Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Vegan Fudge: Traditional Homemade Candy - A Step by Step Photo Guide

A truly vegan guilt free fudge, made with organic and Fair trade ingredients!

I don't make nearly enough fudge for the family and for gifts.  I made it so much for the shop that it became a bit of a chore.  But lately, I've been trying to create a habit of whipping some up for special occasions and holidays like Yule gift giving. For Lupercalia last, I poured a batch for my daughter's class in lieu of the more grown-up celebrations.

Actual fudge isn't the bizarre current fashion of brittle pre-cut oversweet crumbles or "instant" recipes of marshmallow cream or melted chocolate chips. Though those are now considered the norm, they are modern and rather inadequate adaptations of the traditional candy, which requires some skill to make.  It's uncommon now to find someone who practices the techniques, other than London High Street candymakers, so until they try the fudge from the StillRoom, most people haven't ever eaten it.

Traditional fudge is a real candy; cracked sucrose heated to a certain temperature.  Since it requires some specialization, as well as access to sugar, this is a relatively modern confection, originally only available to the upper class in the middle ages and working its way down to the rest of us when sugar and high heat cooking became more available.  Although the traditional method takes far more time and care than current industrial techniques, the final result, being much healthier and eco-friendly, is totally worth the effort to learn. People will be impressed that someone still knows how to do this!

I always go to the horse's mouth for my research. Whether it's Roman naturalism treatises or early medieval physician documentations (those I have to get in translation still), to late medieval stillroom books and Victorian household encyclopaedia  I look for the original techniques and uses before I try adapting something.  In the case of fudge and candy making, they were an encouraged art for amateur cooks and a requirement for professionals up until the 70's.  So to get ideas about how to re-create them for today's audience, but still keep the best of the traditions, I refer to cookbooks and instructions from the 60's all the way back to the Tudor era.  In this post, I'll take out most of the guesswork and distil down the best of the techniques for you.  As it were..

Candy making is one of the most dangerous ventures in your kitchen.  Fudge isn't as bad as some, but candy is a thick burning syrup that sticks to your skin and clothing, and doesn't come off easily.  Think Napalm.  When you attempt any candymaking, make sure the kids are busy, the pets aren't underfoot, and no one is running around your workspace.  It is unforgiving, and there are few second chances.  If you get it on your skin, have some comfrey, tea tree, aloe or lemon juice ready.  Only the comfrey will ensure you have no scars, but the others will help you use that hand again in less than a month..  (Experiences of the Candy Maker story no. 1)

1. The Pot

Your choice of pot is pretty crucial.  It has to be nearly three times bigger than the amount of ingredients you first put in it, and it has to be comfortable handling very high heat for a fairly long period. So for a pound of fudge for example, I use a Dutch oven.  If you select too small a pot, you won't be able to correct your choice easily once you get started, since you do not want to attempt to pour splashing candy from one pot to another, and the only alternative is letting it bubble all over your stove.  (Experiences of the Candy Maker story no. 2)

The sides of your pot need to be coated in a fat. Don't worry about the bottom. I used to use butter, but it's not necessary.  The vegan version works just fine with vegetable shortening, cocoa butter, or coconut oil.

2. The Ingredients

For 1/2 lb of fudge:

2 cups sucrose (dehydrated sugar cane juice is what I use.  It's a whole food, and works the same as white sugar. Beet root sugar theoretically will also work.)

1/3-1/2 cup cocoa (I use fair trade organic cocoa, which is much stronger than regular, so compensate accordingly if you don't have any.)

pinch salt (artisan sea salt means I use much less, and it's good for you.)

2/3 cup water (I use filtered.  I can easily taste chlorine, and it can create weird reactions in cookery.)

Try not to get the sugar on the sides if you can.  It will make your job slightly harder later.

3. The Cooking

Stir on the stove while heating.  It will take awhile to combine properly, and continue to mix and stir until it starts boiling. Don't worry too much about the clumps of cocoa, but do be careful not to get sugar on the side.  If you do, scrape it off with your spoon or even a rubber spatula, if you're fussy...  It will start to get very satiny before it starts to bubble.

Then stop, and take the spoon out.  Set your spoon aside and let the candy bubble.

See how big it gets?
Get out your candy thermometer, and place it in the candy, without touching the bottom of the pot.  For fudge, you require the Soft Ball stage, or 235-245F. (about 112 - 118C for most of the world). Check the reading by getting down and looking at eye level.  A few degrees can make all the difference in candy making.

I usually stop at 240F and, depending on the pot I use, it will rise a bit before it starts cooling. I also use  the highest heat setting, but you may want to turn it down as it approaches the correct temp, since it can rise quickly.

My home ec teacher was a true professional, and I remember at least one experiment with candy making where we didn't even use the thermometer, but instead used the ice cold water method, so we learned how each candy stage 'felt'.  For stillroom work, I use the far easier temperature gauge, which is what I recommend here.

Turn off the heat and just let it sit without movingIt will fall quickly.

Get your pan ready.  If I'm shipping or giving the fudge away, I use a disposable or reused tin.  If we're keeping it for home, a cake or pie pan will do. After washing, make sure the pan and lid are thoroughly dry.  Any water droplets can mar the surface look of the fudge. Grease bottom and sides.

Now find something else to do with yourself for a bit.  I try not to leave the kitchen or watch TV, in case I forget what I'm doing, but your fudge needs to remain undisturbed while it cools.  You can leave the thermometer in if you like.  You are waiting until the temp is about 110F, or 45C.  I just use my hands near the bottom of the pot. If it's uncomfortably hot to the touch, it isn't ready yet. Wait until it's still quite warm, but not too long!

4. The Beating

Now comes the trickiest and fussiest part.

Testing, testing...
Using a new, clean, dry spoon, add your flavouring.  I often use the traditional 1/2 tsp. vanilla (organic and fair trade feels good and tastes better, so you use less.)   Mix in and begin to beat the fudge.  Depending on how hot it was, this can take a while. Watch carefully under a good light source. Keep beating until you begin to see the gloss start to disappear with each stroke, and the fudge become heavier and thicker.  Pour into your pan.  Many do not recommend scraping the sides into your pan.  I only suggest it after you have filled your pan, and you want to eat - I mean, test - your batch.  If I am giving it away, I don't want to take a chunk out to test it, which would totally mar the look, so I use the remainder that is scraped on to the spoon.  Mmmm...testing...

(Illustration from Better Homes and Gardens: circa 1966.) 
For home use, score the fudge while it's still warm, to facilitate cutting it later. When I present my handcrafted fudge in the traditional manner for shipping and gift giving, it is sealed when cool, unscored and untouched, until opened by the recipient. Stays softer that way, too, and doesn't get all broken up in transport.

After completely cooling, your fudge should be soft, moist, even grained, and satiny.  If it's not entirely perfect, and isn't completely far gone, a good freezing will fix most errors. Freeze completely, and when it's totally thawed out again, its structure changes to a better grain.  Only freeze once, though, and don't refrigerate after. It turns into a pudding.

Is that a dinosaur print in my fudge? No, that's a kitten track.
Remember to cover your fudge when cooling!
Fudge is a tricky and fickle candy, so occasional sloshes on the side or drops of water can ruin its perfect surface, but fortunately my skill makes such incidents rare.  So you'll need to practice!

5. Variations on a Theme


Remember when your food was your medicine and your medicine your food?

From horehound candies to spruce beer; from real marshmallow to liquorice, Western herbalists have traditionally created tasty treats to tempt those under their care to take the vitamins, minerals, and remedies they needed. In the spirit of that ancient protocol, I often add medicinal or nutritive value to my fudge with herbs, or vary the flavours with different additions. Because it's just not magnificent enough already...

Substituting the water with an herbal infusion of organic herbs means the sky's the limit.  Cool and filter with cheesecloth first, of course.  Even one stray leaf will be most unpleasant in a soft, moist, even grained fudge, if it doesn't ruin it completely. I've never found an herb that noticeably affects the flavour of the fudge, so consider what effects you're interested in, rather than worrying about blending the flavours.  Don't forget to use a non-reactive pot for cooking your fudge, too, if you want the herbs to be at their best. Some suggestions are:

*Nettle and Dandelion leaf, which has oodles of vitamins and minerals, including iron, and helps prevent allergic histamine reactions. Forget to take your calcium? Can't stand your iron supplement? Need more B's? This will make you look forward to your daily dose.

*Wild yam, Dong Quai, Vitex, Cohoshes, Cramp Bark, and Licorice Root can make a PMS or Menopause fudge to replace and replenish your hormones.  Who needs Midol?  I have fudge!

*Immune Boosting - Elderberries, Echinacea p. and a., Astragalus, Ginseng, there are so many...  I mean, if your kids are gonna eat 'em anyway..

*Ginseng, Sarsaparilla, Yohimbe, and Damiana can add spark to any adult encounter.  Seriously.  Use this one sparingly.  It totally works..


Like it extra chocolatey?  I know I do, so I often double the cocoa powder.

Feel like a mocha? Add expresso as part of your water component.

Organic oils are much stronger than flavoured oils, with no aftertaste.  They are added just before the beating, instead of vanilla. We have experimented with many in the stillroom.  Some of our usuals are:

*Peppermint: Careful.  Organic peppermint is very powerful.  A few drops are all that's needed.
*Sweet Orange.
*Lavender. Traditional, believe it or not.


Candy making is pretty impressive organic chemistry.  You are changing the molecular structure of the sugar, so certain conditions must be met, or it just won't work.  Sugar stops melting at boiling, so make sure all of it is mixed and off the the sides of the pot before it starts to boil, since those grains won't be able to melt after that.  Why is that important?  Because, like honey and syrup, liquid sugar will accrete around any stray particle, especially unmelted sugar, and crystallize completely.  Once that happens, there is almost nothing you can do to save your candy.  It will be inedibley grainy, and even freezing won't fix it.  That's why you need a new spoon to beat with, too.

I therefore air dry, rather than towel dry, all of my equipment where possible, just to be extra cautious of stray particles.

Beating also alters the candy.  The longer you leave it to cool, the quicker it will turn when you begin to beat. If you start too early  it will take forever, but don't wait too long, or the entire thing will set in your pot in a flash.  If you pour before the candy has altered enough, it will be grainy, but usually edible.  Freezing will help that mistake the most.

It's easy to double batch, but triple gets harder.  You need an extra big pot, and strong arms to beat that much candy.  Don't say I didn't warn you...

Not the industrial brittle pre-cut candy most people are used to; this is the most moist and creamiest fudge you've ever tasted, and absolutely guilt free chocolate!  Let me know how your experiments go, and good candy to you!