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Are you afraid of making homemade fudge? You’re not alone. For something so closely associated with simple, old-fashioned indulgence, this confection strikes fear into the heart of even experienced bakers and dessert makers. But it doesn’t have to be so intimidating.
The key to making amazing fudge is in the manipulation of sugar crystals as they heat up and cool down. The unique texture of fudge comes from sugar crystals — very, very small “microcrystals” that form as sugar goes from solid to liquid (molten liquid, at that) and then back to solid again. While that might sound scary and complicated, it all comes down to timing. Read on for the most important tips to perfect your fudge technique.
1. Use a candy thermometer.
This is the first — and probably most important — rule of fudge, as the sugar in fudge has to reach specific temperatures to create that signature meltingly smooth, rich texture. And unless you’re your grandmother who has made this recipe hundreds of times, no, you can’t eyeball it.
A digital candy thermometer ($5 from Amazon) that clips to the side of your pot helps you monitor the temperature as the sugar cooks. Before you start cooking, place the thermometer in a pot of boiling water to test it. If it reads 212°F, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t, read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to calibrate it or get a new one. (Read more tips for using cooking thermometers.)
2. Use a big, heavy-bottomed pot.
Because you’re working with a recipe that involves cooking sugar to specific temperatures, you want to use a good pot that heats evenly, so the sugar won’t scorch and burn in spots. You’ll also need the pot to be large enough to allow for the sugar to bubble up as it boils. A high-sided saucepan and Dutch oven work well.
Add the ingredients to the pot and heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to a boil. Once that happens, let it cook undisturbed (i.e., absolutely no stirring!) until the candy thermometer hits soft-ball stage: 234°F. If sugar crystals form on the sides of the pan, you can run a wet pastry brush over the crystals to dissolve them without stirring them into the mixture. At this stage, keeping large sugar crystals from forming is crucial to a smooth-textured fudge
Once the fudge reaches soft-ball stage on the candy thermometer, remove from the heat and let the temperature drop to 110°F. Keep that spoon or spatula out of the pot until this happens. If you stir too early in the process, you’ll make the sugar crystals too big and end up with grainy fudge.
4. And then DO stir! Like, really stir.
Once the thermometer reading falls to 110°F, it’s time to exercise your arm muscles. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon (the favorite kitchen tool of grannies everywhere) or a silicone spatula just until the fudge loses its glossy sheen. Avoid beating it for too long, or you’ll have fudge rocks — which, despite the name, definitely don’t rock.
Transfer the fudge to a greased baking pan and let it set at room temperature (this should take about 3 hours). Don’t try to speed up the cooling process by stashing it the fridge or freezer; that can make it grainy too.
5. Fix it (if you need to).
No matter what happened — if your fudge didn’t set properly and is too soft, too grainy, or hard as a rock — the fix is the same. Melt it down and start over!
Chop up the fudge, if necessary, and return it to the saucepan. Add a little liquid — like water, milk, or cream — and bring the mixture back to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to make sure all the fudge melts.
From there, heat the fudge to soft-ball stage, then cool and beat again.
If making traditional fudge seems like a step too far for you, start out by using a fudge recipe that uses marshmallows, marshmallow fluff, or sweetened condensed milk. These ingredients will help ensure smooth fudge every time.