Maple-walnut ice cream and maple-walnut fudge. While they're my only two encounters with this sublime combination, meaning I've not tasted a maple-walnut pie or a maple-walnut cake, I was driven to re-create both of them in my home kitchen. My experience with the first was in Vermont, and it was a slow-churned unforgettable experience. My experience with the second was on the boardwalks of New Jersey, and, it was a creamy-dreamy unforgettable experience.
Everyone remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring. Hands-down, the most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolatein second. Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for the third spot. When I was growing up, Agnes was our next-door neighbor. She loved to bake, and throughout the years her sweet treats made their way to our table often.
Every year, on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve, Agnes joined our family for dinner and graced our dessert table with a plate of fudge -- we came to expect it. No matter what the flavor, with or without lightly-toasted nuts and/or coconut added to it, it was always a hit. When my now forty-something son was about three, he was allowed his first taste of Agnes's dark chocolate fudge. "That's a killer." Mom's guests roared with laughter and "Killer Fudge" got its name.
My Cinnamon-Apple Maple-Walnut Fudge is a spin-off of Agnes's base recipe.
Fudge is an America institution that originated in America. Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland. As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore. True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet. When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.
I've tasted a lot of fudge in my lifetime (mostly while walking the boardwalks of the NJ and Maryland shores), but quite honestly, Agne's delicious, user-friendly recipe is so wonderful, I've never been inclined to experiment with other versions (which all to often complicate the process to the the point of "why bother"). I am here to tell you: you don't need a degree in food science, a marble slab, or even a candy thermometer to make great fudge. I am a purist about a lot of things, but let's get real: fudge was born out of error -- how complicated do we need to make it? BTW: Fralinger's in Ocean City, NJ, is one of my all-time favorite "haunts" for purchasing all flavors of salt water taffy and fudge.
The ideal pan & the ideal way to prepare a pan for fudge:
A bit about the ideal "fudge pan": After fudge is cooked (on the stovetop), it gets transferred to a baking pan to cool. Most recipes require an 8" x 8" x 2" or 13" x 9" x 2" pan, and most folks have one or both. That said, for a perfect presentation, professional baking pans with square-edged corners (instead of rounded ones) are ideal. Better than that, are square pans with square-corners and removable bottoms, which make removing the fudge remarkably easy. A few years ago, I made a small investment of about $20.00 per pan in several sizes (4" x 4", 6" x 6", 8" x 8", 9" x 9", 10" x 10" and 12" x 12"). I love them.
Having a pan like this is not a requirement for any fudge recipe, but it does make for fudge with pretty, uniform corners when cut. Prior to preparing fudge, line an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with plastic wrap that drapes over the sides by 2"-3". Cut an 8" x 8" square of parchment and place it in the bottom atop the plastic wrap.
Making, cooling & slicing Cinnamon-Apple Maple-Walnut Fudge:
4 ounces mini-marshmallows
1 14-ounce can condensed milk
2 teaspoons each: pure apple extract,pure maple extract, pure vanilla extract, and pure walnut extract
4 ounces cubedsalted butter
16 ounces cinnamon morsels
6-8 ounces coarse-chopped and lightly-toasted walnuts
~ Step 1. Place chopped walnuts in a shallow baking pan. Toast on center rack of preheated 350 oven, 6-8 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 2 minutes during the process. Set aside to cool about 15-20 minutes.
~Step 2. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the condensed milk, all four of the extracts (apple, maple, vanilla and walnut) and marshmallows. Over low heat, melt the marshmallows into the mixture, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and foamy, 5-6 minutes. Turn the heat off.
~Step 3. With the saucepan on the still warm stovetop, stir in the butter pieces, cinnamon morsels and lightly-toasted walnuts. Stir constantly and vigorously, until butter and cinnamon morsels have melted into the marshmallow mixture and the mixture is smooth, creamy and uniform in color (except for the walnuts pieces), about 1 1/2-2 minutes.
~Step 4. Transfer fudge to prepared pan. Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan. Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge. Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet). Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight. Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.
~ Step 5. Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on removable pan bottom, or by pulling up on the plastic wrap, or by inverting pan and pushing down. Remove plastic wrap and peel back parchment. Using a ruler and a large knife, measure and score top of fudge. Cut into 32 logs or 64 squares.
Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened.
Special Equipment List: small shallow baking pan; spoon; 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; kitchen shears; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife
Cook's Note: Once cut into desired-sized pieces, store fudge in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, in a cool, dry, place, or in the refrigerator, for up to a month. To make a large, triple batch of fudge (all at once) for the holidays, cook it on the stovetop in an 8-quart stockpot and pour it into a 16" x 12" x 2" professional-type rectangular-shaped cake pan.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)