When I decided to pit boxed fudge against homemade fudge, I saw it as a way to repent for all those meals made from Bisquick and Stove Top. I pictured myself in front of my stove, delicately stirring a pot of sugar syrup to avoid scorching and sugar crystals. I pretended I could be a person who cared about scorching or sugar crystals.
The reality check came when I couldn't find a fudge kit at three grocery stores. I normally like Eagle Brand. The next best is Carnation, even if it does dry out too quickly and end up crumbly and flaky, like dandruff.
Either because the brands have been discontinued or holiday shoppers have pillaged and ransacked the grocery stores, I couldn't find either kit. So I recreated the Eagle Brand fudge recipe from memory:
1 (14 oz.) can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Handful of chopped walnuts
I think the kit may call for unsalted butter. I couldn't remember how much, so I skipped that part and crossed my fingers.
I believe the instructions went something like this: Dump everything but the nuts together in a bowl. Microwave it for one minute on high. Stir it all up until the chips are melted. Throw in the nuts if you feel like it. Pour mixture into greased 9 x 9 pan, and then the two of you can chill for a few hours.
Easy. So I moved on to the homemade recipe:
Mom says there is no such thing as Nottingham Family Fudge because my grandmother believed candy was evil or from the devil or something, so I had to snag instructions from about.com, which called for:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped or grated
1 cup chopped toasted nuts
9 x 9 pan covered with aluminum foil and sprayed with nonstick cooking spray
In my fudge-kit-finding panic, I did not think to buy a candy thermometer. Or perhaps I did think about it, but suffocating in the shopping hordes I reasoned, "Oh, no, it's fine, I can just use my meat thermometer."
So that is how I ended up elbow-deep in a drawer of peelers and rubber spatulas, frantically searching for another thermometer while my sauce pan erupted with a sugar-milk froth.
My meat thermometer only goes up to 190F, but the recipe said to heat the water, sugar and milk to 235 F. I passed the third grade, and I know that boiling is 212 F, so I figured that I just needed to get this mixture really, really hot. Boiling over means that it's in the ballpark of 235 F, right?
Skipping the butter in the boxed recipe didn't end in disaster, so I decided to fudge the recipe, (sorry) too, and skipped to the next step, which told me to take the pot off the heat and relax for 15 minutes.
I returned to add the chocolate and stir. The chocolate melted, but the mixture turned into a bitter, gritty soup. To save it, I tried putting it back on the heat. I scooped in the rest of the condensed milk for viscosity. I added the nuts because, well, what's it going to hurt?
Both fudges chilled for three hours. The "boxed" recipe came out luxuriously thick and sweet. It's the kind of good that makes my teeth sting and my stomach ache and I love it anyway. I could eat it with a shovel.
But the homemade recipe ended up like fudg-ello. The chocolate and the milk
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separated into sludgy layers. The nuts are sadly sunken into the top. Mom labeled the homemade attempt "interestingly gelatinous." My brother called it "dog sick." Maybe Grandma had a point.
But even if the homemade recipe didn't end in shameful disaster, the labor and clean up just isn't worth it. A technical win for boxed fudge kits.