This post was supposed to be about making Whiskey Fudge. I wanted to show that, with a little time and patience, you can make fudge without using sweetened condensed milk (you know, that overly sweet and overly processed stuff you find in a can). And including the whiskey? Well, it’s a crossover of the two sides of this blog…baking and bourbon. But I was tripped up on the way to writing this post, and here is my confession:
I failed. Or the recipe failed. I’m not sure which.
In general, the popular food bloggers seem to live in a perfect world…their cakes always rise, their salads never wilt, and their food is always picture-perfect. I strive to emulate their blogs, but I’m not a professional photographer or food stylist. (yes, we can tell…) I’m taking pictures as I go as best I can with my iPhone in my little apartment kitchen, all to present to you a visual while I blather on about whatever. But the food usually works and I have something positive to say about it.
Not this time.
Making fudge without sweetened condensed milk is a very similar process to making Pecan Pralines, something I talked about in the Watch that dial! post a couple of weeks ago. Basically, you take sugar and heat it with milk, cream, and butter until it reaches the magic number of 239°F (remember, soft-ball stage?). Then you can add in flavorings or mix-ins, stir until it thickens, and let it cool. You should be left with a firm and silky smooth product that melts in your mouth, coating your taste buds with dreaminess.
In my attempt at making Whiskey Fudge, I adapted a recipe from Roaming Rosie for her Chocolate Fudge. I just substituted ¼ cup of Jim Beam Extra Black for the 1 tsp vanilla extract the recipe called for in the recipe. Why ¼ cup? I wanted the bourbon to be noticeable, be balanced with the chocolate, and that’s what was left in the bottle. I followed the instructions except that I took the mixture to 239°F instead of 235°F as stated in the recipe. (Again, peruse Watch that dial! for an explanation of why). As the mixture simmered, my kitchen smelled heavenly…like baking brownies. However, 15 minutes to get to temperature? For me it took over an hour to reach the proper temperature (that’s why people start with sweetened condensed milk, additives and all).
After stirring the fudge on ice and placing it in my pan, I waited for the fudge to cool and harden. And I waited…and waited…but the stuff just wasn’t hardening (it had more the consistency of thick frosting). I thought to put in in the refrigerator (overnight) to chill it down, but that didn’t help. I had a food failure on my hands (literally, as I tried the fudge it stuck to my fingers). Don’t get me wrong, it tasted divine…the bourbon added an underlying spiciness to the richness of the fudge, and since the alcohol didn’t cook out, it added a buzz as well! Very yummy, but not a product you could slice and serve.
Here’s the recipe as written:
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (My note: make sure you sift it, unless you want to squish powder balls on the side of the saucepan as it heats up…not that I did that, mind you [cough, cough] )
- 6 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I substituted 1/4 cup Jim Beam Bourbon to make it Whiskey Fudge)
- Prepare an 8×8-inch baking dish with foil and a light coating of butter or cooking spray.
- Whisk together the milk, cream, sugar, cocoa, and butter in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and simmer it without stirring. This is important: do NOT stir the mixture! After 15 minutes, test the temperature with a thermometer. Once it reaches 235°F or soft ball stage, remove from heat. Do NOT stop simmering until it reaches this temperature, or it will not set. It will be noticeably thicker at this point, but still slightly runny.
- Let it sit for a minute and then stir in the vanilla extract.
- Fill a large bowl with ice and place the saucepan into the bowl on top of the ice. Stir the fudge for a few minutes until it is very thick. Then (making sure not to let any of the melted ice get into your fudge) pour it into the prepared baking dish, spreading it smooth.
- Place baking dish on a wire rack and allow to completely set. This may take a half hour or a little longer, depending on the temperature and humidity of your home. Then carefully remove the fudge from the dish by pulling out the foil. Carefully invert it on a flat plate or platter and allow the bottom to dry. Again, this may only take a few minutes.
- Cut into squares or rectangles with a sharp knife and allow the pieces to sit for a while without touching. I usually leave them out overnight to make sure each piece is fully set and has a nice solidity all the way around the smooth interior.
Makes about 4 dozen very small pieces, depending on how you cut it. The recipe can be doubled or put in a smaller pan if you like thicker pieces.
I tried to research what might have happened to my fudge, specifically this Chowhound Q&A. I thought maybe the alcohol could be the culprit, perhaps reacting with the sugar molecules to prevent the soft-ball stage from being at 239°F? All I knew was the diagnosis from the website…I had undercooked the fudge. I just didn’t know how. Then I discussed the situation with my younger daughter (the one who makes Pecan Pralines successfully using the drop-balls-into-water method of checking for soft-ball stage)…she said the failure was probably because I added too much liquid at the end of the cooking process (1 tsp vanilla vs. ¼ cup bourbon), so of course the fudge wouldn’t harden properly. I hadn’t thought of that. (insert facepalm here)
There is a happy ending to this story. Even though my fudge failed, I had made an excellent frosting for brownies. Those certainly weren’t a failure…a rich chocolate and bourbon blanket atop a glorious brownie base, complete with a kick a the end. Mmmmm.
Have you ever had a food fail? C‘mon, be honest! Tell me your story so I don’t feel so foolish. It’s ok, I’ll wait…I’ll just be in the corner, eating my boozy brownie.
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!