Sugar is a miraculous thing. Although so demonised these days, the complexity of this ingredient – once considered the rarest of luxuries – is far greater than those who decry ‘the white stuff’ would have us believe. For a start, it isn’t always white: those snowy crystals that you spoon into your tea (you philistine) are just the tip of the iceberg. Along the spectrum from refined white sugar to the thickest, inkiest treacle are golden-hued caster and granulated sugar, crunchy demerara, classic honeyed golden syrup, the butterscotch sweetness of light muscovado, the heady sticky toffee notes of dark muscovado, and the burnished caramel of molasses sugar. That’s not even counting variations on a theme: palm sugar, coconut sugar, rice syrup, honey, date molasses…
It’s amazing what you can do with this single ingredient: caramel, toffee, butterscotch, fudge – all have their origins in a pile of sweet crystals. The end result depends on various factors: temperature, other ingredients, method of cooking. One of the best ways to showcase the subtlety of sugar is to make fudge. Largely because, let’s face it, fudge is basically just sugar, tempered with a bit of milk, butter and condensed milk to…er…take the edge off a bit. Its glorious melting graininess is an ideal vehicle for your choice of sugars, and it works particularly well with the darker varieties, which contribute their various notes of butterscotch, toffee, caramel and honey.
Fudge involves the precise heating of sugar (mixed with other ingredients, usually butter and condensed milk) to 116 degrees centigrade. After this, it needs to be beaten thoroughly in order for it to set properly, otherwise you end up with something more like toffee or hard caramel. It’s very easy to make, but it is a precise process – you do need a sugar thermometer – and can be a little dangerous. Boiling sugar is not something that should ever come near your skin, so wear oven gloves while stirring.
Fudge is also the sort of thing that, once you’ve made it yourself, you will declare you can ‘never eat again’, having seen the precise quantities of butter, condensed milk and sugar that go into it…and then you find yourself tasting a small corner ‘just to check it’s OK’, and then that is that, three squares are gone and you are hooked. A bit like brownies, or treacle tart. If you’re in denial, don’t try making them at home.
In this recipe, I’ve put a seasonal twist on a classic fudge recipe. The basic fudge is made with golden granulated sugar, which gives it a lovely honeyed colour and a subtle caramel flavour, enriched with dark muscovado sugar for colour and taste. Once the fudge has bubbled to the correct temperature, you stir in crumbled Christmas pudding, which ends up flecked throughout the creamy squares and gives you an end result that really does taste like Christmas pudding, but in a much more sugary, toffee-rich, portable form. It’s a wonderful way of using up leftover Christmas pudding after the big day.
However, if you don’t have leftover Christmas pudding lying around or you’re making this before Christmas (it makes a wonderful gift packaged into little bags or jars and tied with ribbon and a handmade label), I’ve included an alternative recipe that will give you the same effect but using ingredients you probably have in the kitchen already: festive spices, sultanas, dried cranberries (of course!), orange zest, and a little orange peel powder (available from JustIngredients) for a wonderful musky citrus depth. You could also experiment with other flavours: plain vanilla is excellent, as is rum and raisin (soak some raisins in rum for a few hours before stirring into the cooked fudge). For another seasonal variation, try dried cranberries soaked in fresh orange juice and a little Cointreau for a few hours, or even stir through some mincemeat at the end. Enjoy!
Christmas pudding fudge (makes around 42 squares):
- 150ml milk
- 400g golden granulated sugar
- 50g dark muscovado sugar
- 115g unsalted butter
- Generous pinch of sea salt
- 397g tin of condensed milk
- 150g cooked Christmas pudding, crumbled, OR:
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp orange peel powder
- Zest of 1 orange
- 100g dried cranberries
- 50g sultanas
- You will also need a sugar thermometer.
First, get a pan ready for the finished fudge – an 8x8 inch square brownie tin is ideal. Grease it and line with greaseproof paper.
Put the milk, sugars, butter, salt and condensed milk in a large saucepan (as big as possible, to allow for the fudge to bubble up the sides). Slowly bring to the boil, stirring to allow the sugar to dissolve.
Once the sugar has dissolved, bring to a rolling boil and simmer for around 15-20 minutes. Stir almost constantly (you may want to wear gloves), otherwise the fudge will stick to the pan and burn. You want it to be 116C on the sugar thermometer, so keep bubbling and stirring it around the pan.
Once it has reached 116C, remove from the heat. Stir in the crumbled Christmas pudding, or the spices, orange peel powder, orange zest, dried cranberries and sultanas (or any other choices of flavouring).
You can either do the next bit by hand or using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. If doing it by hand, beat the fudge with a wooden spoon for around 15 minutes until it becomes almost completely stiff. This is hard work but it will thicken eventually. You want the finished fudge to have the texture of very thick peanut butter. When finished, pour it into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. If using a mixer, whisk the fudge for around 10 minutes on a medium-high power. Pour into the tin when ready and level the top.
Leave to cool at room temperature (don’t put it in the fridge) for a few hours, then use a hot sharp knife to slice it into squares. This looks lovely packaged in small cellophane bags tied with ribbon and a handwritten label.