There is nothing in the world like creamy fudge; it melts in your mouth and the smooth flavor delights your senses.
One of the most crucial steps in making delicious, perfect fudge is the hardening process. After all, part of the appeal of fudge is its texture.
Baking is not the same thing as cooking; although both involve using heat to cause chemical reactions in food, baking is a much more precise art. Therefore, there are specific, careful instructions and steps involved in making all baked goods, including fudge.
In this article, we’ll look specifically at the hardening process of making fudge. What steps must you take for fudge to harden properly? What do you do when your fudge won’t set?
Finally, we’ll finish up with some fun, creative ideas for using unset fudge that is too soft.
How Is Fudge Made?
Before we look at the hardening process specifically, it is helpful to understand what fudge is and how fudge is made in the first place.
Fudge consists of a few basic ingredients: butter, sugar, milk, and chocolate (or other ingredients for other types of fudge). The science behind fudge involves controlling the size of the sugar crystals that form when the ingredients are melted together and combined.
Small sugar crystals yield a smooth, creamy texture, while large crystals will give you grainy fudge. You must cool the mixture fully before stirring, which is also a key step in hardening the fudge.
Next, the ingredients are mixed thoroughly, poured into a shallow pan, and allowed to set. After the setting period, cut your fudge into small portions, and then comes the most important step: eating it!
1 – Be Sure to Cook and Cool Fully
Understanding how fudge is made leads us to our first must-do for hardening fudge—cook it, cool it, mix it. In other words, follow instructions carefully.
First, cook it. More than likely, you will be instructed to melt your ingredients together in a saucepan.
The sugar in your fudge mixture should be able to pass the soft ball test: a drop of the melted sugar dropped into cold water should form a soft ball rather than dissolve.
Next, cool it. Cooling is one of the most crucial steps in making fudge, and improper cooling can be the culprit behind fudge that will not set or harden properly.
The length of time it takes to cool will depend on a lot of factors, including the temperature of your kitchen and the amount of fudge you are making. Your recipe might give you a length of time, but you have to take everything else into consideration.
Finally, mix it. You’re going to stir and stir and stir and then stir some more. Unless you’re a weightlifter, expect your arm and shoulder to feel tired, but remember: no pain, no gain!
2 – Use a Candy Thermometer
How do you know when your fudge ingredients are properly melted or cooled? You must use a candy thermometer.
You might be able to find a recipe that gives you instructions for making fudge without one, but it’s going to be imprecise at best. When your ingredients melt, they must reach 234 to 240 degrees Fahrenheit, and then cool to 110 degrees exactly: that’s pretty impossible to see with the naked eye.
Candy thermometers are inexpensive and readily available online, at hardware and cooking stores, or you might even find one at the supermarket.
To further control the heat and ensure even melting and heating, use a high-quality pan. Aluminum and enamelware both work well for conducting heat.
3 – Use High-Quality Ingredients
On that note, in addition to having the right tools, it is also important to use the exact ingredients that are called for in your recipe. Even minor substitutions (especially if you’re new to making fudge) can cause a plethora of problems, including fudge that won’t set.
You don’t have to buy top-shelf everything, though; just don’t skimp on inexpensive substitutions. Buy name-brand baking chocolate or cocoa, pure vanilla extract instead of imitation, and other genuine ingredients for the best possible fudge outcome.
4 – Freeze it
You can accelerate the hardening process of fudge-making by putting it in the freezer to set. This is also something that you can try if it seems like your fudge isn’t hardening.
Make sure you cool it slowly, as dramatic temperature changes can ruin baked goods. Put your fudge in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so, and then freeze it for a couple hours.
You can also store your fudge in the freezer to keep it fresh. Be sure to use an airtight container and take it out a few hours before you want to eat it (unless you like it cold and hard).
Solutions for Too-Soft Fudge
Add evaporated milk and reheat. If you followed your recipe’s instructions and your fudge still did not harden properly, add a little bit of evaporated milk (start with 1/8 of your recipe’s amount) and very slowly bring your fudge back to a boiling point, carefully checking your candy thermometer to avoid burning.
Use powdered sugar. Instead of adding evaporated milk, add some powdered sugar and remix your fudge batter. The powdered sugar can help the fudge set and harden if it is resistant to doing so.
Add a mixture of water and cornstarch. First, combine water and cornstarch (1:1) and mix thoroughly according to package instructions.
Then, add a very small amount of the mixture to your fudge (less than ¼ teaspoon at a time), combining thoroughly. Cornstarch is a natural thickening agent and is relatively tasteless.
Find a new recipe. The problem might not be you—for whatever reason, some recipes just do not work out.
When that happens, it’s time to find a new one. Look for a fudge recipe from a reputable cooking site, such as Food and Wine, or a recipe with a lot of positive reviews and ratings.
Test your candy thermometer. Over time, all thermometers, especially non-mercury thermometers (which tend to be used for food especially), will lose their accuracy.
How to test a candy thermometer? It’s actually quite simple: we know that the boiling point of water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit, so bring a pot of water to a boil and insert your candy thermometer to check its reading.
Last Resort: Ideas for Fudge That Didn’t Set
Make ice cream. Break your fudge into small pieces and, using an ice cream maker, freeze them into delicious homemade ice cream with fudge bits.
Make truffles. Use the soft fudge as the ganache center and roll the balls with delicious toppings.
Make nut clusters. Take walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans, or whatever nuts you have lying around your pantry, roll them through the soft fudge, and allow the thin layer to harden. Yum!
Eat it anyway! Especially if the fudge still tastes good (which it most likely does, given that its main ingredients are sugar and butter), grab a spoon and dig in.
If you intended the fudge to be given as a gift, start the recipe over and let your family enjoy the results of this practice run.
A Word of Caution
Obviously, undercooked fudge is no good. But at the same time, you can also have equally unappetizing results with overcooked fudge!
As you can see, there is clearly an artform to making fudge, one that is not for the faint of heart. Once you get it right, keep the ingredients on hand for whenever a fudge craving strikes!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.