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Fudge Sauce: The Real "Food of the Gods"
Most of us recognize that the cacao plant’s scientific name, Theobroma cacao, means “the food of the gods”. But I can’t help wondering if those Latin-loving botanists missed the mark just slightly. I love chocolate in most forms, but a great fudge sauce can cause even someone of my critical nature to become weak in the knees. Satin-smooth and shiny, rich to the nth degree of dietary incorrectness, not too sweet and ultra-chocolate; could a girl ask for more? Well, yes, as it happens, but we won’t get into that here.
Just what goes into a genuine fudge sauce? There’s always a liquid base, most often heavy cream or evaporated milk, though I’ve also seen whole milk and even water used. At least one type of sweetener will be employed, whether it’s granulated sugar, brown sugar (which lends a great flavor to almost anything chocolate), some combination of the two, or honey. Chocolate flavor is most often provided by cocoa powder or unsweetened chocolate, or a mix of the duo, although I’ve noticed that some fudge sauce recipes call for bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. Butter is a common addition, as is vanilla. And don’t neglect the salt in this decadent treat. I was taught long ago that chocolate and salt have a very special relationship. To my way of thinking, just a few grains of salt assist in bringing out chocolate flavor; this is especially true in anything dark chocolate. If all of this sounds a lot like you could be making fudge, it should. I have no proof of this, but given the persnickety nature of fudge, it seems highly probable that the first examples of fudge sauce were meant to be fudge; they simply weren’t cooked for a long enough time and failed to set up.
The practiced fudge and fudge sauce makers among you are thinking I’ve forgotten corn syrup, a frequent addition to both the candy and the sauce. I haven’t, but I have mixed feelings about it. Used judiciously and in small amounts, light corn syrup can prevent graininess, help to provide viscosity, and assist in providing the chewy texture so loved by so many of us when fudge sauce is poured over ice cream. But corn syrup is also a relatively inexpensive sweetener, so too many commercial fudge sauce manufacturers use large amounts of it in their formulations. It’s a way of cutting corners. While this ensures that their fudge sauces will turn very chewy over cold ice cream, it also results in sauces that are too sweet, haven’t a sufficient chocolate taste, and have odd or unpleasant aftertastes. To me, it almost doesn’t matter what else is in a fudge sauce if one of the first few ingredients on the label is corn syrup, and high fructose corn syrup is even less forgivable. Unfortunately, this is very common, especially among supermarket brands, although I’ve also found it true with upscale, supposedly “boutique” sauces.
There are two schools of thought regarding how much a fudge sauce should harden over ice cream. The first mandates a stiff, chewy, almost caramel-like texture, while the second school espouses the concept of a sauce that hardens slightly, something that won’t interfere with dental work (this can be an important consideration, as many of you know). I love both kinds of fudge sauce, although I believe you’re more likely to find a high corn syrup content in a sauce that turns very chewy over ice cream.
We all know that a hot (or, more properly, a warm) fudge sauce is just what we want to top ice cream. But supposing you’re feeling creative. What else can you do with fudge sauce? That depends, to a degree, on the sauce itself. If it’s stiff enough when cold, you can make truffles from it. That’s not difficult; just roll teaspoon-sized portions in chocolate sprinkles or chopped nuts, and remember to store the truffles in the fridge. Instead of pouring the warm fudge sauce over something, why not use it as a dip? Try dipping graham crackers, fresh fruit, marshmallows, pretzels, cookies, or just your fingers. Use warm fudge sauce to flavor hot milk or hot coffee, or pour it over pancakes or waffles. Drizzle it over crepes. You can even spread it on your morning toast!
Given human creativity, fudge sauce comes in a number of varieties. It’s often accented with orange, coffee, mint, or raspberry (hopefully not all at once, however!). Liqueurs are a popular choice to add different tastes, as are flavorings. But be cautious when adding anything; though chocolate seems such a robust taste, it can be easily overwhelmed.
As you should with all food, select a fudge sauce with care, if you don’t make your own. Finding one that isn’t loaded with corn syrup may involve more work, but it will be worth the effort. Now, get out that ice cream carton, and let’s get down to business!
Hot Fudge Sauce
Please do not use supermarket brands of chocolate for this hot fudge sauce. It really is important, as the “usual suspects” in the baking section simply don't have the perfectly smooth texture you'll want in your finished product. Sweet Celebrations, the King Arthur Flour Baking Catalogue, A Cook's Wares, and Chocosphere.com all sell chocolates of excellent quality; I'm sure other retailers do, too, but shop around for price before you buy. A jar of good hot fudge sauce makes a nice hostess gift at any time of year. Once made, this sauce will keep for at least 10 days in the fridge. The sauce will be too thick to pour when it is cold, so you must reheat it (instructions are below). This turns chewy over ice cream.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. water
Few grains of salt
4 ounces best-quality unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 to 1-1/2 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (see Notes)
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, sliced into thin pats
2 Tbsp. sifted unsweetened alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa powder (see Notes)
1 tsp. vanilla
Combine the sugar, cream, corn syrup, water, and salt in a 1 quart, heavy-bottomed, nonaluminum saucepan. Set aside.
In medium heatproof bowl, combine chocolates and butter. Place over simmering water on low heat (water should not touch bottom of bowl); stir often until almost melted. Remove from heat and hot water; dry bottom and sides of bowl. Stir until completely melted and smooth. Add cocoa powder; with a small whisk, whisk in briskly until most lumps are gone (a few small lumps are OK). Set aside near stovetop.
Place pot with sugar-cream mixture over low heat. Stir almost constantly until sugar is dissolved, scraping sides of pot occasionally with heatproof rubber spatula. Increase heat to medium. Stir occasionally until mixture comes to a boil. Boil 6 minutes. The mixture should come to a rolling boil and may boil up to the top of the pan, but reduce heat slightly it if threatens to boil over. Stir occasionally (about once a minute); scrape sides of pan occasionally with heatproof rubber spatula. It may look like there is a layer of foam on top of the boiling mixture—OK. When the 6 minutes are up, remove from heat and place on hotpad near stovetop.
As soon as bubbling has stopped, add all of melted chocolate mixture. Let stand for a few seconds, then whisk gently but thoroughly until chocolate is incorporated into sauce (this will take a minute or two). Be sure to scrape pan bottom and sides occasionally while whisking. Whisk in vanilla.
Cool briefly, then pour into storage container. Chill, covering tightly when cold. To reheat: reheat only as much sauce as you'll use at any given time (repeated reheating and re-chilling will make the sauce grainy). Place required amount of sauce into heatproof bowl, then place bowl above simmering water on low heat (water should not touch bottom of bowl). Stir often until melted, smooth, and warm (despite the name, hot fudge sauce should never be truly hot when it's poured onto ice cream). Alternatively, place required amount of sauce in microwaveable bowl; microwave for brief intervals at 50% (medium) power, stirring well after each, until sauce is melted, smooth, and warm.
Generous 2 cups
- This is not a particularly sweet hot fudge sauce; the extra half ounce of semisweet chocolate boosts the sweetness just a bit. Either quantity will work here.
- For many years, I had used Hershey’s Dutch process cocoa powder. Unhappily, they have revised their formula, and I think the new cocoa powder is awful. I suggest you use Droste or some other good brand, preferably one with far less sodium than is currently in Hershey’s.
Fudge Is My Life
As a chocolate columnist, I feel it is part of my duty to use due diligence, if I may be pardoned such a “legalese” phrase, when researching chocolate products to write about. So, when I first ran across Fudge is my Life Chocolate Sauces at a food trade show in San Francisco some months ago, I made no hasty judgments. To be sure, the first taste of the Dark Chocolate was promising, but what about subsequent tastes? Would they be just as good? And how about those flavor variations? Let’s just say it’s fortunate that the founder of Fudge is my Life is both gracious and understanding; my guess is that she’s encountered enthusiastic reactions to her products many times.
What do I like about these sauces? For starters, they contain no preservatives and (wahoo!) no corn syrup. They have a perfectly smooth texture, and they aren’t too sweet (however, note that they are more of a semisweet than a bittersweet). I can even pronounce all the ingredients! The sauces are, as advertised, spreadable at room temperature, though I warn you that if you spread them on anything just once, you won’t be able to stop. Although the sauces claim to turn chewy over cold ice cream, I haven’t found that to be true---but then again, I don’t really care, because they taste good. My favorites? The Dark Chocolate and the Mocha. You can discover more information about Fudge is my Life Chocolate Sauces on their website, www.fudgeismylife.com; online ordering is available. These sauces are what the well-dressed sundae will be wearing!
Stephanie (HandOverTheChocolate@comcast.net) has had a strong affinity for chocolate from a very early age. Family members claim that, as a child, she was able to hear chocolate being opened in the kitchen no matter where she was in the house. Stephanie was baking by the time she was 6 and ran a short-lived baking business out of her parents’ kitchen when she was in high school. She has a Master’s Degree in Foods from Virginia Tech but no formal training in cooking or baking. Consequently, she is a home cook, not a chef. Prior to beginning this column, she had written about chocolate for some 8 years.