When the smell of this bubbling fudge winds forth from the kitchen you will need to be armed with a taser and cattle prod to keep your children off the stove. In Canada it is “cabane à sucre” season so I am celebrating with my most beloved recipe – a fudge (or tablet if you are in the UK) made from amber maple syrup and thick coconut cream. Your waistline will curse me but your family will thank me.
Really, though. Please don’t taser your children.
If a recipe is judged by the amount of work that has gone into it, then this delicately textured and infinitely satisfying fudge is my Mona Lisa. Yes, this is merely candy we are talking about. I can turn away for a moment while you snort and raise an eyebrow, but let me then interject for just one teensy second. There is much more to this than simple heating and stirring. Candy making is an art and a science, so you will need to wield a brush as deftly as an equation if you are going to be the next Willy Wonka.
Intimidated? Don’t be. No cause for alarm, because the good news is that everything you need to know is contained in the words that follow. There’s also a lot of me throwing out whimsical stories from lands far away and generally blabbing on and on, but if you care to indulge me, or are a good speed reader, you will come away with a fine appreciation for candy making that will set you on the right path to success with your very own creations.
Enough of the introduction, let’s move on to the mandatory whimsical story from a land far away. Yes, it all began in a small village in quiet County Durham, circa spring 2013. It was a magical time in the northeast of England: people were still giddy that the world had not popped out of existence with the end of the Mayan calendar, Julian Assange was sleeping soundly in the Ecuadorian embassy after evading sexual assault prosecution, and Edward Snowden was inserting the finishing hacks on the CIA computers that would soon shatter the lives and careers of diplomats across the globe. As for myself, I was tucked away in a school, drumming up ideas to win the respect of my students that more or less openly hated me. I was desperate to associate Canada with something they would love, unlike me, their science teacher with the derisory accent. I had already come to terms with the fact that I would need to resort to some type of bribery in order to win their fickle hearts, and candy seemed like a good bet. I spent an entire weekend in a kitchen the size of a small closet, toiling on my magic candy until I was covered in burnt caramel and smelled like a lumberjack who had passed out in a sugar shack.
Did it work? Well, when it came to the end of semester those same children sent me home with handmade farewell cards and both arms filled with gifts. Thank you, Maple Coconut Fudge.
Maple Coconut Fudge
100 mL milk
200 mL maple syrup
300 g granulated sugar
200 g unsalted butter
200 mL sweetened condensed milk
60 mL (4 tbsp) coconut cream
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
I suggest we begin by addressing something right away. You need a candy thermometer. Don’t think – go buy. As per my intro, this is part of the science portion of candy making, and if you want to get wonderful, melt in your mouth fudge then it is the very best way to ensure that it happens. Every time. If you are one of those cowgirl/cowboy cooks that prefers to throw caution to the wind and live every moment on a wing and a prayer then you can always rely on the power of culinary instinct and savoir faire to hit your candy mark. If this sounds like you then I will just insert a helpful reference later and you can disregard all of the boring “Celsius this” and “Celsius that” garbage that follows.
Next, think about the pot you are going to use. I have a large 4 L, non-stick pot that I use to make candy and it gives far and away the best results compared to other pots we have. Big is important because the candy will bubble vigorously as it is boiled. Avoid cast iron in my experience because it is difficult to quickly control the temperature. Controlling the temperature is essential because we need to balance flavour development with texture development. The flavour is generated through caramelisation, a set of chemical processes that transform sugars such as sucrose (ordinary table sugar) and its constituent parts glucose and fructose into a huge number of new compounds that bring with them the smoky, buttery, nutty, and honey-like aromas we associate with caramel. The texture is determined by the ratio of ingredients as well as the concentration of sugar in the final product. In general terms, the higher the temperature goes the higher the sugar to water ratio is, meaning you will have a harder candy when you are finished. The longer your fudge mix remains at a high temperature the darker the colour will be, and the more caramel notes in the aroma. Of course, letting it go for too long means all the sugar will be exhausted and the candy will taste extremely burnt and bitter.
Now that you have a good (not cast iron) pot and a thermometer we are ready to begin. Combine the sugar, milk, maple syrup, butter, coconut cream, and salt in the pan. Begin heating on low until all of the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Your temperature should not exceed 60ºC at this point. Now add the condensed milk and increase to medium heat. The proteins in the milk will start to clump together now as they denature and lose their original shape. To break them up, use a hand (immersion) blender and very carefully mix thoroughly, breaking up the clumps and giving a homogeneous mixture. I say carefully because you definitely do not want to be flinging hot, sticky gobs of caramel all over your hands, arms, and face. No fudge is worth a third degree burn. Avoid that by processing in brief pulses with the blade of the blender well below the surface. Keep intermittently stirring with a long spoon once the temperature increases past 90ºC
At this point you should begin preparing for the end game. Take a square pan (metal or glass) approximately 20 to 25 cm square and coat the inside with a flavourless oil such as canola. Butter works if you prefer. Continue heating until the temperature reaches 115ºC, at which point you can remove the pot from the heat and leave it to cool for a minute or two. Max. For all of the stubborn anti-thermometer people out there I will give you some tips that will help you get the proper texture. When the candy has gone from a very foamy boiling to a slower, thicker boil you can test every 5 minutes by taking a small amount of the mixture and swirling it around on a cutting board. If it is soft and sticky when it cools you need to leave it longer. If it is crystalline and crumbly then you have hit the right point and you are ready for the final step. Stir quickly, noting how the candy mix begins to thicken as you thrash it with the spoon. The process we are interested here is crystallisation, the formation of sugar crystals that in large part control the texture of the fudge. Stirring quickly will ensure that small crystals are formed and a soft texture is had. Poor stirring means that crystallisation will be slow and your final fudge will start out quite sticky, but will then gradually form a hard candy over the following days. It isn’t really the best result, to be honest.
After stirring quickly for about a minute, and certainly before stirring becomes difficult, pour from your pot into the pan or tray, spreading the mixture evenly along the bottom. If your fudge is still quite liquid run a knife through it back and forth until you can tell it is hardening. Sprinkle with coconut and leave to cool. Cut into pieces and serve.
Once you have mastered the basic version you can experiment with your own flavours. Espresso and dark stout beer is another favourite of mine. Let me know what you come up with!