I never thought I’d find myself asking, “Do you want your fudge with or without olive oil?” Yet, any time I eat or serve fudge in the future, it is a question that I will surely be asking. It seems like an odd addition at first, but once you try it, you will wonder how you ever ate fudge any other way!
Let’s just get down to business– there are few things deeper and darker and more sinful than (well-made) FUDGE. I’ve never made it before, and to be honest, I’ve always been a little afraid. Okay, maybe a lot afraid. Fudge can be temperamental, fussy, and complicated, and it’s hard to get it right. I can’t count the times that I’ve bought a piece of fudge that looks absolutely scrumptious, only to bite into a cloyingly sweet or chalky piece of candy… ugh. But when done right, dear god— it’s so heavenly and decadent. I was ready to face my fudge trepidation for this Baked Sunday Mornings recipe, Chocolate Velvet Walnut Fudge with Olive Oil and Fleur de Sel. I’m a little behind in posting this due to the adventures detailed below, but it was worth the wait. This is no ordinary fudge, mind you. It is sweet and salty bliss, and I always love classics with an interesting twist. The fudge combines dark and milk chocolates for chocolaty depth with homemade marshmallow cream to achieve its velvety texture. This is rather lovely on its own, but what takes it over the top is the drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of French sea salt. These accoutrements elevate the richness of the chocolate and add a wonderfully complementary flavor profile. I topped part of my batch with olive oil, and the rest with vanilla fleur de sel, one of my new favorite baking muses. It is a combination of flaky sea salt and ground vanilla beans– kinda my new BFF.
As with many confectionary treats, fudge is ALL about crystallization. Sugar crystals are at once your best friend and worst enemy when making fudge; the temperature of the boiling ingredients must be precisely right. When the mixture has reached just the right cooking temperature, you must let it cool to just the right temperature, then stir it just the right amount to set up the just right type of sugar crystals. Everybody got that?? I’m sure that like anything, once you practice it gets easier; however, in the meantime it sounds very daunting. And finicky. And annoying. What I’ve learned from reading an absurd amount about fudge in the past month is that if you overcook the mixture (i.e. temperature too high) or stir too soon, the fudge will be grainy as a result of overly large sugar crystal formation; if you undercook it (temperature too low), the fudge will not set up, remaining a gooey mess due to lack of crystallization. If you get it just right, you will have the perfect smooth fudge consistency, formed by a precise network of tiny, imperceptible crystals. Yeahhhh.
Fortunately, that dizzying description pertains mostly to old-fashioned fudge, usually made simply with milk, butter, sugar, and chocolate. This fudge recipe is a little different– this is an example of what’s called “Fantasy Fudge”, meaning that it includes marshmallow cream, which (allegedly) makes the whole process easier and more stable. The addition of corn syrup and cream of tartar (in the marshmallow cream) helps to inhibit rogue crystallization by interfering with the molecular structure of the sugar. I read all sorts of fascinating tidbits about sugar behavior in fudge here— I sure wish I’d paid more attention in high school Chemistry class…
The recipe calls for a combination of milk and dark chocolates, and I had planned to use 38% and 72%, respectively, but things didn’t exactly go according to plan (described below), and I ran out of milk chocolate. My finished batch therefore contained a mix of 55% and 61%, hoping that the percentages would more or less even out. (I don’t know if it actually works that way, but it tasted pretty damn good, so it certainly works in a pinch.) The other minor modification that I made was a reduction in the quantity of walnuts, from 2 cups to 1 heaping cup, which was plenty. I am not a huge fan of nuts in my baked goods, though I must say that toasted walnuts taste vastly better than raw ones.
I set about making my fudge with apprehension, yet excitement. I was glad to make my own marshmallow cream– I shudder to think about what’s in the store-bought stuff. It’s very similar to making meringue, in that you make a boiling sugar syrup on the stovetop, which is then beaten into whipped egg whites.
This mixture will eventually transform into a cloud of beautiful, white, voluminous swirls in the mixer (right before your eyes!), finished off with a swig of vanilla.
This fluffy mass then gets incorporated into a pot with evaporated milk, butter, sugar (white and dark brown), and salt, which becomes the sweet base into which you will gleefully stir your 12 ounces of chocolate and those toasty walnuts to produce a satiny fudge mixture. Well, I can’t make you stir gleefully, but I’m pretty sure you’ll want to, if you’re anything like me. ;-)
Sounds fairly straightforward, yes? For some reason, my fudge was not behaving itself; I wondered if other BSM bakers struggled with it as much as I did, but everyone who posted that week seemed to have a relatively easy time with it… I was feeling very candy-impaired after trying this recipe twice without success.
Once I started stirring the mixture, it just never really seemed to come together right. I found that a caramel-like layer was forming on the bottom, and it never seemed to emulsify correctly. I had bits of caramel floating around in the mixture, despite continuous stirring. Large, white bits then started to form– I suspected that they were large sugar crystals.
Do not try this at home.
It also took FOREVER for the mixture to reach 230°F– it kept fluctuating, going from 220°F down to as low as 203°F. The mixture got darker and darker, which seemed okay at first, but then I wasn’t so sure… Should I add the chocolate?? There is very little that breaks a baker’s heart more than ruining good chocolate! But I took the risk… and sadly, my mixture instantly seized up into a pile of… mud. Yeah, we’ll go with mud. ;-) It was grainy and clumpy and… not fudge. I didn’t bother adding the walnuts, because why waste those too?
My second attempt looked slightly more promising, but as I mixed, I was dismayed to see that the same symptoms recurred. This time I didn’t bother adding the chocolate; it seemed that something was fundamentally wrong with my technique. After consulting with several BSM peeps and Matt Lewis from BAKED, it seemed likely that the culprit was cooking temperature. It is apparently crucial that the initial burner temperature is very low; I may have been a little lax on that due to impatience, but I wasn’t totally convinced that this was the issue…
I was utterly flummoxed. Needless to say, I did not post a blog that week, as I had no fudge to show for my efforts! But I was determined not to give up– I decided that I would conquer this fudge monster. When I was ready to try my third attempt, I re-read the recipe very carefully… and something occurred to me. It says to stir the evaporated milk, marshmallow, butter, etc. in the pot, and then turn on the heat. I had assumed that it was fine to turn on the burner and then start stirring, like many recipes in which you cook a sugar mixture… ::facepalm::
Lesson learned: It is IMPERATIVE to stir the ingredients before turning on the heat. This is the only thing I did differently the third time, and the mixture was completely different. Although I still had some caramel-y streaks towards the end, the mixture did not separate, burn, or form sugar chunks. It was really a little ridiculous how much of a difference this step made! In other words… follow the directions. (By the way, I would recommend stirring the mixture with a spatula to get into the corners of the pan.)
I was so laser-focused on stirring that I forgot to keep track of the time, but I probably babysat the mixture for about 30 minutes. It stalled again around 220°F, and I couldn’t get it higher than 225°F at most, though it kept fluctuating slightly. The mixture started out very light in color and grew in volume, but towards the end, it got darker and more viscous, and reduced in volume. I made an executive decision to pull the pot off the stove after about 10 minutes of boiling over medium-high heat; the mixture was a golden yellowish color. I proceeded to add the chocolate, walnuts, and vanilla, stirring carefully and praying that it wouldn’t seize up on me again. Everything came together smoothly this time! I wasn’t sure how long to stir– the mixture was supposed to lose its glossiness according to the instructions. I stirred for a few minutes and didn’t see much change, so I just poured it into the pan, smoothed the surface, and crossed my fingers…
I let it cool for about 10 minutes to a semi-set consistency. At this point, if you are going to top your fudge with olive oil, you will make small, evenly spaced, shallow “x” markings on the top of your fudge with the tip of a spoon. Because of my initial skepticism, I had decided that I would just do a few pieces with the oil and the rest with vanilla fleur de sel, so I only marked one side of the fudge. Incidentally, the recipe says to make 16 markings on the whole batch, but you can make lots more of them if you are cutting your fudge into smaller pieces. (Mine turned out a little off-center once I actually cut the fudge, but no matter– they still fulfilled their purpose of holding olive oil and salt.) I sprinkled salt on the unmarked side of the fudge while in this semi-set state.
Don’t cut the fudge until it has fully cooled and firmed up. I let mine sit on the countertop overnight at room temperature, and it had set perfectly by the morning– I was beyond delighted!
I drizzled olive oil over a few pieces and sprinkled them with fleur de sel, still a little dubious, but I was more looking forward to the vanilla-salted fudge at that point. I am a little obsessed with this stuff right now– I’ve been putting it on cookies and peanut brittle too!
At first I thought I liked the vanilla-salted fudge better, but I kept nibbling on the olive oil fudge, and it soon won me over. BIG TIME. I suppose it’s an acquired taste, but the acquisition was swift, let me tell you! I used a fruity Sicilian olive oil, and it brings out the richness of the chocolate along with the salt flakes. How did the fudge itself taste? It was rather fabulous, thanks for asking! The fudge was deep in chocolate flavor, and not too sweet, and the texture was smooth, creamy, and luxurious… Melted.In.My.Mouth. GAH.
Despite the failed batches, the third time was definitely the charm, and well worth the perseverance. The fudge makes a great holiday gift (if you can part with it) and ships well. Even though Christmas has come and gone, give serious consideration to making this for the next, upcoming chocolate-happy holiday: Valentine’s Day! Your sweetheart will love you forever.
Visit Baked Sunday Mornings for the recipe for Chocolate Velvet Walnut Fudge with Olive Oil and Fleur de Sel, and take a look at the other bakers’ gorgeous fudge too. Happy candy-making! :)
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.