Let me start off by saying that this was not my first attempt at fudge. It was my second. My first was with Alton Brown's fudge recipe, this past weekend. I followed his directions pretty closely, and was rewarded with smooth, chocolatey blocks of fudgey goodness. There were several observations that I made about his recipe. First, he used corn syrup. This is important, because it hinders sugar crystalization during the cooking process, and I believe it helped keep the sugar crystals tiny when it was cooled and stirred. He also used half and half plus butter. Why not just use heavy cream? Because this recipe contains chocolate, which might have dried out on top during the cooling process. He wisely has you top the cooling fudge with a little butter to prevent this from happening. But since half and half was used, I was worried about the liquid content. Fortunately, while it did take some time to get significantly above 212F (well, a little lower at my elevation), it didn't take too long, and nothing burned as I feared it might.
That was about the time I got cocky. This fudge stuff is easy! I wondered what it would take to make, say, strawberry fudge. Yeah! Strawberry! Woo hoo! I set off in search of recipes in Google. After discarding several condensed milk-based recipes, I finally found a recipe that seemed to very closely resemble Alton's recipe. This recipe was to be my downfall.
Now, this isn't something that most of use really think about, but the recipes on Good Eats, as with most cooking shows, are extensively tested. As it turns out, for all of its education and science basis, most Good Eats recipes are reasonably idiot-proof. This is not because Alton believes his viewers to be idiots. One of the reasons is certainly that he's trying to cater to a wider audience, so he does seem to stay kind of in the middle of the road on a lot of ideas. But also, because the recipes are based on sound priciples which are generally pretty thoroughly explained in the show, they really are designed to just work.
The strawberry fudge recipe that I used probably worked for someone somewhere, or else it likely wouldn't have been posted anywhere. It did not work for me. Take a moment and look at the two links above, and we'll compare. First of all, the new recipe uses milk, not half and half. This made me nervous, but because most recipes calling for milk mean whole milk (4% milkfat), I decided to chance it. But then, only two tablespoons of butter were called for, as opposed to AB's three. Now, this may not seem like a lot, but consider that not only is it only 2/3 of AB's amount, but we're still also low on milkfat in the first place. And not only that, the new recipe calls for 12 oz of milk, as opposed to AB's only 8oz of half and half. And there's only an extra 1/4 cup of sugar to compensate for all of this. Still, like the idiot that I am, I persevered. This leads me to the strawberries, which also contain a good bit of moisture. In fact, according to the USDA Standard Reference, we're talking about 90% water! Still, it must have worked for somebody, so I kept going. Now, this recipe ends with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. A wise choice, I thought. A small hint of lemon does compliment strawberry, and the acid will help keep the sugar from crystalizing. I had limes, so I used lime instead. Still, I was nervous, so I added a tablespoon of corn syrup, just to be on the safe side.
This recipe came to a boil very quickly, but after several minutes, had not crept past that critical boiling point, 212F. This is because there wasn't a high enough concentration of sugar to allow the water to exceed its boiling point. Still, I was excited. It looked like strawberry milk. Eventually, the thermometer began to creep upwards. As the pot boiled on and water evaporated, the color began to darken. As it grew nearer to my intended destination, the aromas drifting from the pot started to take on a decidedly "cooked" flavor, and occassionally, an almost burned smell. It hit temp and I pulled it. Rather than just pouring it into the pan as per the directions, I decided to let it cool to 130F as AB did, and then beat it silly. This I did, and as I poured the beaten concoction into the pan, I saw the damage done to the mixture, and to my pan.
How does one clean burned sugar out of a pan? Add a lot of water, a touch of vinegar, and let it boil off. What does one do if fruit is also burned to the bottom of the pan? Scrape a lot with a wooden spoon while it boils away. Almost the entire bottom of my pan was black with my iodiocy, and it took some time to scrape it all away. Eventually, my pan was restored to its original luster. Sadly, the fudge did not attain the same ending. This morning it was still pliable, and looked like an inch-thick slab of fruit leather. As I tried to tear off a piece to taste, I discovered that it was a fairly rubbery fruit leather. And as I tasted the burned fruits of my labor, I discovered the slightly charred taste that I was expecting. This fudge was quite the failure. Truly, it's time to formulate a superior recipe. A working recipe would be nice.