Chocolate fudge is a favorite to give (and get!) this time of year, in part because of its rich, homemade flavor. But there’s some confusion about fudge itself-- namely, are fudge and chocolate the same? Though we’d be happy to receive either one this season, it must be said that fudge and chocolate are two distinct desserts-- though fudge commonly is made with chocolate, it can also be flavored with countless other ingredients running the gamut from peanut butter to vanilla to coffee.
Whether you make it at home or pick it up from one of the time-honored shops that still make their own fudge, knowing more about how fudge is different from chocolate will come in handy. Let’s dive in and find out the difference.
While there are countless forms of chocolate, the primary types used for baking in the kitchen are pre-formed in bars, chips or discs. Since the actual process of crafting chocolate from the cacao tree is extremely labor-intensive and requires specialized equipment that would intimidate even the most high-tech chef, most people start with already-processed chocolate. Baking chocolate, which is unsweetened, is perhaps the most common for creating chocolate desserts at home. It’s worth noting that recipes that call for baking chocolate will also require sugar, as baking chocolate is extremely bitter on its own-- be sure to keep this in mind when substituting! However, for candy-making in particular, easily-meltable chocolate discs are sometimes preferred. Most chocolate for these purposes are available in a variety of percentages, indicating the amount of cacao used in each. Dark chocolate, for instance, has a higher percentage of cacao than milk chocolate, which is diluted with more milk and sugar to create its creamy, mild taste. Either of these types of chocolate can be used to make fudge, though higher-percentage chocolate is more common because of its robust flavor.
Though fudge can be made in a variety of flavors, chocolate is generally the most common. Fudge is easily recognizable by its texture-- whereas a bar of chocolate should snap appealingly when broken in half, fudge has a much more malleable feel, allowing it to bend and remain soft. Modern fudge typically relies on sweetened condensed milk to create this dense but flexible texture-- however, midcentury bakers began to favor marshmallow fluff as a no-fail way to create a similar effect. Aside from these ingredients, fudge is generally comprised simply of milk, sugar, and butter as the base. To this basic recipe, one can add chocolate chips, butterscotch, peanut butter chips, white chocolate, or even espresso powder to create compelling flavor combinations.
The main issue that novice bakers encounter with fudge is that it can be a bit of an exact science. Traditional fudge recipes require heating the sugar mixture to what is called the “soft-ball stage”, or the point at which sugar will hold a ball-like shape (but not become hard and crystallized) when dropped in a bath of cold water. This process is shared with another confectionary treat, caramel-- both require the aid of a trustworthy candy thermometer to get the temperature just right. In order to avoid a “failed” batch of fudge, we suggest using a recipe that calls for marshmallow fluff or condensed milk, which mitigates this risk. Try our recipe for peanut butter chocolate fudge. Or, use Nutella as a substitute to create this not-quite-fudge fudge (we won’t tell!). No matter what recipe you use, you’ll know your fudge is finished when it has “set” in the refrigerator and holds its shape with a slight bit of give. Fudge can be cut into squares and wrapped for easy and delicious snacking, though we’re partial to topping near-finished fudge with nuts for an additional touch of flavor-- or, simply swirl a butter knife through the top of the fudge as it sets for an elegant, polished presentation.
Despite its name, hot fudge (such as the chocolate sauce often found on sundaes) isn’t truly fudge at all. Though it has a similarly glossy finish, so-called “hot fudge” will not “set” into hardened blocks the way true fudge will. That being said, a dessert topping is a good use for failed fudge that has refused to set! For a simpler variation on classic hot fudge sauce, try our bittersweet chocolate sauce.