Christmas and Maine and Cookies and Fudge

We all associate certain foods with special occasions.  The associations usually stem from our childhood and “traditions” that were started when we were little.  For me, two occasions were and still are especially momentous in our family: Christmas, and our yearly week-long summer vacation to Ocean Park, Maine.  Of course with Christmas, there are usually special cookies associated with the holiday; and foods like potato sausage and pickled herring, (and you’ll know what I’m talking about if you come from a Swedish family, too).  For me, I associate Maine with those single-serve cereal boxes, its own array of cookies (always chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal) and Pop-Tarts.  (My brother will share in that particular memory as he once said that in his early childhood he believed Heaven to be like Maine; where he could have a Pop-Tart whenever he wanted!)  As a kid, it can be so hard to wait for these special occasions to arrive.  The excitement is almost unbearable.

When Randy and I got married and I had a kitchen of my own to “be in charge of” I remember it feeling exciting and curious that I didn’t have to ask for anyone’s permission to bake cookies if I wanted.  Or a cake.  Or brownies.  Whatever I felt like having, I could just make myself!  And because we got married at the start of summer vacation and I was a teacher, I literally had all day everyday that summer to just bake.  (I really didn’t appreciate the peaceful bliss of that time period as much as I should have. Sigh.)  Randy and I went through a lot of butter during those first few weeks/months of marriage when I was baking up a storm.  I never gained the “freshman 15” in college, but I definitely gained around there and more during our first year of marriage!  (Getting pregnant with Abby six months into our marriage didn’t help things.)  But had these former “special” treats lost their luster now that they were becoming more frequent in my new home???

Now that I am home with my kids most of the time, I do try to make everyday “special” in its own way.  We are often filling our days with trips to the park, lake, zoo, beach in the summer or library, gym, roller-skating rink, etc in the winter.  Every night as I’m tucking my kids in bed, they ask what we’re doing in the morning.  Or sometimes they even phrase it, “Where are we going in the morning?”  They are usually disappointed if my answer is “nowhere” or “it’s going to be a home-day/cleaning-day/etc” even though I have come to appreciate those days the most since they are the least in abundance.  One night Abby was in tears that we weren’t doing anything “special” in the morning and I told her that if we did a “special” thing everyday, the things wouldn’t be very special anymore.  We need to have home-days, too, so we can appreciate the times we do go out.  (“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:” Ecclesiastes 3:1) I’d like to add, “a time to go out, and a time to stay home” to that list!  I told Abby that staying home can be special, too, but I know she didn’t believe me.  😉  The same should probably be said about food, right?  I mean, even from just a health perspective alone!  Believe me, I did learn that it’s not good to have cookies or cake every single day!  But is it okay to make a “specialty” item on a non-holiday?  Just because?

There is one food item I didn’t list earlier that actually is associated with BOTH Christmas and Maine for me: fudge.  My mom made fudge every Christmas, and now I have always made it for my family, too.  And every year in Maine, we buy fudge at the ice cream parlor or candy store or both.  Mmm, fudge.  Did you know that June 16 is “National Fudge Day“?  No?  I didn’t either.  And it must not be extremely popular because Google didn’t even do anything special with their logo for it.  I discovered it, though, during a rare moment of peace when all three of my kids were having quiet time simultaneously.  Mom for the win!  Don’t get too jealous, it doesn’t happen often.  As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed in a quiet living room, behold, there is was: a recipe for Mocha Latte Fudge (!!!!) posted by my favorite magazine (Real Simple) in honor of National Fudge Day.  Right away, my soul said, “I must make this fudge right now!”  But sadly my brain then reminded me that I was already making brownies, strawberry shortcake, and banana cream pudding in one weekend.  When would I find the time to make fudge?  And besides, if I made the fudge for no real reason and loved it and started making it more and more, would fudge still be special to me?  Am I the only one who struggles with arbitrary questions like this?  My brain, who loves labels, told me that if I made the fudge “just because” then it wouldn’t be “Maine Fudge” or “Christmas Fudge” or “Birthday Fudge” or any special kind of fudge.  It would just be fudge.  And since I couldn’t make it on National Fudge Day, I really had no reason whatsoever to make it at all.  “So what?!” my soul said. “It’s fudge. It’s happiness.  And that is reason enough to make it.”  So I did.  A week later.  And my soul thanked me.

Fudge can be tricky to make.  (Which is probably another reason most people don’t make it “just because”. ) There is definitely a science to it.  But if you’ve never made it before, don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand and we’ll get through it together.  And if you’re like me, and struggle with needing a purpose to make it, don’t.  As the late “Derek Shephard” of Grey’s Anatomy used to say when he walked into the operating room, “Today is a beautiful day to save lives.”  Just throw on your apron, walk into the kitchen and say (out loud), “Today is a beautiful day to make fudge!”  Your soul will thank you.

What you’ll need:

  • a pan lined with parchment paper (8 x 8 or 9 x 12, it really doesn’t matter, just depends on what you have or how big you want your pieces to be.  There’s no baking here, so no need to worry about pan size for bake-time.)
  • a small stockpot or large saucepan, and a wooden spoon
  • a pretty apron (just kidding, kind of)
  • 1/2 pound butter, cubed
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 TB espresso powder (I used instant coffee)
  • 1 TB vanilla

Start with the butter, sugar, and sweetened condensed milk in the pot over medium heat and bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally.

I wanted to capture a few popping bubbles to show what a “low-boil” looks like.  I’m still not sure if I succeeded, but I hope you get the idea.

Add the chocolate chips and espresso powder and mix.  Then let the mixture boil for about 7-8 minutes and DO NOT STIR.  You can use a candy thermometer, and the temperature should reach 235*F.

Okay, here’s the hand-holding part.  I know you want to stir at this point!  You see what looks like sticking at the edges of your pan… It appears as if a film might be forming around and on top of your mixture… Resist!  Do. Not. Stir. Stirring during this step could cause gritty/grainy fudge.  Just breathe and don’t stir.  It’ll be okay.  Only a few more minutes to go…

Remove from heat and add the vanilla.  Stir to combine, then let cool for 10 minutes.  (Or bring the temperature down to about 110*F.  Again, do not stir during this step.  Once it’s cooled, use an electric mixer and beat the fudge on high for about 5 minutes, or until it’s the consistency of peanut butter.  Pour into your prepared pan and refrigerate for about 4 hours.  It stores in the fridge in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.

Really, does it get any better?  Coincidentally, the iced coffee I’m drinking is blueberry flavored coffee, which Randy and I tried for the first time while on vacation in Maine!  We loved it.  Now we only buy it when we want to be reminded of our lovely yearly vacation.  It’s special coffee.  It cannot be minimized to “everyday coffee” in our minds, even if we drink it everyday for a time.  See?  Fudge, too, can be special even if you make it more than once or twice a year.  And luckily, these two items are the perfect pairing!

Help!  My fudge turned out gritty!

Okay, don’t panic. If your fudge still set but is a bit gritty or grainy, it still probably tastes fantastic!  We are simply dealing with a minor sugar crystallization malfunction, here.  Unfortunately, it cannot be undone.  That’s the thing about fudge, even if you are in the process of realizing a mistake is happening, you can’t really go back or undo it.  You just have to try again next time.  But it’s okay!  It’s just another excuse to make fudge!

IMG_9626If you wind up with gritty fudge, it’s probably because you overcooked it.  This can happen even with a thermometer if it’s not accurate, or if you stir your fudge too much while it’s boiling.  Also, if you don’t allow the fudge enough time to cool properly before mixing it with an electric mixer, your texture may be off for that reason as well.  If your fudge won’t set at all, it’s been undercooked.  Again, you can’t really fix it, but you can use it for hot fudge on ice cream–yummy!

Also, you might end up with gritty fudge if you have a baby in the house who wakes up while you’re making it or disturbs you in the process.  Just sayin’. 😉

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work.  My life is oh, so stressful… 😉  (Actually, it kind of is, but moments like this make it better!)

Here’s your printable!  Mocha Latte Fudge


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s