Monday, February 22, 2010

My Fudge is Taunting Me

Dear Tricia, My fudge came out ooey-gooey. And what the hell is a "softball?"

Gross. Not because your fudge came out ooey-gooey, but because I hate fudge. And yours sounds awful. So lets fix that, pronto.
When you cook the sugar/water mixture for your fudge, you have to boil the sugar to a high enough temperature until the water evaporates out of it to make it set up and harden a little bit. If you don't cook it long enough, there's still too much water in the mix and it stays ooey gooey- hence, your dilemma. And then you're left with gross fudge and you have to send me emails and I'm sure you have better things to do.
The magical temperature that you're aiming for is 235 degrees Fahrenheit. This is called "softball" stage, but its name has nothing to do with the scary women who throw giant balls really fast for sport. Especially since these softballs are hot as all hell. It gets its name because if you drop some of the 235 degree sugar into a bowl of cold water, when it cools it will form a soft, mold able ball of sugar. If you kept cooking the sugar, it would continue on to "hardball" stage (nothing to do with that loud, yelling-all-the-time Chris Matthews) at 255 degrees, eventually to hard-crack stage at 300 (in the cold water it will harden enough so that you can break it), and then full-blown caramel at about 335 or so. But for fudge, you don't have to worry about most of that. You just have to get it up to 235 degrees.
Your problem thus far, is that you didn't cook the sugar long enough to get it to softball stage. The easiest way to do this is by buying a candy thermometer. You can get them at craft supply stores, some grocery stores, or an overpriced kitchen furnishing store like Williams Sonoma. Try the grocery store first and save yourself a few bucks. Candy thermometers are rad because they clip on to the side of your pan so you don't have to hold them, and they have all of the temperatures and stages (like softball) printed on them for easy reference. Seriously, they make cooking sugar so easy that you would be wasting your time to try and guess if sugar is at softball stage by putting it in a bowl of ice water. That's how they did it in the old-school days, so if you're progressive enough to be able to use the Internet, then you can be progressive enough to buy a $9 candy thermometer. Plus, the less you handle sugar, the less likely you'll be to get it on your skin, and that's no fun. 235 degrees is freaking hot. Let me make that mistake for you.
The other thing about working with cooked sugar is that it doesn't hold its temperature for very long. You have to work really fast with it while its still at softball stage. If you cook it to 235, and then you turn off the stove and go get the rest of your ingredients together to mix into it, the sugar is going to cool down and affect the potential for ooey gooey-ness. So, if you have to stir in milk or condensed milk, or whatever other ingredient to your softball stage sugar, be prepared and have it ready to go. And if you're a frequent reader, you should know that applies for anytime you're cooking or baking to begin with.
Back to my Real Housewives of Orange County marathon...


Michael said...

Educational and hysterical all at the same time. I'm gonna try my own softballs now.

Tricia Reisch said...

As always, thanks for reading Michael! Be careful with your softballs- they're hotter than they look!