During a busy Christmas-time, I find myself in an incentive conundrum. On the one hand, there is a lot of work to do, and projects that I want to be working on when the work dwindles down. On the other hand, I want to devote some time to making something nice for Christmas gifts. What is the solution to this predicament? Fudge, of course! It has the highest deliciousness / time-spent-making ratio, and is a relatively affordable investment since a small number of ingredients go very far. There are also no constraints on creativity, meaning no limit to what you can dream up, combination wise. Lastly, it travels and packages well, and it’s a quick, no-bake delicacy, meaning that you can whip up many batches with only a pot and a pan or two. For these reasons, I’ve made different variations of fudge for years, and it never gets old!

Tools Required:

  • a medium sized pot
  • stove
  • a mixing spoon
  • a square pan (8X8 or 9X9 works well) – square edges work better
  • aluminum foil (optional)
  • a spatula (optional)

Ingredients Required:

  • 3 cups chocolate bits, which is 1 1/2 bags (I prefer semi-sweet)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • a smatter of salt
  • about 1 – 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

**1. **Find a friend to cook with. Mr. Kitchen Timer will have to do!

**2. **Obtain ingredients: chocolate chips, vanilla, salt, sweetened condensed milk

**3. **Obtain your mix in of choice (think candy, nuts, cookies, marshmallows, etc) and prepare it appropriately. For large items like nuts and cookies, you likely want to cut the mix-in into smaller pieces. For oreos I like to cut them into quarters. Finish cutting your oreos, and set aside 16-25 quarters for top-decoration.

**4. **Set the rest of the oreos aside, and prepare a pan by throwing a piece of aluminum foil in it. Be sure to have edges peeking out so when the fudge is set, you can use them to easily lift the block out of the pan.

**5. **Next, add your 1 + 1/2 bags chocolate bits, 1 can sweetened condensed milk, and smatter of salt to a medium pot, and set on the stove on low. This is also where you should assess the ratio of chocolate to sweetened condensed milk, depending on your mix-in. Subtracting condensed milk or adding chocolate bits will make the fudge more sturdy and dense, which might be good for runnier or floopy mix-ins, but you lose some of the softness and shine. For 0reos, I like to make a little denser fudge to match the cookie, but for most other things I stick to the normal ratio. Don’t forget te salt – it is one of the essential ingredients to making the chocolate flavor really come out!

**6. **You are going to want to start mixing almost immediately. The ingredients will melt together very quickly, and a little arm action will evenly mix everything and prevent the bottom from burning. Keep mixing as you watch the fudge go through four stages: separate and cold, coated, melting and lumpy, and finally, uniform.

**7. **Just when the fudge is uniform (and not any later!) you want to remove it from the heat, and mix in the vanilla quickly. If you add the vanilla before the end point I’m pretty sure that it will cook off! If you are making a fudge with a normal ratio of chocolate / sweetened condensed milk, it will look shiny (see batch below, compared to batch above).

**8. **This is where you need to work quickly. Add the mix-in, mix it just enough to evenly distribute, but not so much that the mix-in starts to break down. Then, plop into your prepared pan, and if you have a denser fudge, use plastic baggies to press it down flat. If you have a creamy, shiny fudge, it should be easily spreadable with a spoon or spatula.

**9. **I would only recommend the “squishing” technique shown above if you plan to cover it with something else. Bare, it’s a little fugly. You next want to add your toppings, being sure to press in slightly so they stick, and then put in the refrigerator to chill. Do NOT put in the freezer – you will regret it! You can see below that I had already made a peppermint white chocolate version. I should note that white chocolate is a very fussy fudge base to work with. If you add a normal amount of sweetened condensed milk it will have the consistency of peanut butter, and never harden. The trick is to use more white chips, and add a little margarine and just enough sweetened condensed milk so it mixes and melts. You will want to get it off the stove as soon as it melts, otherwise it burns almost immediately. Then you have to work extremely quickly to get it into the pan, and you definitely will be pressing as opposed to spreading. But the deliciousness of white chocolate and peppermint is worth it!

**10. **The nice thing about fudge is that you can work on other batches while your previous ones are setting. It takes usually an hour to two, depending on the consistency. For my last batch, I decided to combine white and regular chocolate chunks, and use Almond Joy pieces as my mix-in.

**11. Note **how the fudge is shiny and easily spreads into the pan, with a pretty texture on the top. This is all about the ratio of chocolate < > sweetened condensed milk.

**12. **Place with the other pans to chill. Note that I have used the hanging aluminum foil to lift the center block from the pan, since I needed to use it for the new batch. This means that it is time to cut into squares! First, you want to hold the block in one hand, and peel away the wrapper from the bottom (as much as you can with your hand there). Then, you want to use a long, sharp knife to cut the fudge. I like to cut off the edges to give each piece a nice, clean cross section, but you don’t have to. Your cutting strategy will vary based on the consistency and mix ins. I generally find that pressing and gentle rocking, and then using force to “chop” it works best. Smaller squares are usually preferable to consumers, and it always makes your batch go a little farther. Lastly, put them into paper wrappers or a container.

**13. **This is a good time to wash dishes. If you didn’t do various colorings, you should mainly just have the pot, a spoon, can-opener, and your knife.

**14. **For packaging, I like to make a variety, and put in cute little bags. You can do one or two days in advance, as long as you keep them refrigerated, and sealed air-tight. These are for my lab-mates!

15. Merry Christmas!