For me, candy-making is sort of the final frontier of my self-education in pastry arts. Though my decorating skills need some work, I can confidently conquer cakes, and I've got cookies, brownies, and blondies down pat. I've dabbled in yeast doughs, though bread-baking doesn't hold much appeal for me, and I'm happy to work with puff pastry and phyllo dough, though I think the people who make them from scratch are crazy.
Candy though, has always seemed intimidating. You need to carefully watch a thermometer for one thing, usually while monitoring a vigorously bubbling pot of molten sugar. My deep and abiding love for all things salted-caramel has led me to garner some skills in caramel making, at least, but I'm still too intimidated to try making the famous caramels that Grandma Betsy gives away at Christmas, even though I've had the recipe for years now. I've been tapped to be her successor in making them, but for now, I'm just not willing to take up the mantle just yet.
I did, however, spot a recipe the other day for fudge made with Ibarra, the Mexican chocolate that I had to purchase for my Cinco de Mayo chocolate tart, and while the tart was definitely good enough to make again, I was forced to buy a sufficiently large package that I've been on the lookout for other things to do with it besides turn it into hot chocolate. (Though, given the unseasonably cold and rainy weather we're having here, a steaming mug of hot chocolate doesn't actually sound that bad.) Fudge sounded particularly appealing at the moment, because I'm deep in the midst of my monthly conversion into a temporary chocoholic, and I've been craving a chocolate fix like a junkie needs crack.
Hence, I thought I'd give the recipe a try, despite my lack of candy-making experience. After all, the recipe was based on one from Alton Brown, and I trust his cooking wisdom implicitly. As it turned out, my faith was well-placed. Given the grainy texture of the Ibarra, and my lack of skills in this particular cooking arena, I was afraid the fudge would turn out grainy, like many homemade fudges I've sampled before. My fears were completely unfounded, as this batch turned out perfectly smooth and creamy, with a soft, unctuous texture that melted on the tongue.
My only problem was with the flavor, which I would have preferred to be more intense. Alton's original recipe called for unsweetened chocolate, but the combination of Ibarra and semi-sweet chocolate suggested by the blogger whose adaptation I followed was a little too sweet for my taste. In the future, I'd consider trying a combination of Ibarra and unsweetened chocolate, to see if it would give the fudge a more intense chocolatey taste. I would also add a bit more cayenne pepper; I was conservative with it this time around, but in the end, it was barely noticeable, even though the cinnamon came across loud and clear.
I omitted nuts this time, because they weren't in the recipe I was following, but in my family, we're partial to nuts with our fudge, and I missed their presence here. I happen to think that brownies and chocolate chip cookies are also improved by the addition of nuts, so I'm not sure why I decided to leave them out here, but I won't make that mistake in the future.
The fact that this recipe turned out so well, even without any prior experience with candy making, and despite being substantially adapted from the original, means that it is certainly one worth trying. Now that I have a batch successfully under my belt, I'm curious not only what I could produce by further tweaking this recipe, but what other types of candy I could make if I put my mind to it. Stay tuned to find out!
Ibarra Chile Fudge
adapted from Macheesmo
2 3/4 c. sugar
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 oz. Ibarra chocolate
1/4 c. butter, divided in half
1 cup half and half
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pinch of salt
1 c. toasted pecans, chopped
1.Grease an 8 by 8-inch pan with butter.
2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, chocolate, 2 tablespoons of the butter, half-and-half, and corn syrup. Over medium heat, stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is dissolved and chocolate is melted. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and boil for 3 minutes.
3. Remove the cover and attach a candy thermometer to the pot. Cook until the thermometer reads 234 degrees.
4. Remove from the heat and add the remaining butter. Do not stir. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes or until it drops to 130 degrees.
5. Add vanilla, cayenne, cinnamon and nuts, and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until well-blended and the shiny texture becomes matte. Pour into the prepared pan. Let sit in cool dry area until firm. Cut into 1-inch pieces and store in an airtight container for up to a week.