At Christmastime my senior year of high school, I had a classmate who was going through a tough time, so another friend and I thought it would be nice to share with him something sweet. After much deliberation, we decided to make him fudge.
Now, neither one of us was much of a cook nor had we made fudge before, but like most Texans we’d certainly grown up eating it. All over the state, you’ll see slabs of fudge for sale at rest stops, cafés, and gift shops. You’ll also, of course, see it in people’s homes.
While fudge doesn’t have a season, this time of year it’s especially popular and squares of it jostle for position amongst the trays laden with cookies, candies, and pralines. Fudge comes in an infinite variety of flavors, as you can combine anything with the creamy, sugary base, so you’ll see peanut butter fudge, cranberry fudge, pistachio-cranberry fudge, and, my favorite, chocolate fudge.
Fudge is qualified as a candy, as it’s prepared by heating sugar to a set boiling point to transform it from liquid into something more solid. There are many ways to go about this, but the recipe that my friend and I used back in 1986 was perhaps the easiest way to begin your fudge-making journey: we made it with marshmallows.
What makes this method so appealing is its simplicity. You melt marshmallows along with sugar, butter, half and half, and chocolate, then spread it into a pan. After chilling for a couple of hours it hardens, then you slice and serve. And that’s it! There’s no need to use a candy thermometer so it’s an excellent way for inexperienced cooks or young people to make candy.
For some purists, this method may be cheating but I think it’s a smart hack as marshmallows are a sugar confection as well, so melting them to form a foundation for the candy saves you a step. It’s also not a new-fangled recipe as fudge made with marshmallows has been in practice for over 100 years. On the East Coast, it was once popularly known as Wellesley fudge, as students at the eponymous Massachusetts college were said to prepare the fudge in their dorm rooms. Though in a 1910 article in the Jacksboro (TX) News, a recipe appeared under the name marshmallow fudge.
For mine, I enjoy stirring in chocolate and pecans, while adding cinnamon, vanilla, and small pinch of cayenne, which gives it the flavor profiles of Mexican hot chocolate. I call it Mexican chocolate fudge. Other welcome additions to the marshmallow and chocolate mixture would be a spoonful of espresso powder, dried fruit, or walnuts instead. It’s a solid base open to anything.
That afternoon 33 years ago was a revelation as my friend and I spent time in my family’s kitchen whipping up our batch of candy. While I had been concerned about tackling something so complicated, as we stirred the pot and watched it all come together, I was amazed at how easy it was to make prepare. When we shared the fudge with our friend, he loved it, and I know that your loved ones will feel the same, too.
Mexican chocolate fudge
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2/3 cup half and half or heavy cream
- 4 cups mini marshmallows
- 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Pinch cayenne (optional)
- 1 cup chopped roasted pecans
Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan and line with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, while stirring, heat the butter, sugar, and half and half on low heat until melted and well combined.
Stir in the marshmallows, turn the heat up to medium, and while continuing to stir bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes or until all the marshmallows are melted, and the mixture is thick and in strands. When you pull the spoon up, it should be in thick strands like taffy. It's very important that the mixture gets hot enough or it might not set. (If it's super humid, however, it may never set.)
Turn off the heat and stir in the chocolate chips, vanilla, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, and pecans until well combined. The chocolate chips should melt immediately and the mixture will be thick.
Spread the fudge evenly into the prepared pan and refrigerate covered for 2 hours or until set. To serve, lift the fudge out of the pan and cut into 16 (or 32, if you prefer) pieces.