The Nitty Gritty Business of Fudge

Fudge is fickle. Authentic, old-fashioned fudge is tricky business and not for the faint of heart. I know. I made five disastrous batches (no thanks to the Joy of  Cooking). But it’s the holidays and I wanted some fudge and I couldn’t be defeated by sugar. So I made it till it worked by making my own recipe.

Because I grew up in Ohio and had parents who could make it (and I went to culinary school), I’m just supposed to know how to make this crystalline candy. It turns out that the fudge has played me like a fiddle.

The trick to great fudge is learning how to master the grit, aka sugar crystals. The best fudge is creamy and the worst is gritty. (I don’t believe those folks who claim to actually LIKE gritty fudge. Who are they kidding?)

Fudge is typically made from a mixture of sugar, a liquid, butter and chocolate that is cooked to the softball stage, then left undisturbed until cooled, and then beaten until creamy. But there are traps every step of the way. It’s the cooking of, and resting of, the sugar that can foil our fudgy efforts.

Sugar is completely melted, and crystals are “washed” down from the sides

Fudge involves alchemy – in this case, the evolution of raw sugar that is melted, cooked and converted from large crystals into a liquid then converted back into microfine crystals. Once melted, the goal is to keep crystal formation at bay until the syrup cools from 234ºF (soft ball) down to 110ºF. Theoretically, once we get to 110ºF, we DO want to beat the fudgy syrup and CAUSE sugar to recrystallize into crystals so fine they are imperceptible to the tongue.

Unfortunately for fudge makers, sugar is hyper sensitive. Even a small, unmelted sugar crystal can ruin a batch of fudge. As liquid sugar cools, any unmelted crystals will start to grow and multiply (like ice crystals on a window in winter time), rendering the entire pot a large, grainy mess. Or, if ‘agitated’ to soon, the agitation itself will cause warm sugar to recrystallize into large grit. It can’t help itself. It’s what it wants to be.

Even the recipes in the trusted Joy of Cooking cookbook are easily ruined. I managed to fudge up the Fudge Cockaigne recipe three times, but some of that I think is their fault. They say not to stir a mixture that contains milk which just resulted in a scorched mess. I ruined the Coffee Fudge recipe, too, because I either didn’t thoroughly melt the sugar during the melting phase or I agitated it too soon before the 110ºF temperature phase, or I beat it for too long before the turning-it-into-the-pan phase causing it to seize up on me. Mon Dieu!

With each failed attempt, though, I knew I was beginning to master this devil candy.

The Joy of Cooking recipes follow the same pattern: melt the sugar, cover the pan, steam, don’t stir, cook to soft ball, let sit undisturbed (don’t move it, don’t jostle it, don’t breathe on it, don’t let a speck of dust fall into it – for heaven’s sake, don’t agitate the sugar – exaggeration added!) until it reaches the magical 110ºF when you are allowed to beat it until it loses its shine. At this step you are actually coaching the ‘melted’ sugar back into a super fine crystalline form. Then pour into pan.

The sugar was melted properly, rested to 110 degrees without crystallizing, but seized in the pan during the stirring/recrystallization phase

Voila – gritty fudge – because this technique is just too hard to make work. I had mastered the melting and waiting phases, but killed it at the stirring phase, when I stirred it for too long. The sugar crystals were small – yay me! – but it solidified in the pan before I could get it into the fudge tin. I ended up with fudge rocks.

But there is hope!

You can still make terrific fudge, albeit cheating, by incorporating ingredients that help stabilize the formation of sugar crystals. Look for recipes that include corn syrup or glucose, marshmallow cream, butter and other ingredients that help reduce the ratio of sugar in the overall recipe.

The following recipe incorporates those cheats. Earlier, it was emphasized not to stir, but constant stirring is needed in this recipe, otherwise, the evaporated milk would scorch and turn to toffee. “Fred’s Christmas Fudge” contains many stabilizing ingredients to help ensure creamy fudge.

Here’s a helpful link for understanding sugar in fudge recipes: Wilton



  1. Cook with super fine sugar. These crystals are finer than granulated sugar and melt faster.
  2. Follow procedure above for “Successfully Melting Sugar.”
  3. Know when to stop stirring after the 110º resting period; or
  4. Look for recipes that include corn syrup or glucose (crystal stabilizers).
  5. Look for recipes that call for marshmallow crème.
  6. Look for recipes that don’t require making you wait for sugar to reach 110ºF before stirring, as that’s a clue that the recipe has too high a ratio of sugar to other ingredients.
  7. 7. Look for recipes that include evaporated milk or cream, butter, and a lot of chocolate. All of these also help reduce the ratio of sugar in the overall recipe.

Fred’s Christmas Fudge

9X9” brownie pan
2+ quart heavy-bottomed saucepan

5 ounce can evaporated milk
½ cup corn syrup (inhibits crystallization)
1 stick unsalted butter (diced)
2 cups super fine sugar (crystals are smaller and dissolve more quickly)
8 ounces Baker’s Unsweetened baking chocolate
2 cups/3 ounces mini marshmallows (adds creaminess and also inhibits crystallization)
½ cup roasted salted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ cup mini marshmallows


  1. Line the bottom and sides of the tin with aluminum foil
  2. In a 2 quart saucepan, over medium heat, bring the milk, corn syrup, butter and sugar to boil. Stir constantly to help dissolve the sugar and prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pan. Brush the sides with water to wash down any sugar crystals before it reaches softball.
  3. Boil the mixture to the softball stage, 234ºF (224º in Denver – or test in a bowl of ice water to confirm sugar can form a malleable ball while in the water).
  4. Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate and 2 cups of the mini marshmallows and stir with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula until completely blended.
  5. Add the nuts and stir until blended. Mixture will begin to cool and start to thicken.
  6. Lastly, add the last ½ cup of marshmallows. Stir just enough to slightly melt them and to create white streaks in the fudge. They do not need to melt completely.
  7. Transfer to the pan and allow to cool. Cut into 1” squares.


3 Responses to The Nitty Gritty Business of Fudge

  1. Gino Yother September 30, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    This is awesome! I love the site!!

  2. Linda App December 18, 2014 at 6:42 am #

    I found your recipe for The Nitty Gritty Business of Fudge. I was hoping you could tell me how to rescue my fudge. I make it every year for the last 40 years. It contains sugar, butter, condensed milk and marshmallow cream. My mother used the same recipe. But this year my fudge was nothing like I have ever made. Your word “Gritty” described my fudge to a T. Now I know what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future. Thank you for posting about this problem.

  3. Kerry Soloman October 26, 2017 at 5:24 am #

    I’ve had three attempts at making fudge and I was most excited to see that the grittiness is quite a common complaint!

    I’ve had a read at what you say and, apart from being somewhat overwhelmed by having to know your height above seawater, I am quite perplexed by your American weights and measurements. The recipe we were using had evaporated milk, caster sugar, golden syrup and butter in it. It was called Simple Fudge but it’s turned out to be anything but!

    I was wondering if there is any way to modify it without putting cooking chocolate and marshmallows in. I’m wondering whether vegetable glycerine, coconut fat or some such would help?

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