The Taste of Creativity: Sharing My "Magic Morphing" Butter-Free Fudge Recipe With The Universe (finally)
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Cooking meals is not my strong suit. Left to my own devices to feed myself and/or others, I am a wizard at pulling together a delicious and nutritious meal that needs little heat or preparation to be eaten (when my son was a toddler he gleefully referred to mommy's style of meal making as "French Lunch" - yummy munchables that came from either the pantry or the fridge and went straight to the table to be happily eaten with one's fingers). Actual cooking, however, gives me the heebie jeebies.
Does that mean my "wild creativity" doesn't extend to the kitchen? Hell no! I may be an eater and not a feeder (how my family & friends refer to the dynamic between folks who enjoy cooking for others and the folks who enjoy eating food that has been cooked by others), but I do have eye for flavor (okay, so that sounds anatomically incorrect, but I've never heard anyone say "I have a tongue for flavor" - ew!) and a deep interest in homemade desserts. To that end, I'm rather good at making fudge.
|Steve's birthday batch of fudge this year was|
formulated around his favorite nut:
Or at least, I'm good at making MY fudge. How good? Well, it always sold out quickly during my son's school-bake-sale years, and my partner, Steve, refuses to let me bake a cake for his birthday as he would much prefer his candles on a batch (or two) of my fudge. Oh, and friends are always asking me for my recipe...and then I swiftly change the subject so that they will forget they asked.
Why have I been such a stingy grinch with my super tasty fudge recipe? To be honest, it's because I'm so embarrassed by the state of my original recipe (I can't simply text them a photo of my cooking instructions - it's literally coated in cat fur, obviously sticky to the touch, and covered with notes only I understand), AND because the answer to the question "What's your recipe?" is simultaneously super complicated and ridiculously easy, making it really challenging to figure out exactly how to explain what it is that I do. To me it feels like you have to be there watching me make a batch of fudge for the magic to be perfectly clear; my recipe is a show & tell sort of thing in my head. But, having every person who has ever asked me for my recipe over to my house sounds like a nightmare to this introvert, and I'll be damned if I make a video of myself whipping up a batch (I adore watching The Great British Baking Show, but I find the idea of cooking for a camera audience terrifying), so my recipe for fudgy deliciousness has remained a situational secret known only by me.
But then a few months ago my friend, author Tracy Donley, mentioned to me on one of our weekly fitness walks that she was researching new recipes for her next Rosemary Grey novel (a fabulous cozy mystery series from Summer Prescott Books that always includes yummy family recipes for readers to try their hand at making once they've finished reading the book) and coming up short. Wanting to help a friend meet a looming publisher's deadline, I quickly offered her my wacky fudge recipe...and then realized my mistake once I got home (you did read the previous paragraph of this post, right?). Knowing sending Tracy a photo of my slightly disgusting hand-written recipe wasn't going to cut it, I sat down to my computer to try and translate my years of fudge-making experience into a single reliable recipe anyone could successfully follow. Loads and loads of words came out of my brain that night (leaving Tracy to do some editing to use my recipe, of course, but I am excited to say my fudge will be gracing the pages of the soon-to-be-released book 4 of the Rosemary Grey Cozy Mysteries series) and as they did Steve came into my art studio to see what all the tippity tapping of my keyboard was all about. He read over my shoulder that I was FINALLY writing out my famous fudge recipe and declared "That's a blog post on creativity-in-action right there not just a recipe - you need to publish that!"
So, this holiday season my gift to y'all (after this free coloring page, of course) is that I am going to do my level best to write out the wildly creative story of my journey towards my famous fudge and finally draw up my recipe in a way that can be understood and shared. With this gift I hope you will be able to whip up a delicious batch of fudge for yourself (the perfect winter treat when matched with a steaming mug of tea or coffee, in my opinion). And to all those people who don't enjoy chocolate, I sincerely apologize. I am sorry for giving you a gift you can't use this year. My suggestion to you is that you re-wrap this post and send it off to someone you know who will enjoy it more; in my book there is no shame in re-gifting!
"Magic Morphing" fudge, a history
I stumbled upon the original recipe for my fudge in a cheesy lifestyle magazine almost two decades ago. As I read it I actually said to myself "This sounds like something I can do," so I jotted down the basic instructions on some notebook paper. The first time I made it (a pretty basic version that followed my handwritten notes to the letter), it turned out perfectly - a total shock to me - and my family loved it, so I continued to make it (my partner and son are HUGE chocolate fans).
Over the years though, our family's health needs changed (we now avoid added salt wherever possible and try to reduce added sugars in all recipes by 50%-75%, and my body no longer can digest butter for some fool reason which means we've been a butter-free household for the last 5 years or so) and my patience for needing rarely-use ingredients to make this recipe wore thin (if you regularly keep evaporated milk - not expired - in your kitchen pantry then you are a waaaay better modern human than I am). These two things led to me experimenting with less and less sugar (this recipe now only includes a 1/2 cup of sugar, reduced from its original 1 1/2 cups, which doesn't mean it's "health food" necessarily, but it is a smidge healthier - and tastier, to be honest - for us all), swapping out the butterfat with coconut oil (we use the Kirkland organic virgin coconut oil because it doesn't give the fudge any coconut flavor), and seeing if regular full fat milk, which we we always have in our fridge, would work as well as evaporated milk (it most certainly does - evaporated milk is a total scam).
Every time I tried something new with this fudge recipe, it just made the end result a better dessert, so as my trio family's palette grew up (I started making this recipe when my son, Sam, was still in diapers - he's 21 now) I was emboldened to turn this simple treat into something a little more sophisticated. For the last ten years or so I've been experimenting with a wide variety of fudge flavors, which is why I call this recipe my "Magic Morphing" fudge. Some of my flavors are designed for folks who enjoy a little heat in their desserts (finding just the right chili pepper spices in just the right portions took loads of batches, but of course no one complained - there is no such thing as "too much fudge" in my house), and some are for folks who don't mind if their desserts are a little tipsy (again, loads of test kitchen practice to discover just the right liquors to match just right nuts and dried fruit; zero family complaints). I've even created a few fudge flavors for folks who enjoy biting into the unexpected (gummy bear fudge, anyone?) because once I started experimenting with flavors I couldn't stop (seriously, I invent new fudge varieties every holiday season, a time my family fondly refers to as "fudge season")!
Let's make some fudge!While my fudge recipe's history is messily creative, the making of the fudge is decidedly not. Follow my cooking instructions to the letter and I can 100% guarantee your first batch will be perfect. BUT if you wobble even for a second on these instructions (not flavor ingredients - please go wild and crazy with those)…well let's just say it will probably still be edible, but it may not be the most satisfying of mouthfeel experiences.
- Prepare ALL your ingredients before hand! Making this fudge is about timing and stirring, and if you get distracted, even with the smallest thing, you will end up with unsatisfying fudge and total sadness. Do ALL your chopping, measuring, pan prepping, spoon getting, bottle opening PRIOR to firing up your range (sorry to seem like I'm yelling, it's just THAT important)!
- All desserts taste better when you’ve enjoyed the process of making them, so be sure to select some appropriately awesome fudge-making music and bring your tunes to the kitchen. I love albums that make me feel like singing or doing a little jig in place while I stir (think Frank Sinatra, Patsy Cline, Thelonious Monk, Vince Guaraldi, etc), and when the holidays get closer I love making batches of fudge to non-traditional Christmas music (my favorites right now are Sia's Everyday Is Christmas, Joel Paterson's Hi-Fi Christmas, The Mavericks Hey! Merry Christmas!, Erasure's Snow Globe, and Aimee Mann's One More Drifter In The Snow), but you do you!
|I cannot reiterate enough: prepare ALL of your|
ingredients before you turn up the heat
on your range! Additionally, be sure they
are all within close range of your cooking
area so you never have to stop stirring to
reach for something.
· ½ cup of gently packed brown sugar (If this isn’t sweet enough for you, know that the original recipe started with having 1½ cups of white sugar, so there is considerable wiggle room for adding more sugar to a batch if you wish)
· 2/3 cup of whole milk
· 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (solid or liquid – I have made this recipe in both warm and cold seasons and have found that it doesn’t matter if your coconut oil is solid from the cold or liquid-y from the heat)
· 2 cups of mini marshmallows
· A whole bag of chocolate chips (my family and I prefer dark chocolate, so I make our batches with Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Baking Chips with 63% cacao, which is 11.5 oz, but I have also made it with 10 oz bags of Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips, too, with no problem)
· 1 tsp of vanilla (BUT, I have been known to “fall asleep at the vanilla switch” which makes excellent fudge, too, so don’t be afraid to add more. I've also completely forgotten the vanilla once, and while it was still a nice treat, it wasn't truly yummy which is how I learned that vanilla is a KEY INGREDIENT in this recipe.)
· Add-ins to your taste (Some people like densely packed fudge with loads of goodness to chew on and others would prefer more chocolate to add ins. Here is where the magic comes in AND your creativity! You can add any chopped/toasted nuts you desire - my family loves pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, macadamias, and pistachios. You can also add chopped dried fruits – my family loves dried cherries, cranberries, raisins, dried apricots, dried pineapple. I love adding Black Forest Organic Gummy Bears to batches, but when I do I leave out the nuts. Ooh, and adding instant coffee is delish! I use 2 tablespoons of decaf dark roast instant coffee by Nescafe so that we can eat fudge in the evening without the added kick of all that caffeine disturbing our sleep cycles. And if you love spicy heat, add chili powder! I have test run the best chili options over MANY batches, and my family loves it when I add Ancho chili powder and New Mexican chili powder. Additionally, if you are baking for “mature” eaters, spike your fudge with a bit of quality liquor! When I add rum, bourbon, whiskey, rye, or brandy, I typically add 2 tbsps. This will make the fudge feel runnier before chilling and make the fudge a bit softer and quicker to melt as you eat it, but who doesn’t lick their fingers after enjoying a square of fudge! Also, don’t be afraid to mix your add-ins prior to cooking! Soak raisins in rum or dried cherries in orange or regular brandy the night before you pull a batch of fudge together, and I promise you won’t be disappointed!)
|Did I mention you need to stir this recipe a lot?|
I use a non-stick enamel saucepan, but you
can make this recipe in any good sized sauce
pan IF you don't forget to STIR.
1. Line a 8 x 8 pan with aluminum foil.
2. Combine the sugar, milk, and coconut oil in a medium non-stick saucepan and put your heat to medium (I cook on a gas range, and…I’m not sure how to translate this moment to an electric cooktop, so be very attentive to your mixture and heat so as not to burn your fudge if you have an electric range). STIR YOUR INGREDIENTS NON-STOP (Yes, I’m raising my voice – the key to excellent fudge is in the constant stirring, hence the suggestion for fun music!) as your mixture slowly comes to a rolling boil (keep scrapping the sides of the pan to avoid the sugar crystallizing). Once the boil looks good and rolling, keep the heat right there and STIR LIKE CRAZY while it sits at this temp for 4-5 min (I have a kitchen timer near me to set to 5 minutes the second my boil looks the way I want it. I say 4 to 5 minutes because sometimes it looks ready to come off the heat at 4 min and sometimes it’s 5 min depending on the temperature/humidity of my house when I am cooking. Also, adding instant decaf coffee powder to a batch makes the mixture dark brown in color and very difficult to know whether or not the fudge is burning. When using instant coffee powder I carefully smell my boil from time to time to be sure of where the fudge is in its cooking process.)
3. After your timer beeps, remove your saucepan from the heat and get ready to move FAST! Add your vanilla (it will bubble a little – that’s normal) and then your marshmallows. Stir vigorously until they melt completely into your super hot mixture. Quickly, pour your chocolate chips into the saucepan and STIR until they are thoroughly melted and everything looks fully incorporated.
4. Fold in your add-ins, whatever those may be.
5. Pour your batter into your prepared pan.
6. Place your pan of hot fudge on a potholder in your fridge and chill. It will probably be ready to slice and enjoy in about 2 hours.
7. Lick your stirring spoon – you earned it!
Trust me, the only limit to the variations of this fudge recipe is your imagination! I am forever dreaming up new fudge flavor combos, but here are a few of my family’s favorites. How do I know they are "favorites?" It's simple: the get asked for by name!
Spicy Cherry Pecan: Use chopped toasted pecans and dried cherries as your add ins. When you add the vanilla (refer to step 3), also toss in 1 tsp of ancho chili powder and 2 tsp of New Mexican chili powder. This is a much-tested batch ratio, but my family likes their heat. Reduce the New Mexican chili powder to 1 tsp if you like spice but would rather less heat.
Hot Coffee: 2 tbsp of decaf dark roast instant coffee powder added with the sugar (refer to Step 1), 1 tsp of ancho chili powder, 2 tsp of New Mexican chili powder (added during Step 3), toasted pecans or almonds.
Jamoca Almond Fudge: 2 tbsp of decaf dark roast instant coffee powder (added in during Step 1) and a bunch of toasted almond slivers (I have never measured how much - remember, I'm "wildly creative! I know I have enough nuts in my batter by just looking at it. In my opinion, the deep dark brown of the chocolate should never be overwhelmed by the colors of your add ins. If it is, you've probably added too much of a good thing to your batch. But remember: it will still taste amazing!)
Rum Raisin: Soak raisins in flavorful dark or medium rum overnight (be sure to cover them with the rum). Add the “drunk” raisins at step 4, extra raisin-soaked rum and all. Add nuts if you like, but it is thoroughly tasty without. When I add nuts to this flavor, I typically go with toasted pecans as they blend nicely with the taste of rum.
Tropical Love Fudge: Add 2 tbsp of good dark rum when you add in the vanilla (refer to Step 3). Add coarsely chopped macadamia nuts and whatever chopped tropical fruit you can find. We love dried pineapple when we can find it, but dried mangos and papayas are awesome, too.
Brandied Cherry Fudge: Follow the same recipe as Rum Raisin but replace rum with orange or regular brandy and the raisins with dried cherries (be sure the liquor slightly covers the dried cherries). Add nuts or not, but from experience I can tell you almonds go great with cherries!
Rule of thumb with adding alcohols: Add it to your batter when you add the vanilla. When selecting a spirit for your fudge use your nose – does it smell good with chocolate or taste nice after you’ve eaten a particular nut? A yes to either (or both) of those questions will tell you if you are about to make a fun new fudge recipe. For example, while I enjoy the flavor of tequila, I have yet to find a nut it pairs well with, and I honestly do not like the taste of that spirit when I sip it AFTER eating a few dark chocolate chips. That is why I haven't attempted a margarita-inspired fudge experiment. You may figure out how to create a delicious fudge flavor with tequila and lime, and if you do, I hope you will share your insights and recipe with me!
Rule of thumb with coffee/espresso powder: Add it at the beginning with the sugar. If you forget, try incorporating it in at the vanilla step, but move quickly as it will cool the temperature of your batter; you need that heat to melt the marshmallows and chocolate thoroughly, and two tablespoons of room temperature anything swipes that much-needed warmth your fudge requires to be that perfect texture!
|When using liquor-soaked dried fruit, don't |
be afraid to dump in the extra fruit-infused
alcohol. It will provide a fun, adult flavor
profile to your treat!
And there you have it - my kitchen tested, wildly creative, endlessly adaptable "Magic Morphing" fudge recipe! As I type this post I have already made a delicious batch for Steve's birthday (a day late in November that usually marks the beginning of "fudge season" in our house). This year he chose "drunk" cranberry macadamia nut fudge (I soaked dried cranberries in a quality orange brandy for 24 hours and added coarsely chopped macadamia nuts to the batter as well as placed them on top for a simple decoration), and I don't feel a bit boastful in saying that it was absolutely scrumptious! Our son, Sam, arrives home for the winter holidays soon, and I plan to make him a pan of "welcome home" fudge later this week. Sam's fudge will more than likely be coffee flavor focused as he is deeply interested in all things java. I might add some liquor (a woody whiskey or bourbon perhaps), I'm definitely adding nuts (winter weather feels hazelnutty to me, so I've acquired some for this December), and I will ask him if he would like dried fruit in this batch (I find letting the folks who will be enjoying a pan of fudge have a say on the collection of flavors I will be using makes the whole dessert experience more personal) . Every batch of fudge is a delicious labor of love (your arm will feel this stirring workout in the morning if you don't stretch after putting your fudge in the fridge), but in my opinion that is what fudge season is all about - a little bit of labor, a whole lot of love, and delectable desserts to share with family and friends.