Does your family have a food outlier? By that I mean the one person who enjoys food, thinks about food and handles food unlike everyone else.
In the family I grew up in, that was my father. While my siblings, mother and I were all instinctive cooks who could throw ingredients together with ease, he couldn’t fry a steak in a pan. While the rest of us all liked desserts well enough but would rather have seconds of spaghetti, he had a raging sweet tooth.
So my mom always had some perfunctory dessert or other after dinner. Pudding or Jell-O from a mix, tapioca with fruit cocktail or her infamous “yogurt pie” fashioned from Dannon coffee yogurt, Cool Whip and a pre-made graham cracker crust.
But once every four years, something strange happened. As we all watched the election returns on TV, he would disappear into the kitchen, pull out the tattered copy of “The Joy of Cooking” and set about making fudge.
It was the strangest sight in the world: The man who would heat up a can of Dinty Moore beef stew when there wasn’t someone to cook for him was running around the kitchen in one of my mom’s frilled, flower-print aprons making candy.
At some point in the evening he would bring the fudge into the TV room, cut up and ready to devour.
“Why did you start making fudge on election night?” I asked him in ‘76, by which point I had learned to invite friends over. One year he got antsy waiting for returns, he said, and he needed something to while away the time. He realized we had the ingredients around the house, gave it a go and surprised himself when the results were edible.
So every four years he went back to the same recipe. It took him from Eisenhower to Nixon’s first win to really get the hang of it — but after that, no problem. Both batches of Reagan fudge were exemplary.
“The trick is not taking it off too soon,” advised me. If the candy didn’t reach 234 degrees, the fudge would be gooey. Which was fine, but non-gooey was better.
This year, I decided to try a batch in his honor. Never having made fudge before, I was surprised to find out it consists mostly of chocolate-kissed sugar, cooked to the soft ball stage that you encourage to seize on purpose.
Heeding my dad’s advice I watched the candy thermometer carefully to make sure I didn’t take it off a degree too soon.
Just before they called Ohio on the television, I brought squares of chocolate-walnut fudge to the living room for my wife and daughter.
I won’t say whether we were celebrating or bemoaning what we heard on TV. But I’ll tell you this: Whatever the outcome on Election Night, fudge is the answer.
(Adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe on foodnetwork.com.)
Grease an 8-by-8-inch pan with butter. Pour the half-and-half in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, then add the sugar, chocolate, 1½ tablespoons of the butter and corn syrup. Over medium heat, stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved and chocolate is melted. Increase heat and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and boil for 3 minutes, watching to make sure the pot doesn’t boil over. Remove the cover and attach a candy thermometer to the pot. Cook until the thermometer reads 234 degrees F. Remove from the heat and add the remaining butter. Do not stir.
Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes or until it drops below 150 degrees F. Add vanilla and nuts, if desired, and mix until well-blended and the shiny texture becomes matte. This takes a minute or two, but then the candy stiffens quickly. Pour into the prepared pan.
If needed, place wax paper over the top and press to make the surface even. Let sit in cool, dry area until firm. Cut into 1-inch pieces and store in an airtight container for up to a week.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog