I didn’t get the chance know my mother-in-law, Martha, as well as I would have liked to – certainly not as well as she deserved. Less than six months after my now-husband proposed, she passed from lung cancer; in April it will be 15 years without her, and she is remembered, loved, and missed to this day.
In the couple of years I had with her, I knew she was a master of comfort food, loved Elvis, had both the most amazingly infectious laugh and a spine of absolute steel, and would throw down hard in a game of Skip-Bo. She welcomed me unconditionally into her home and family despite the less-than-conventional circumstances of my meeting (and falling in love with) her son.
When I accidentally left the innards, plastic and all, in the first turkey I ever roasted for the family, she pulled me aside and told me so discreetly, with such gentleness, that I still giggle about it almost a dozen turkeys later. My birthday gift that year was a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook I still use to this day.
But the gift that’s really kept on giving since 2005 was her fudge recipe, shared with me just before my now-husband popped the question. This was a big deal to me: it was the holiday treat the entire family looked forward to every year! And like the turkey, rest assured I screwed it up plenty before I got the hang of it – too much milk, forgetting I left it in the oven with plastic wrap on (to hide it from my husband, who loves this stuff), getting water in the mix and causing the chocolate to seize…the list goes on.
But I did eventually get the hang of it, and I can promise when followed, it’s an incredibly forgiving and versatile recipe I’ve been happy to share far and wide.
The base recipe is Fantasy Fudge, available on the back of any marshmallow fluff jar. Use any chocolate you like, but I’m a huge fan of Ghirardelli and mix half a bag each of semi-sweet and 60% dark chips with consistently good results. I also recommend a candy thermometer, a good sturdy wooden spoon, and getting your ingredients and pans ready to go beforehand – but it has to be said my husband can make this recipe on his own and he does none of this, and it still comes out fine! Finally, really any pot or pan will work fine as long as it holds the liquid – I cooked this for years in a very inexpensive, stainless steel soup pot – but I LOVE my anodized cookware for the more even heating and zero stick factor when it’s time to pour.
Line a pan with foil or parchment paper and spray or wipe down with butter; a 9” square or round pan works fine for a single batch, and a longer baking dish will just about contain a double (but pour carefully!).
1.5 Sticks of Butter
5 oz evaporated milk (I can’t stop you from using fat free milk, but I don’t recommend it, and definitely don’t confuse this with sweetened condensed milk!)
3 cups sugar
7 oz marshmallow fluff (or weigh 7 oz mini marshmallows + drizzle of corn syrup)
12 oz chocolate pieces
1 tsp vanilla (or extract of your choice)
Chopped Walnuts (optional)
In a heavy saucepan on medium to medium-high heat, add the milk and butter; after liquids are combined, add sugar and stir.
Once you see small bubbles forming, either start watching a clock (4 minutes) or your candy thermometer, because you’ll be constantly stirring from that point. At a controlled boil, the mixture should take on a lovely golden color; if you see darker bits coming to the top, turn the heat down just a little. Warning: the splatter risk at this stage is high, especially with a double batch, so I use a silicone oven mitt for my stirring hand just to be safe.
After the thermometer reads 235 degrees F/Soft Ball (or 4 minutes have elapsed) and the mixture has taken on a nice toasty caramel color, move it off the heat and quickly add the marshmallow fluff, chocolate chips, vanilla, and nuts if desired. Stir until completely combined* and homogenous, moving back onto the heat if needed, and then pour into greased pans. Cool at room temperature for several hours before cutting; I’ve found refrigerating leads to the chocolate sweating after it’s taken out of the fridge, and also shattering when it’s cut, so cut and THEN refrigerate if desired.
* This is why wooden spoons are a staple for this project every year: nothing, not even silicone (as shown above), has ever held up to the aggressive stirring involved at this stage. One of my “oh, fuuuuuuuudge” moments early on was using a nylon spoon that basically disintegrated between the heat and thickness of the chocolate mixture!
So this basic fudge recipe, as mentioned before, is extremely forgiving and versatile. Once the original was mastered, it has since spun out into versions with raspberry, mint, orange, mocha – even white chocolate with maple! Flavors depend entirely on my mood and/or special requests from my nearest and dearest, but if you can find an extract, let your imagination run wild.
(And then share it with us, because I can’t have my family getting bored with what’s become my de facto Christmas gift!)
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a most joyous winter season to you all. -CM