Southern Sweet Tooth: Peppermint Fudge Recipe
The Southern Sweet Tooth is a powerful force. Sugar is more than an ingredient in the South. It falls somewhere between a condiment and a food group. During the holiday season its status is even more prominent with tins of homemade mints, brittle, and fudge on every sideboard. It’s nearly obligatory serve a sweet treat to guests or to take as a gift for a party host. But, yikes! Time seems to accelerate this time of year and the to-do lists grow longer and longer. Who’s got time to make homemade candy? You do! My recipe for Quick and Easy Peppermint Fudge fits the bill.
It’s a Hard Candy Christmas
Somehow, Mama never had to reach for this dump-and-stir Peppermint Fudge. Christmas officially starts when Mama makes Peanut Brittle and Butterscotch Candy. She’s always made the time to prepare batches and batches of candy to enjoy at home or to give as gifts. Throughout the year, her trusty thermometer rests in its ancient, faded box held together with yellowing masking tape. Only during the holidays does this vintage kitchen tool make an appearance.
The long glass tube has a metal clip for attaching to the side of the pot and is fitted with a wooden ball for handling. Marked on a faded slip of paper on the inside are temperatures that indicate the stages of cooking sugar: Hard Crack (295°-310°F), Soft Crack (270°-290°F) , Hard Ball (250°-266°F), and Soft Ball (234°-240°F).
What does this mean — other than it’s powerfully hot?
As a sugar syrup is cooked, water boils away, the sugar concentration increases, and the temperature rises. The highest temperature that the sugar syrup reaches tells you what the syrup will be like when it cools. In fact, that’s how each of the temperature stages is named. For example, at 235° F, the syrup is at the “soft-ball” stage. That means that when you drop a bit of the sugar syrup into ice water to cool it down, it will form a soft ball. Needless to say, when we were children we were wisely told to stay clear and out from underfoot when Mama was making candy.
Now, I am less worried about the burning hot sugar and much more worried about having the time to actually do it! This Peppermint Fudge has become my go-to recipe. It’s universal. Who doesn’t like Peppermint Fudge at Christmas? And, better yet, what busy cook doesn’t like an easy candy made from essential pantry ingredients? You can also add a drop of peppermint extract if you really want to pump up the peppermint flavor.No burning-hot, molten sugar required.
Here are a few other delicious links to quick and easy candy recipes:
- Chocolate Crunchies by Dorie Greenspan
- Winter Bark by Martha Stewart
- Jill O’Conner’s Peanut Butter Pretzel Bonbons
- Sandra Gutierrez’s Brazilian Coconut Candy
Lastly, if you’re behind on your Christmas shopping (like I am!) both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have my books on sale for 33% off. I’d be happy to send you a signed bookplate. Simply shoot a note with “bookplate” in the subject heading to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get one in the mail right away!
Bon Appétit Y’all!
Makes 1 8-inch square pan or about 16 pieces
6 candy canes, broken into 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), more for the baking dish
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 (16-ounce) box confectioners’ sugar, sifted
¼ cup low-fat or whole milk
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup chopped walnuts, peanuts, or pecans
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
Place the candy canes in a sealable freezer bag. (A freezer bag is best because it’s thicker.) Wrap a kitchen towel around the bag of candy canes and place on a clean work surface. Use the bottom of a heavy pot or skillet to crush the candy canes into fine crumbs. Set aside.
Brush an 8-inch square baking dish with butter. Melt 1/2 cup of butter with the salt in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and milk until very smooth. Add the cocoa; stir until combined and remove from the heat. Add the walnuts and vanilla; stir until combined. The fudge will have a very smooth, shiny texture.
Spoon the fudge into the prepared dish. Transfer to the refrigerator until set, at least 2 hours. Or, if you just can’t wait, slip it in the freezer. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and slice into cubes. Heat the knife in hot water and pat dry before each cut for the smoothest slices. Press one side of each piece in the reserved crushed peppermint. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
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