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Eric Akis: Old-fashioned fudge a sweet and easy holiday treat

Easy-to-make brown sugar fudge makes a great Christmas gift
Sweet, divine brown sugar fudge dotted with cranberries and walnuts. ERIC AKIS

You can fudge the numbers if you don’t like how they’re adding up. You can loudly say, “fudge!” after painfully stubbing your toe. But when I use the word, I prefer it to be when making something sweet and divine. It’s fudge, of course.

My favourite fudge is an old-fashioned one my mother used to make, often around the Christmas holidays, called brown sugar fudge. As a kid, all I knew about it was that it was a sugary treat I loved. My mother liked its taste, too, but as I got older I learned she also liked to make it because its preparation was not overly fussy.

In other words, it’s the type of fudge that does not require a candy thermometer to make it. You simply combine brown sugar, butter and evaporated milk in a pot, heat until the butter is melted, and then boil the mixture for one minute. It’s then poured into the bowl of a stand mixer, icing sugar and vanilla are added, and the mixture is beaten until it thickens, but is still warm and spreadable.

At that point, you can leave the fudge as is, or add things to it, such as dried cranberries and walnuts. The fudge is then spread into a pan, cooled, covered and refrigerated until set.

Once set, you cut the fudge into quarters, individually wrap them, and then store them in an airtight container until ready to cut into small squares and serve, or package up and give as an edible gift. The wrapped fudge will keep at least two weeks when stored in a dark, cool, room-temperature place. You could also store it in the refrigerator, but in that environment, over time, it can sometimes lose moisture and become crumbly.

Yes, fudge is rich with sugar, but in my recipe, the eight-inch square pan of it yields 64 small squares, spreading that sugar between many yummy, little bites.

Brown Sugar Fudge with Cranberries and Walnuts

Sweet, divine brown sugar fudge strewn with bits of dried cranberries and walnuts.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: about 10 minutes

Makes: 64 small squares

1/2 cup walnut pieces

1/2 cup dried cranberries

• vegetable oil spray

2 cups packed golden (yellow) brown sugar

3/4 cup butter, cubed

1/2 cup canned evaporated milk (see Note)

3 cups icing sugar

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Place walnuts in a skillet, set over medium heat, and heat and stir a few minutes, until lightly toasted. Transfer walnuts to a cutting board and cool. Once cooled, coarsely chop the walnuts into slightly smaller pieces (don’t finely chop) and set in a bowl. Set cranberries on the board and coarsely chop them into slightly smaller pieces. Set the cranberries in the bowl with the walnuts.

Lightly coat an eight-inch square pan with oil spray. Cut an eight- by 12-inch piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom and up two of the four sides of that pan and set it in place. (The paper extending the sides of the pan will later be used as handles to lift the fudge out once set.)

Put brown sugar, butter and milk in a medium pot. Set pot over medium heat, and heat and continually stir just until sugar and butter are melted. Turn the heat to medium-high, bring mixture to a boil, and boil one minute.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the icing sugar and vanilla. Beat on low speed one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Turn mixer speed to medium and beat five minutes more, or until mixture begins to hold its shape, like icing for a cake would, but is still warm to the touch and spreadable.

Mix in the walnuts and cranberries, and then evenly spread the fudge into the prepared pan. Cool to room temperature, and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours, or until fudge is firmly set.

Take fudge out of the refrigerator. Dampen a paring knife with very hot water, then wipe dry. Now use the paring knife to loosen the fudge from the sides of the pan. Grab onto the parchment and lift fudge out of the pan and on to a cutting board. Dampen a large, thin, sharp knife in very hot water, then wipe dry. Use that knife to cut the fudge into four, four- by-four-inch quarters. If not serving the fudge now, individually wrap each quarter piece of fudge, set in an airtight container, and store in a cool, dark room temperature place until needed. It will keep at least two weeks.

When ready to cut the fudge, unwrap and cut each quarter into 16 small bite-sized squares.

Note: Evaporated milk, such as the Pacific brand I used, is sold at grocery stores, often in the baking aisle. (Don’t confuse it with sweetened, condensed milk.) The leftover milk can be used in coffee or tea.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.