degrees one way or the other, the project is gonna be destroyed. Talent, it takes. Something only you can do.
I would love to be paid in fudge. Lucky babysitter.

betty crocker said...

no, it's not something only I can do, goofball. Candy making takes a little practice, I admit but unless you burn the hell out of it, it's still gonna be edible so, like I said, put it on icecream and who's gonna say anything? lol
I'd pay you in fudge if you babysit.....I'd also pay you in fudge for all the times you let me rant and bitch