Microwave ovens, quick-melting chocolate and pre-packaged ingredients make it so easy for us to prepare homemade candy for Christmas.
When I was in elementary school, my mother and a neighbor (Mrs. George Lowry) always set aside one day during Christmas break to make five or six kinds of candy. Our pantry didn't contain marshmallow crème, sweetened condensed milk or a candy thermometer, and microwave ovens hadn't been invented.
The kitchen table was laden with bags of sugar, containers of cocoa, sticks of butter and glass bottles of whole milk. The recipes were hand-written on yellowed sheets of paper, and the stirring was done with a spoon.
Many of our readers also have handed-down candy recipes that they make only once a year.
If you have a fudge recipe, you're twice blessed. Making a really great fudge is not an easy task. I think all fudge tastes great, but a high-quality fudge depends on a heavy-bottomed saucepan, a candy thermometer — and sunny weather.
Before you try these fudge recipes from our readers, there are a few rules you need to follow, even if the recipe doesn't say so.
Rebecca Welch, executive chef/owner of Lexington Chocolate Co., said you'll need "a good candy thermometer, especially if you are new at making candy, or if you just do it once a year.
"Some common mistakes people make are overstirring and trying to make fudge on a rainy day," Welch said. "Try not to make fudge when the humidity is high. Any kind of candy that requires the melting of sugar (fudge, divinity) does not like humidity.
"Do not overstir the sugar once it starts to boil. Overstirring will cause the sugar to recrystallize once it melts, which gives you that grainy texture. I actually do not stir it at all until the very end."
Welch suggests having fun with flavors: "There are so many flavors, candies, crunches, nuts and oils available at local candy stores that can be added to make your fudge special."
At Lexington Chocolate, Welch makes fudge with banana chips, caramel, dark rum, Kentucky bourbon, cherry and lemon candy pieces, coffee and peanut brittle.
Here are some tips from Cooks Illustrated that will help you make a perfect pan of fudge.
■ How to test for soft-ball stage: Attach candy thermometer to side of pot. Cook until syrup boils. Boil sugar syrup until it reaches 236 degrees, about 30 minutes, then begin testing for doneness. Dip handle of a cold wooden spoon into sugar syrup, sweeping and twisting 2 to 3 times to coat end of handle with syrup. Place spoon handle in ice water, twisting handle so syrup does not slide off, until syrup is cool enough to handle, 5 to 10 seconds. Gather cooled syrup with your fingers and try to roll it into a ball. If syrup forms soft ball that will flatten when lightly pressed between 2 fingers, remove syrup from heat, about 238 degrees. (If heat of your fingers heats sugar too quickly, dip them, with syrup, back into water and try to form ball.) If syrup fails to form soft ball, continue to cook, checking every increase of 2 degrees (from 238 to 242 degrees) until soft ball is formed, 30 to 40 minutes total cooking time.
■ How to prepare pan: Cut 18-inch length foil. Fit foil into length of 9-by-13 baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. (If you don't have a 9-by-13 dish, another size of baking dish will do.) Cut 14-inch length foil and fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet.
■ Cooling the fudge: Remove pot from heat and immediately place in sink filled 1-inch deep with room-temperature water. Cool pot in sink for 5 minutes. Transfer pot to counter and let cool, without stirring, until fudge reaches 110 to 120 degrees, about 25 to 35 minutes. Quickly transfer fudge to prepared pan and spread in even layer with spatula (alternatively, place piece of wax paper on top of fudge and press into pan using your hands). Cool fudge at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours. Lift fudge from pan using the ends of the foil, and cut into squares.
Here are recipes from our readers.
Brooke Haymaker said the creaminess of this fudge comes from the marshmallows. "It is so easy and quick and does not require a candy thermometer."
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 can (5 ounces) evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 large marshmallows
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine butter, sugar, evaporated milk and salt in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Boil, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in marshmallows and chocolate chips. Add vanilla and stir well. Spread into buttered 9-inch-square pan. Cool at least 2 hours (It can be stored in the refrigerator). Cut into squares.
Tammy King of Lexington shares this recipe.
Chocolate pretzel fudge
1 bag (12 ounces) milk chocolate chips
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup broken pretzel pieces
Whole pretzels for garnish
Combine all ingredients, except pretzels, in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often. When ingredients are melted, remove from heat. Stir in pretzel pieces. Pour into a foil-lined square pan. Press whole pretzels into top of fudge. Refrigerate 3 hours or longer. Remove from pan and cut into pieces. Store in refrigerator.
Janette Heitz of Lexington said: "This is my 85-year-old mother's recipe. When I was in elementary school, she saved the boxes from the Christmas cards each year and filled them with this fudge for my brother and me to give to our teachers. The following year, those teachers were always asking me if I could bring them another box. By the time we got out of elementary school, we were taking a box to almost each teacher every year.
"I make this for my own family every year. It wouldn't be Christmas without it."
Peanut butter fudge
2 cups white sugar
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon butter
Combine white sugar, brown sugar and milk in heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches soft-ball stage. Remove from heat, and stir in peanut butter and butter. Pour into a foil-lined 8-inch by 8-inch pan, and allow to cool before cutting.
Beth Kennedy of Lexington said: "This is a family recipe that has deep ties to the Lexington area. My mother is the only daughter of the late chef C.P. Sears, who had a restaurant on Nicholasville Road for more than 30 years, when his son, chef Lyall Sears, took it over. My three children have requested this recipe from me many times and have served this fudge to college friends, neighbors and co-workers in Ohio, California, Tennessee, Colorado and Florida. I hope that my 3-week-old granddaughter, Elliana, will continue the family tradition and serve this to her grandchildren someday. There are many generations of love in this recipe."
Nanny's peanut butter fudge
3 cups sugar
11/4 cups evaporated milk
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine sugar, evaporated milk and syrup in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to bubble. Continue cooking until syrup forms a soft ball when dribbled into cold water. Remove from heat, and after bubbles die down (about 1 to 2 minutes), add peanut butter and vanilla.
Beat with wooden spoon until mixture starts to harden, holds shape and loses gloss. Pour onto buttered pan or plate. Let cool. Cut into pieces and serve.