As our own Brooke Viggiano pointed out last Friday, often the best Christmas present you can give is something you made yourself. This is especially true with friends or family members who "have it all."
My mother is known for many things, but chief among them are her Christmas baked goods, including this family recipe for fudge. Each year, lucky friends and family make out with a tin or two. And until my grandfather passed away five years ago, she would always make an enormous gift basket for him each year at Christmas, filled with several different kinds of the sweet, creamy, buttery yet chocolaty confections.
The fudge isn't coveted so much because the recipe is some great secret. (In fact, it's very nearly the exact same recipe that was on the back of the marshmallow fluff jars for years until someone changed it.) Instead, it's the sheer amount of effort and attention required while tending to the fudge that makes it so good.
Certain techniques, certain utensils, a certain level of patience -- all are required to make the perfect batch of fudge. Other than that, it's not a difficult or even time-consuming undertaking.
Mom's Christmas Fudge
The first thing you'll need are the proper accessories: a wooden spoon and a big pot, preferably of the Dutch oven variety. Cast iron to Le Creuset: As long as the pot is deep, thick and heavy, you're good to go.
- 3 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup salted butter (the butter must be salted; I recommend a high-quality butter like Plugra)
- 1 can (5 ounces) of evaporated milk
- 1 package (12 ounces) of semisweet chocolate chips (high-quality chocolate chips are important here)
- 1 jar (12 ounces) marshmallow fluff
- one cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts but, to quote my mother, "you could live dangerously and use hazelnuts or pistachios")
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Combine sugar, butter and milk in a heavy Dutch oven. Bring to a full, rolling boil and stir constantly. Again, to quote my mother, "Don't use this time to change light bulbs, clean the birdcage or trim your herbs...it needs constant attention."
Continue boiling until your candy thermometer reaches 234°, again, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. And here's the important part: while most recipes will tell you to stir for only five minutes, they are wrong. Stir until your arm is screaming with pain and until the mixture takes on a -- sorry -- phlegmy consistency, about 10 to 15 minutes. And therein lies the secret to truly great fudge.
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Remove the pot from heat and stir in chocolate chips. Stir until completely melted. Add marshmallow cream, nuts and vanilla. If you need to, you can use a hand mixer to beat the mixture on low until well-blended. Pour into a 13 x 9" pan and let cool.
When the fudge has cooled, cut into squares and put into decorative tins, baskets, Ziploc bags, etc., and present to your awed friends and family. While they will be utterly amazed by your newly-acquired fudge-making skills, know this: Those who live by the fudge, die by the fudge. People will hound you for this fudge each holiday season for the rest of your life. But you can't say you weren't warned!