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I'm trying to learn how to make fudge. Usually, I have no problems following recipes, but this one seems to be particularly difficult:

1 can of condensed milk (397 g)
115 grams of butter
450 grams of sugar
1,5 deciliter of milk

The process is as follows:

  1. Mix everything together in a pot and slowly heat up, making sure all sugar is dissolved before the mixture boils.
  2. Once boiling, leave the mixture alone, not stirring it, until it reaches soft ballstage (I use a candy thermometer to determine the soft ball stage).
  3. When it reaches soft ball, remove pot from heat and leave it alone until it reaches 43 degrees celcius.
  4. Finally beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it sets (glossy surface turns dull).

The problems I face are these:

  1. No matter what I do, the sugar burns at the bottom of the pot. I have tried a large pot, a small pot and a low and wide pot. I set the burner to very low (2) on a 1-9 scale on a normal ceramic plate cooker so the mixture simmers (not a rolling boil).
  2. I have tried to prevent the burning by stirring but then the mixture crystallizes and the fudge turns grainy. If I don't stir, the fudge on top turns out okay, but there's a very bad burn on the bottom. Sometimes the fudge on top is dark brown, though. (see problem 4).
  3. The boiling time is extremely long. More than an hour on the low/wide pot and up to one hour and 20 minutes in a regular pot. Almost all recipes says about 20 minutes cooking time. How can this be?
  4. The fudge almost always turn a dark brown (approx. at the 110 degree celsius stage). This happens even if I stir, and I guess it's due to the burn on the bottom of the pot.

My candy thermometer is properly calibrated and I cook at sea level.

Can the problem be my pots? They have quite a thick bottom, but I guess I could find a thicker one. But would this help against burning? After all, at more than one hour at the same burner setting, I expect the bottom to be just as hot in a thick pot? What type of pot do you use, if you're able to make fudge.

Could it be humidity? It was quite humid some of the days I tried, but as I understand this should affect the setting of the fudge only (my problems turn up before cooling). Possibly boiling time too? But still, why does it take so much longer that the recipes state?

Please, please help me, so that I can make delicious, smooth, light brown fudge. I've googled everything, it seems and watched a ton of videos, but it just won't work. Please note that I'm not looking for alternative recipes. I really just want this one to work.

Update (nov 8th, 2017)

I've tried to follow the recipe a couple of times more but still to no luck. I did the following, based on the advice given in comments and answers to this topic:

  1. Used a heavier pot.
  2. Swirled instead of stirring.
  3. Delay adding of butter until after cooling.

... but the mixture still burns. Burning is not an issue in the first half hour of cooking, so maybe I'll try letting it boil until it colors and then start stirring constantly until it is finished. Otherwise I just have to give up, but I really hate that.

Update (nov 9th, 2017)

I tried stirring constantly during the cooking and this time I avoided burning the mixture. Also, cooking time was reduced to approx 30 mins.

It was clear that my stirring made the mixture boil harder on the surface, and thus it seems that the lower part of the mixture (closest to the heat) is getting hotter faster than the surface. This might explain the prolonged cooking time when burning the bottom: A burnt layer on the bottom of the pan would make it harder for heat to pass through.

Even though I didn't burn the mixture and thus made some progress, the fudge turned out hard and gritty. I think that I'm not careful enough avoiding stray crystals dropping into the mixture (from the sides of the pot or whereever).

I think I'll need to try another recipe with some syrup to reduce the crystalization. Next time I think I will try this one which contains 200 grams of golden syrup. The author of that recipe also complains about gritty fudge from other recipes.

Update (nov 15th, 2017)

I successfully made a very delicious batch of fudge using the recipe referenced in the previous update. For reference, here's the recipe:

100 grams of butter
550 grams of demerara sugar
200 grams of golden syrup
350 ml double cream (replaced with 38% cream)
1 tsp vanilla extract (replaced with 1 table spoon of vanilla sugar)
¼-½ tsp sea salt flakes

Mix all ingredients and bring to simmer on medium-low heat after ensuring all the sugar is dissolved. Boil until softball stage, stirring occasionally to ensure that the mixture does not burn. When softball stage is hit (after about 1 hour), remove from heat and mix in the vanilla extract and salt. Beat for approx. 10 minutes until the mixture is setting and losing its gloss. Pour into a 23x23cm container and let cool for about 1 hour before cutting into squares.

I'm sure that it is the syrup that allows me to stir the mixture without risk of crystalizing, as I sometimes make toffees with a recipe with glocuse sirup that I can also stir without problems.

By the way, I discovered, making those toffees that my candy thermometer was not able to measure correctly. It's quite embarrassing, since I was sure that the thermometer was giving the right readings. I hope I haven't wasted everybody's time because of my stupid mistake. I think the misreadings were caused by the size of the batch as the thermometer was able to make correct readings in the recipe listed in this update which give a slightly larger batch of fudge.

Thus, some of my problems with the original recipe might be due to me simply cooking the batch too much. I might try the original recipe again and rely on a test in a glass of cold water instead of the thermometer readings. In that case, I'll update this topic again.

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    Sounds like the sugar is sticking to the pot. Have you tried non-stick pots? – senschen Oct 25 '17 at 11:07
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    Hmmm. You might try using a double boiler set up, but that will be even slower. Another idea is to warm the milk and sugar separately until the sugar is totally melted (don't let it boil), mix all the ingredients, THEN add the completely mixed ingredients to the pan to reach the soft ball stage. Those are just seat-of-the-pants guesses though. – Jolenealaska Oct 25 '17 at 13:34
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    @Thomas Well, I can imagine that fully mixed ingredients might settle into layers less easily than ingredients that aren't as well incorporated. Plus, you can be surer that the sugar is totally dissolved. FWIW, a lot of recipes using your ingredients use a microwave, and most don't reach the soft ball stage, but the fudge turns out white or close to it. – Jolenealaska Oct 25 '17 at 15:40
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    I don't understand why you aren't stirring the mixture while it is heating up and boiling. To me, you should be stirring it until it comes off the heat. (My experience is with chocolate fudge but it shouldn't be that different.) Also our boiling time is only about 6 minutes. I don't understand what is happening that takes 20 minutes. – user3169 Oct 26 '17 at 3:51
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    Another note: where are you located, where is the recipe from, and where is your butter from? Sugar is notoriously tricky (at least when it meets me in the kitchen...), and butter can have a highly variable water-content -> Perhaps you lack fat because of too much water? Same goes for your milk; industry has been messing with "milk" a whole lot, so the composition may vary vastly from what the recipe-writer intended. Fat-content may therefore be an issue. This is just a rather wild guess, but perhaps there is a connection. – Layna Nov 9 '17 at 12:23
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Perhaps this should have been a comment, but I feel it could be an answer.

Have you tried swirling the pot? I have never made fudge or much candy at all, but I do watch a lot of cooking shows. I usually see people being very specific to say "DO NOT STIR" but they gently swirl the pot. This could help to distribute heat and dissolve the sugar. Thus preventing burning and speeding cook-time. I went looking for a vid showing a swirling pot but failed. I did see one for hard candy (which will have similar crystallization issues) saying to stir until the sugar dissolves and then stop stirring. This could also work. I wonder if it would be a useful experiment to make a half-batch and see if that manages to avoid burning. (The theory being that a smaller amount of stuff in the pot would come to the necessary temp faster).

Fun fact: Sugar-water and plain water have different enough densities (?) that when bringing a simple syrup to a boil if you just dump the sugar in and don't stir, after a while as it just begins to simmer you can actually see the water movement in the pot. The movement (and heat contained in the moving water) all stays at the bottom of the pot! This could be what is happening in your fudge. Without some sort of mixing (such as swirling the pot), the heat must move via conduction. Mixing enables convection which is a faster method of heat transfer.

see here for information on types of heat transfer: https://www.webstaurantstore.com/blog/postdetails.cfm?post=976

edit: Found this in a comment on a youtube video of fudge making:

I have tried making fudge many times, and found it near impossible to get consistent results using this technique. Then, being an engineer, I realised that both temperature and soft ball tests are (unreliable) ways to estimate water content. If you knew the target water content you could just measure it directly by weighing the pot and contents, before and after - there is no need to estimate it. I now believe that perfect fudge has a water content of around 10.5%. Hence with this recipe your starting weight is 1094g (+pot) and I predict that if you cook it until you reduce to 931g (+pot), leave to cool for 8 mins, beat for 5 minutes and pour... you should end up with perfect fudge every time. I made myself a little spreadsheet to calculate moisture content of common ingredients, and so far I've hit the nail every time I've followed it. In fact this method is precise enough to go for a particular type of fudge, e.g. moist or slightly dry.

  • I will try to swirl the pot next time. And thanks for the explanation about heat transfer - I like to know what's going on. – Thomas Oct 31 '17 at 10:41
  • I tried swirling the pot, but the mixture still burns ... – Thomas Nov 8 '17 at 7:39
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    hmm... found a useful bit of info on a youtube video's comment, added it to my answer. Also, this guy stirs it constantly and seems to have the burner on a medium-low heat. He only boils it for about 8 min. youtube.com/watch?v=Q4y4kE3VEFI – BunnyKnitter Nov 8 '17 at 17:13
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    This woman also stirs constantly. She boils for a bit longer, but also seems to have the burner up to a medium-high heat; she boiled for 20 min. youtube.com/watch?v=OAkoREVx7_o – BunnyKnitter Nov 8 '17 at 17:19
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    What kind of stove? Some of the electric ones control heat by switching the heating element on and off at different rates, rather than offering continuous heating at a variety of temperatures. Short burst of high heat may be overheating your pot bottom, and causing buildup of caramelized sugars. -I use gas myself, but have run into problems with electric over this issue. – Wayfaring Stranger Nov 10 '17 at 0:16
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Thomas, find a recipe that uses marshmallows. I would share mine, but I sell fudge, so it's a secret! That said, I have seen many similar recipes, some using marshmallow creme. Mine calls for bringing evaporated milk and sugar to a boil, stirring constantly, then boil 6-8 minutes, stirring constantly, over med hi heat. Remove from heat. Add butter or stick margarine, then marshmallows, stirring until all melted. Stir in solid semisweet chocolate, then vanilla. Pour into buttered 9x13 inch cake pan immediately! Cool overnight. If you don't boil long enough, it will be grainy.

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    Marshmallow fluff is an excellent cheat to produce good fudge. – Wayfaring Stranger Jan 20 at 3:46
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You simply need a double boiler. There are hot and cool spots when placed directly on the burner or eye, uneven heat. Also this heat is much harder to control.

A double boiler allows for a very even, gentle, and steady rise of temperature. You really have no choice when making fudge, candy or eggnog, a double boiler is a must.

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    I don't understand how a double boiler can be used to make fudge? The maximum temperature must be 100 degrees celsius, and fudge needs to be cooked to about 115? Furthermore, a double boiler must release some steam, and considering all I've read about fudge and humidity, I have a hard time understanding how that could be an ideal environment for cooking fudge. – Thomas Nov 13 '17 at 8:38

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