Seriously, what the fudge?
November 28, 2010 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Why does my fudge ALWAYS burn?

Sigh. The first time I made fudge, disaster ensued-- it took forever to get to soft-ball temp, but in the meantime the sugar burnt horribly and I had a steaming mass of...crud. Upon reflection, I thought that maybe jacking the temperature up after the thermometer was stuck at 220 for ages was where I went wrong. The only way I could rationalize this failure was to assume higher heat=burnt sugar.

So, this time around I followed the recipe instructions and turned the stove down (to med-low) after fudge had boiled for about 5 mins. This time, though, the temperature not only stayed at 220 for ages, it even started to decrease in temperature! Yet, magically, the sugar still burnt and I face another excruciating battle cleaning out my poor pot (and yes, it is a heavy bottomed stainless steel pot). I did get some fudge out of the fiasco, but it's awful tasting, burnt fudge. It tastes, in fact, exactly like my despair.

So, what's the deal? Why can't I seem to avoid burning the sugar? Is it better to cook the thing at med-high for the whole time? What am I failing to understand here?
posted by oohisay to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

- your thermometer isn't calibrated right.
- you are using too wide of a pan, so the heat runs right out of the mix as fast as it is put in.
- meanwhile, I *believe* sugar has a time factor. 220 for a half hour is going to be more burnt than 240 for 5 minutes. I could be wrong on that.
- so, next time, keep the flame higher and just watch the thermometer like a hawk.
posted by gjc at 3:16 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Did you stir it the whole time? And I mean the whole time, no break at all, just stir, stir, stir, until you think your arm's going to fall off.
posted by essexjan at 3:18 PM on November 28, 2010

Have you tried the double boiler method? This what I always do, myself, and it's perfect for things like fudge because sugar and chocolate are both really easy to burn even when you're watching it like a hawk.
posted by katillathehun at 3:25 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

What's the recipe you're using?
posted by ambilevous at 3:28 PM on November 28, 2010

it is a heavy bottomed stainless steel pot

Heavy is unequivocally good, but stainless is only good in the sense that it's nonreactive. Stainless is actually a crappy heat conductor, so it's prone to hot spots unless the pot is mostly some other metal (copper, aluminum) that's simply got a protective layer of stainless.

Also, chocolate burns really, really easily. It burns at a low temperature, and its viscosity means that hot stuff at the bottom just stays at the bottom getting hotter unless you're stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot constantly. A thermometer suspended above the bottom of the pot is pretty much meaningless unless you are stirring and stirring and stirring.
posted by jon1270 at 3:40 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try this recipe:

2 16oz bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 oz unsweetened baker's chocolate
2 cans of sweetened condensed milk (don't remember the ounce size here but just the normal sized ones!)

Dump everything into a big enough bowl and stick it into the microwave for about 1-2 minutes until it all melts together. Stir so it's mixed then spoon it into whatever containers you want it to coo.l
posted by astapasta24 at 3:51 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hmm . . . the recipe I used to use called for chocolate chips and marshmallows that got melted in as the sugar. Looking around, it seems like many recipes use corn syrup and sugar, or condensed milk & sugar, or marshmallow fluff in lieu of sugar . . . I wonder if those work to make the sugar less likely to burn? Maybe try one of those recipes & master that before going back to the pure sugar method?
posted by MeiraV at 3:52 PM on November 28, 2010

Your thermometer sounds kind of wonky. Is it a candy thermometer or another kind? To check the calibration of your thermometer, fill a pan with water, bring it to a boil, and then insert your thermometer for 10 minutes. Your device should read 212. If it doesn't, note the difference and then add or subtract future measurements accordingly.

Even though it seems counter-intuitive, opt for lower heat rather than higher. With high heat, you're apt to burn the melted sugar on the sides and bottom before the rest of it.

You might also want to try using a heat diffuser which compensates for hot spots on your burner, (or if you want to try before you buy, you can improvise by resting your pan inside a cast iron frying pan, which does basically the same thing).
posted by crunchland at 3:57 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

your thermometer isn't calibrated right.

I thought about this after the first attempt, but after testing it is accurate (it is a proper candy thermometer, and I use the same kind [but not the same one, obviously] to measure my lye when making soap). Also, when I test the fudge at 220, it is no where near soft ball stage, which leads me to believe my therm isn't the problem.

you are using too wide of a pan, so the heat runs right out of the mix as fast as it is put in.

This is intriguing and makes sense, though if I used a smaller pan, I fear the fudge would bubble out of it.

Did you stir it the whole time?

Everything I've read says explicitly to not stir. So, please explain.

What's the recipe you're using?

I am using the Joy of Cooking recipe: 2 cups sugar, 1 cup milk, bit of salt, 2 oz chocolate, 2-4 tbsp butter. Would a corn syrup recipe be more forgiving? Also, I don't actually have much interest in making chocolate fudge. The plain, buttery vanilla-ey kind is what I want, but I thought I would go with this recipe for lack of a better, buttery one.

Have you tried the double boiler method?

No. In fact, I am skeptical that it could even get the mixture hot enough, though if you say it works I might give it a try.

Try this recipe:

Well, see, I've tried the old marshmallow trick, but I just don't like it. Plus, I wanted to practice making fudge as the "gateway drug" to more candy-making adventures. Clearly, though, future candy-making is not in my future.
posted by oohisay at 4:44 PM on November 28, 2010

I couldn't find the video of Alton Brown's method which explains in much more detail, but his recipe is the one I use.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:45 PM on November 28, 2010

If you do not stir constantly and never stop the sugar will definitely burn. So, stir!
posted by JayRwv at 4:55 PM on November 28, 2010

Oops! In my reply about the recipes I conflated two different responses. What I meant to say is that I am a masochist, and so I want to avoid both marshmallows and microwaves. It must be the burnt sugar fumes messing with my mind...
posted by oohisay at 4:56 PM on November 28, 2010

Everything I've read says explicitly to not stir. So, please explain.

So... you're not stirring at any point in the cooking process? If so, that's the problem. You need to continuously stir until it starts boiling, otherwise it's guaranteed to burn. After that, you stop or else the texture will be ruined.
posted by katillathehun at 5:12 PM on November 28, 2010

Try the Fantasy Fudge recipe on the Kraft Marshmallow Creme jar. Have used it for years and it always comes out perfect and tastes wonderful.
posted by srbrunson at 5:14 PM on November 28, 2010

So... you're not stirring at any point in the cooking process? If so, that's the problem. You need to continuously stir until it starts boiling, otherwise it's guaranteed to burn. After that, you stop or else the texture will be ruined.

No, I stir at the beginning, before everything starts boiling, in order to dissolve the sugar.
posted by oohisay at 5:34 PM on November 28, 2010

If you did have some corn syrup in there, it would help for Science! reasons - if there's sugar and corn syrup, the combination makes it harder for the sugar to crystallize in a saddening fashion.

I guess, the other thing worth trying is the trusty ol' manual temperature check - the literal soft ball, if you please. If you put a couple of droplets of fudge into a mug of cold water. For a while, it will mostly just dissolve and be cloudy; but after a while, you will get something that does form a ball-like shape. Keep going, and you'll start getting threadier things (but that's too far. Although worth seeing at least once so you know how much further you can go).

When I'm making chocolate fudge, at least, it starts smelling super-delicious at about the soft ball stage, which is usually how I judge it {:
posted by ambilevous at 5:39 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good to know about the corn syrup. I will try a more forgiving recipe and also use the diffuser trick (thanks!).

The one thing I do know is that my fudge is not over-cooked. I have done the old-fashioned test with the cup of water, and my fudge softballs just when it should. And, as I say, this batch did turn into fudge, just awful tasting fudge. What I need is to figure out the best way to get the fudge up to temperature before the sugar burns. Sigh.
posted by oohisay at 5:45 PM on November 28, 2010

Fudge is so frustrating to make. So. Frustrating. Are you working at high altitude? Or in someplace very humid? Both can make a difference in the quality of your end product.
posted by corey flood at 6:01 PM on November 28, 2010

I don't make fudge, but I do make something similar called tablet. The initial heating stage is critical; you need to stir continuously on a medium high heat until the sugar has dissolved and a high boil is reached. You can then turn the heat down very low — stir until it's simmered down a bit. After that, it needs only occasional stirring.

I use a stainless steel pan, and I don't use a sugar thermometer. Since tablet is basically sugar, butter and condensed milk, I work from colour, time and soft-ball testing.

(recipe for tablet's in my profile. It's like fudge wants to be when it grows up ...)
posted by scruss at 6:58 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I follow this recipe, and it turns out perfect every time. I don't have a dutch oven but just using a regular large stainless pan works fine if you watch it like a hawk and keep the heat as low as you can while still maintaining a boil. I don't measure any temps, I just follow the time in the recipe and it works. Every time.
posted by COD at 7:02 PM on November 28, 2010

If the fudge is burning, then your burner is too high. You don't need high heat at any time in the process. Just use patience. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, reduce heat so that it just simmers with steam coming off the top. You want to use the lowest burner setting that allows gentle boiling and steam to come off. So don't think that it is necessary to increase the burner. All you need to do is gently simmer so that water evaporates and as it evaporates, the mixture becomes more sugar and fat and less water, its temperature will magically rise. Using a wider pan will allow water to evaporate more easily.

The whole point of cooking fudge is to remove water. It isn't a cooking process -- it is a water evaporation process. As the water content goes down, the temperature of the mixture goes up. A hotter burner isn't necessary, just patiently evaporating the water. The thermometer or ball test is just a way of measuring the water content.
posted by JackFlash at 7:31 PM on November 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Using a wider pan will allow water to evaporate more easily.

So, wider pan and lower heat? Seems counter-intuitive, but the way you describe it makes sense. Will the temperature still go through that "stalling" phase before it jumps to 234? If so, how long, under the conditions you describe, would I expect that stall to last?
posted by oohisay at 7:34 AM on November 29, 2010

Will the temperature still go through that "stalling" phase before it jumps to 234?

Yep. That's part of what makes fudge such a challenge. The temperature stays static for such a long time that you start worrying that something has to be going wrong -- hence, the temptation to turn the heat up. But once the temperature starts moving, it moves quickly. It's all part of the process. And if you've turned the heat up, the fudge *will* burn before it hits the soft ball stage.

How long it sits at that "static" point depends on a lot of factors, mostly to do with the moisture in the air (which is why cookbook writers always advise not cooking fudge on humid days). If your air is drier than usual, or more humid than usual, if you have a dishwasher and have just run a load of dishes, if you've made tea -- all of these can have an effect. But as a basic rule, I've found that when the temperature plateaus, it takes a minimum of 20 minutes for the temperature to move. I use both an instant-read thermometer and the cold-water test, because humidity levels can also affect whether the soft ball stage occurs at 234F. (Usually it does, but at least once I had to cook it to 238 before it would achieve soft-ball -- this was on an atypically humid day, though.)

So JackFlash has it right. Wide pan, lowest heat. Stir until sugar dissolves, use a wet pastry brush to wash any sugar crystals off the side of the pan, and once the sugar is fully dissolved, stop stirring. If you keep stirring, the whole batch will crystallize -- especially if you don't use a crystallization inhibitor like corn syrup or cream of tartar -- and you'll be left with a sugary mess. (For the same reason, when you pour the fudge from the cooking pan into the "serving" pan, do not scrape the bottom of the cooking pan. I managed to turn what would have been a perfect batch of fudge to oily sand this way. Do not be like me.) And because you can't stir the mixture while it's cooking, you have to keep the temperature low to keep it from burning.
posted by bakerina at 9:03 AM on November 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

Whoa. I can't thank you guys enough. I took your advice (large pan, slow cook) and actually made fudge. Huzzah! Of course, I effed up the beating a bit (I was so excited about not burning the stupid stuff that I forgot about all the other fudge rules), but I secretly love slightly grainy fudge, so I consider it a success after all. I thinkI somehow ended up carmelizing the sugar a bit (perhaps cooked it 30 secs too long), although I find the taste extremely pleasing.

Phew! One less cookery failure slung around my neck.
posted by oohisay at 3:12 PM on November 29, 2010

OK, I have a foolproof recipe which makes the best fudge in the world. I am not exaggerating. People who have gotten this fudge from me have talked about it for years afterward. I myself ate the entire jar of this stuff at one sitting when I got it as a gift, then demanded the recipe. So here it is. Follow exactly and you will be in fudge nirvana.

Mixture 1
3 cups white granulated sugar
1 stick butter
1 tsp salt (optional, unnec. with salted butter)
1 can EVAPORATED milk

Mixture 2
18 oz semi sweet chocolate chips
18 full sized marshmallows
1 cup chopped nuts (optional, I never use)
2 tsp vanilla

Prepare mixture 2 in separate large bowl and set aside. Combine mixture 1 in saucepan. Bring to boil. Boil exactly 6 minutes, STIRRING CONSTANTLY, and from the bottom. Remove from heat.

Add mixture 2 to saucepan. Stir VIGOROUSLY until marshmallows melt.

Pour into 9 x 12 or so buttered pan. Cool.

posted by bearwife at 8:33 AM on December 1, 2010 [26 favorites]

Also, for "white" fudge I think it would work fine to use white chocolate chips instead of chocolate ones.
posted by bearwife at 9:24 AM on December 1, 2010

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