Caramel Popcorn

Caramel Popcorn
Wotchers!

Today, my lovelies, after exhaustive testing, resulting in several sacks of delicious popcorn, I have for you the ultimate guide to making your own caramel popcorn.

Back in my day, of course, we called it toffee popcorn, bought it in a shop/cinema and it was made by ButterkistButterkist(rah-rah-rah!).

Well Butterkist are still going strong, and you can still buy their popcorn, but it is more delicious, customisable and cheaper to make it yourself.

This post is, in fact, the first in a two-part popcorn posting, where I plan on covering the basic method and the range of different-yet-equally-delicious tastes you can achieve just with sugar, butter and syrup, to be followed by Part II in which we look at how to customise your popcorn batches even further, with an eye on the upcoming C-word gifting season.

This popcorn is fantastically crunchy, yet dry to the touch, without a hint of stickiness. It is amazing when freshly made, and lasts up to three weeks if kept in an airtight container. It is an easy treat to make at home, yet different enough to give as gifts, especially if you can tailor the flavours to the giftee’s preferences.

So let’s talk ingredients!

Popcorn

Very straightforward to make, just put a little oil into a lidded pan, add in your popping corn kernels, cover and shake gently over medium heat until the sounds of popping stops.

Oil isn’t compulsory. You can absolutely make popcorn by applying heat alone, either in a pan or in the microwave (in a plain paper bag, twisted over at the top) HOWEVER, the oil helps any flavourings, such as salt, stick. Without oil, the salt (or other flavourings) just freefall through the popcorn and gather in the bottom of the bowl. If you want to reduce the fact content of your caramel popcorn, omitting the oil when popping your corn might be an option you choose.

How much to pop?
The recipe I am giving below is quite generous, and could easily be halved, but for the difficulties that would present in accurately measuring the temperature when boiling the sugar mixture. So rather than making life more complicated that way, it is much easier to adjust the quantity of corn you pop, to give a lighter or more dense covering: popping more corn will make for a lighter covering, popping less will lead to a more comprehensive, thicker coating.

The recipe below strikes a balance by calling for 100g of kernels to be popped. Vary this by choosing a quantity between the extremes given below:

  • Reduce to 75g for complete coverage.
  • Increase to up to 200g for progressively lighter coverage, although anything above 150g gets tricky to coat evenly.

Caramel

After trialling numerous combinations, I have settled on the following recipe as the ultimate caramel recipe, not particularly because it is the best (although it is!), but because of how easily it is adapted and customised. For a start, the caramel is a butterscotch, made by mixing sugar and butter and heating it to the ‘hard crack’ temperature of 150°C. Due to the trickiness of working with boiling sugar, adding some of the sugar in liquid form helps keep it from graining and crystallisation.

Butter: Use it. Unless you’re vegan, in which case, coconut oil can be substituted, with the resulting flavour being thusly affected.

Sugar: Here is where the fun begins, because of all the different types and combinations that can be used. The ones I have tried with this recipe include

  • white granulated
  • white caster
  • Demerara
  • Light brown soft/light muscovado
  • Dark brown soft/dark muscovado

The white sugars are fine for a perfectly acceptable, if slightly one-note caramel, but it is in the rich, dark notes of the brown sugars that your caramel can find real depth of flavour. In the picture at the top of this post, the popcorn on the left was made using demerara sugar, the one on the right a 50:50 mixture of dark and light muscovado sugar.

Other options you may like to try, but which I have not (yet!):

  • Coconut sugar
  • jaggery
  • maple sugar
Treacle Popcorn

Treacle popcorn showing light coverage using the base recipe over 150g popcorn kernels

Syrup

Here again is the opportunity to add flavour to your caramel. The syrups I have tried include:

  • golden syrup
  • Dutch schenkstroop
  • treacle
  • maple syrup

If you want the flavours of the sugars to shine, you could go with bland glucose syrup, which would add sweetness and help prevent crystallisation, and no additional flavours. Golden syrup has a rich but mild flavour, very complementary to the brown sugars. The Dutch schenkstroop adds deeper caramel notes, without the bitterness of treacle, and treacle is the ultimate dark, rich-tasting syrup.

Alternatives you might want to experiment with:

  • glucose
  • agave nectar
  • rice syrup
  • date syrup
  • molasses
  • pomegranate molasses

WARNING: I have not tried these other syrups, but if my experiences with maple syrup are anything to go by, some of them might well act differently to regular sugar syrups. I went through countless (ooh, that’s a lie, because I counted every one and it was seven. SEVEN FAILED BATCHES PEOPLE! *cries for the lost maple syrup*) batches before I got it right. See notes on using maple syrup below.

Salt

Even though salted caramel is very much ‘a thing’, even the most buttery butterscotch benefits from adding a little salt, which gives relief from an unremitting sweetness onslaught.

Caramel Popcorn

There are three stages to caramel popcorn: making the popcorn, coating the popcorn and baking the popcorn. This last ensures the caramel sets to a crisp, crackling coating.

The popcorn

100g popcorn kernels
2-3tbs vegetable oil

  • Pour the oil into a large, lidded saucepan and set it on medium high heat.
  • When the oil is shimmering, add the popcorn kernels and cover with a lid.
  • Shake gently back and forth to keep the kernels moving about, and remove from the heat when the sounds of popping ceases.
  • Tip the popped corn into a large bowl and set aside.

The coating

100g unsalted butter
200g/1 cup sugar – all one type or a mixture
125ml/½ cup golden syrup/schenkstroop/treacle – see below for maple syrup
½ tsp salt

½tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp vanilla extract, or other flavouring (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 110°C, 90°C Fan.
  • Line a large baking sheet with parchment or preferably a silpat mat.
  • Have your bicarbonate of soda and flavourings measured out and have a large spatula and a large balloon whisk close to hand.
  • Put the first four ingredients in a large pan. I use my preserving pan.
  • Heat on medium heat, stirring, until the butter and sugars have melted together.
  • Stop stirring and allow the mixture to reach Hard Crack on a sugar thermometer, roughly 150°C.
  • The next stage needs to be done quickly.
  • Remove from the heat and add the flavourings and the bicarbonate of soda.
  • Stir briskly with the balloon whisk until the mixture begins to froth, then tip in the popped corn.
  • Using the spatula, turn the popcorn in the hot caramel until evenly coated, by scooping the caramel from underneath and turning it over the top of the corn. The fizzing bicarbonate of soda will make this easier, but the effect won’t last forever, so work briskly, but be careful as boiling sugar is LAVA!
  • Tip the coated popcorn onto the baking sheet and spread out in an even layer. Don’t worry if the popcorn is looking a bit patchy, the baking stage will help even this out.

The Baking

  • Bake the sheet of popcorn for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. The caramel will remain quite liquid for the first 20 minutes, so keep stirring to even out the coverage.
  • Remove from the oven and, while still warm, break up any large pieces.
  • Allow to cool on the baking sheet, then pack into an airtight container when cold – a large ziplock bag is ideal. Be sure to exclude as much air as possible before sealing.

Maple Syrup Caramel Popcorn

Maple Syrup Caramel Popcorn

Whilst the ingredients for Maple Syrup Caramel Popcorn are the same as the recipe above (using 125ml/½ a cup of pure maple syrup as the liquid sugar), the method isn’t suitable. The temperature of 150°C is much too high for the delicately flavoured syrup, and results in a grained and crystallised caramel. Using half maple syrup and half golden syrup was kinda OK< but really quite a thick, heavy coating. My daughter still loved the ‘failed’ batches (just as well, considering how many there were), but I was determined to get a glossy and crisp caramel and as the picture above shows, success! (Eventually).

This method is actually easier than the above, with all it’s faffing around with thermometers and the like. It’s also much quicker. Initially, proceed as for the above recipe:

  • Preheat the oven to 110°C, 90°C Fan. Or not. See below.
  • Line a large baking sheet with parchment or preferably a silpat mat.
  • Have your bicarbonate of soda measured out and have a large spatula and a large balloon whisk close to hand.
  • Put the butter, sugar (I recommend light muscovado), maple syrup and salt in a large pan. I use my preserving pan.
  • Heat on medium heat, stirring, until the butter and sugars have melted together.
  • Then:
  • Stop stirring and when the mixture begins to boil, allow it to boil for just three minutes.
  • Now:
  • Proceed as above, i.e.
  • Remove from the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda.
  • Stir briskly with the balloon whisk until the mixture begins to froth, then tip in the popped corn.
  • Using the spatula, turn the popcorn in the hot caramel until evenly coated, by scooping the caramel from underneath and turning it over the top of the corn. The fizzing bicarbonate of soda will make this easier, but the effect won’t last forever, so work briskly, but be careful as boiling sugar is LAVA!
  • Tip the coated popcorn onto the baking sheet and spread out in an even layer.
  • Bake the sheet of popcorn for no longer than 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and, while still warm, break up any large pieces.
  • Allow to cool on the baking sheet, then pack into an airtight container when cold – a large ziplock bag is ideal. Be sure to exclude as much air as possible before sealing.
  • Enjoy.

Tune in next time for Part II, where we get all fancy-schmantzy with our popcorn flavours!


Snow Crisp

Snow Crisp

Snow Crisp – dusted with milk powder(L), showing the jewel-like sides of each portion (R)

Wotchers!

Something a little different today, with a recipe that is simple, quick, delicious and easily made gluten-free.

I came across it whilst browsing Chinese language food blogs (see the lengths I go to, to bring you the cutting edge of fashionable recipes??). Anyhoo – this recipe seems to be riding a sizeable wave of popularity, which is understandable for all of the reasons I started with, plus the ease with which it can be customised. I’ve ‘interpreted’ the Chinese name to the most suitable translation, the variations I came across whilst researching being many and varied, e.g. Snowflake Cakes, Snow Puff Pastry, Snow Q Cake, Snowflake Crisp, Dry Snow Cake and my favourites – Reticulated Red Snowflake Pastry, Swept Eat Snowflake Crisp Circle & Delicious Non-Stick Tooth Nougat Failure.

Mmm.

It is like a cross between Chocolate Salami and nougat –  fruit and nuts are mixed into melted marshmallows, with the addition of crisp biscuit pieces for added texture. The biscuits also ‘lighten the bite’ and prevent it from being either too sweet or too cloying. Once formed into a slab, it is dusted with dried milk powder to give it a wintery effect.

I would recommend having some latex gloves on hand, no pun intended, to help with shaping the warm mass, but it is also possible to make-do without.

When your block has set firmly, you can slice it into serving portions and dust all cut surfaces with milk powder if liked, but I must confess to preferring to see the contrast between the powdery top/bottom and the crisp and sharply delineated sides showing the embedded jewels of fruit and nut. You can even omit the milk powder altogether, or substitute with desiccated coconut, but I would recommend at least trying it to begin with – maybe cut off a slice or two and just dust those.

Chocolate Snow Crisp

Chocolate Snow Crisp – dusted with cocoa

In terms of variations, the most popular I have found are chocolate (cocoa) and matcha. Being in powder form, they are easy both to add to the melted marshmallows and use for dusting – although changing the overall colour means you do lose the whole ‘snow’ theme somewhat. That said, it does allow you to use non-white marshmallow, if packs of all-white are difficult to find.

Fruits and nuts are entirely to your taste, but bright colours and whole nuts make for attractive shapes when cut through. If you make your own candied peel – and as readers of this blog you all do, obvs (no pressure 😉 ) – it can be substituted for some or all of the dried fruit, and a mix of seeds can replace the nuts.

The quantities given are sufficient for a block of about 20cm square – you can, of course, shape it however you prefer. They are also easy to remember, as I have made them proportional, and thus fairly straightforward to scale up or down, as required.

The biscuits you require should be crisp and dry. In the UK, Rich Tea biscuits or Arrowroot are ideal (regular or gluten-free), although you will have to break them into quarters for ease of shaping. If you’re a fan of the pairing of salty and sweet, you could even substitute Ritz crackers – the mini ones being perfectly sized to leave whole. Crisp and salty pretzels are a further option.

Snow Crisp

50g unsalted butter
200g white marshmallows
50g dried milk powder
50g dried fruit – cranberries & orange peel/blueberries/apricots
50g mixed nuts – pistachios & walnuts/almonds/cashews
200g crisp biscuits – Rich Tea/Arrowroot/gluten-free/Ritz, broken into quarters if large

Extra milk powder for dusting

  • Put the fruit, nuts and biscuits in a pile on a silicone mat.
  • Melt the butter in a non-stick pan over a very low heat.
  • Add the marshmallows and stir gently while they melt. This will take some time. Do not be tempted to turn the heat up, as they will quickly start to turn brown and caramelise.
  • When the marshmallows have melted, add the milk powder and stir until fully combined.
  • Pour the marshmallow mixture onto the fruits and biscuits.
  • Put on your plastic gloves and thoroughly mix everything together. Use a series  of gentle lifting and folding motions. You want the marshmallow to coat everything and hold together, without crushing the biscuits into dust.
  • Once the mixture is holding together in a mass, you can use a non-stick tin to help mould it into a rectangle. Press the mass into a corner of the tin to help form two square edges, then turn it around and repeat, pressing it gently by firmly into the sides.
  • When you’re happy with the dimensions of your slab, wrap it in plastic and put into the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes.
  • When the slab has firmed up, dust with more of the milk powder, making sure the whole surface is covered. Turn the slab over and repeat.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut the slab into serving sized pieces – about the size of a matchbox is good – it’s allows the edges to be seen and admired, and cn be eaten in just 2 bites.
  • Store in an airtight box.

Variations

  • Chocolate: Add 15-20g cocoa to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with cocoa.
  • Matcha: Add 15-20g matcha powder to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with a mixture of matcha and milk powder, or just matcha.
  • Fruit variations: Add 15-20g freeze-dried fruit powders (available here) to the pan together with the milk powder, use whole dried fruit in the filling and dust with extra fruit powder.
  • Coffee: Add 15-20g espresso coffee powder to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with a mixture of coffee & milk powder.
  • Oats: Replace half of the biscuits with toasted, rolled oats.

More Fudge

Mince Pie Fudge
Wotchers!

Well, the festive season is rapidly approaching and it’s high time I came up with some suitably-themed posts!

So here are a couple of recipes for making treats that are perfect to give as gifts, as well as keeping all to yourself. NB For the best possible texture to your finished fudge, a sugar thermometer or therma-pen is necessary.

See also: Sea-Foam Fudge

Mince Pie Fudge

I love the intense fruits/spicy/boozy/citrus flavour of mincemeat, especially since I started making the vegetarian/vegan/fat-free/no-added-sugar mincemeat inspired by a recipe from Hannah Glasse. However much I love the flaky, buttery-ness of a puff pastry mince pie – FYI, it’s a LOT – sometimes, I just want to enjoy the filling.

Since it would be undignified to spoon it straight from the jar – *poker face* not that I’d ever do that – I thought that making it into fudge would be an ideal way for a handy-sized hit of festive cheer.

This recipe is a variation of the only fudge recipe you’ll ever need – and an adaption of the aforementioned mincemeat recipe. There is less liquid and more spices, in order for their flavours to survive being added to the hot fudge mixture.

For the mincemeat
90g mixed candied peel, diced small
130g of flaked or slivered almonds and pistachios
150g mixed raisins, sultanas, cranberries and chopped apricots
2tbs sherry
1tbs brandy
juice & grated rind of an orange
juice & grated rind of a lemon
½tsp ground ginger
½tsp grated nutmeg,
½tsp ground cinnamon
½tsp ground mixed spice
¼tsp ground cloves

  • Put the sherry, brandy, lemon and orange juice, dried fruits and spices into a small pan.
  • Stir gently to combine and set pan over the lowest possible heat.
  • Cover and let the mixture stew gently until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  • The mixture should be moist, but with no liquid visible in the bottom.
  • Mix in the zests, nuts and candied peel and set aside.

For the fudge
1 x 397ml tin of sweetened, condensed milk
150ml milk
125g butter
450g Demerera sugar

  • Line a rectangular baking pan with parchment. Personally, I use a pan 30cm by 24cm
  • Put all of the ingredients into a pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring to the boil and stir continuously until it registers between 118°C and 120°C on a thermometer dipped into the centre of the pan. Make sure the tip of the thermometer doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan, as this will be much hotter and the thermometer will thus give a false reading.
  • When your fudge reaches temperature, remove from the heat and allow the bubbles to settle. Pour into your stand mixer and use the beating paddle (not the whisk) to beat slowly for at least five minutes, to cool the fudge.
  • When the mixture has cooled and thickened, add the  soaked fruit, nuts and peel and stir to combine.
  • When it is thick and still just pourable, tip it into your parchment-lined tin and smooth over.
  • Leave to cool completely.
  • When cold, cut into cubes with a sharp knife and store in an airtight box.

Creamy Vanilla Fudge

Creamy Vanilla Fudge

The sweetened, condensed milk recipe above can satisfy 99% of your fudge-related requirements: the texture is excellent, it is easily flavoured with a range of simple additions, and even ‘plain’ is delicious.

However, everything can be improved on, if your palate is demanding enough, and so if plain and unadorned pure flavours are your thing, then this is the recipe for you. If the above recipe is the regular champagne of fudge recipes, then this recipe is vintage. I have adapted it from a recipe published online by Nick Dudley-Jones, reducing the sugar slightly and merely adding detail where his recipe was more free-spirited.

The quality of the ingredients is what sets this recipe aside, so be sure to use the very best you can get your hands on and you will reap your just rewards.

600g caster sugar
500ml double cream
50g unsalted butter
10g liquid glucose
1 vanilla pod or 1-2tsp good quality vanilla paste
75g good quality white chocolate – chopped

  • Line a rectangular,  30cm by 24cm baking pan with parchment.
  • Put the sugar, cream, butter and glucose into a thick-bottomed pan.
  • Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds.
  • Put the seeds and the pod into the pan with the rest of the ingredients.
  • Heat the ingredients gently until the sugar has fully dissolved.
  • Raise the heat and bring to a rolling boil, stirring all the time.
  • Continue stirring and cook until the mixture reaches 118-120°C.
  • Remove from the heat.
  • When the bubbles have subsided, fish out the vanilla pod.
  • Pour the fudge into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat slowly for 5 minutes to cool and grain the mixture.
  • After 5 minutes, slowly add in the chopped chocolate, pausing between each addition until it has melted.
  • Continue to beat the mixture slowly until it thickens. This will take a further 7-10 minutes. The texture should be similar to marshmallow fluff/putty/uncooked sponge cake mixture (pick whichever of those analogies is most recognisable to you).
  • Spoon/pour the mixture into your parchment-lined tin and smooth over.
  • Set aside and allow to cool at room temperature for 3-4 hours.
  • Chill if liked for extra firmness and to achieve razor-clean cuts when dividing it up.
  • Cut into cubes with a sharp knife and store in an airtight box.
  • If you can exercise the self-control, the flavour of this fudge is best if first allowed to mature for 24 hours, which gives the flecks of vanilla seeds time to release their aromas.

Sea Foam Fudge

Sea Foam

Wotchers!

This is another fantastic textured fudge recipe, but in a whole different way to the Condensed Milk Fudge.

It is made with whisked egg-whites and a hot sugar syrup, beaten to grain the sugar. The result is a dazzlingly white, almost marshmallow appearance. The magic, however, happens when you take a bite. Just like it’s namesake, Sea Foam Fudge melts away like a whisper.

It is positively ethereal. Which is why it needs a jolly great handful of cranberries, apricots and a few chopped nuts for zing and colour and a bit of texture. Some Yuletide flotsam, to be carried into your mouth on a cushion of sea foam, if you will. Or not. I tend to get a bit carried away with my extended metaphors.

ANYHOO….

In the US I believe this is called Divinity and lacks the fruit,  but also veers dangerously (for my not-very-sweet-tooth) towards the soft and nougat-y.

As with meringues, this will absorb moisture if left uncovered, so pack into a ziplock bag for personal indulgence, or shiny, crackly cellophane if gifting as presents.

This comes from a delightful book in my collection – Sweet-Making For All by Helen Jerome, originally published in 1924. Just as with Ms Nell Heaton, I have great confidence in Ms Jerome’s recipes which are always clear and straightforward. If you come across any of their books, I can highly recommend them.

Sea Foam

450g white granulated sugar
60g golden syrup or glucose[1]
180ml water
2 large egg whites
50g chopped nuts – pistachios are colourful, almonds keep things pale
50g chopped dried apricots
50g chopped cranberries – dried or candied

1tsp vanilla extract or 1tbs rum

  • Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment.
  • Put the sugar, syrup and water into a pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Bring to a boil and continue to heat until the syrup reaches 130°C. Do not stir.
  • When the temperature of the syrup reaches 120°C, start whisking the egg-whites until stiff. The temperature of the sugar syrup will rise relatively quickly, so keep an eye on each. Or get a glamorous assistant to help.
  • Still whisking, pour the hot syrup slowly into the whisked egg-whites, as if making Italian meringue, and continue beating until the mixture begins to thicken and lose its gloss. Add the flavouring whilst whisking.
  • When the mixture has lost its high sheen and thickened slightly add the fruit and nuts and continue beating until the mixture has thickened further and becomes cloud-like. NB This might happen suddenly, so be prepared.
  • Smooth your Sea Foam into the tin. Alternatively, roll lightly into logs about 2cm in diameter Try not to squash out the air you’ve just whisked in as you do so. Wearing latex gloves or dusting your hands with cornflour, or both – will help.
  • Cover lightly and allow to cool completely. If you can enclose your tin in a large ziplock bag to protect from humidity, so much the better.
  • When cold, cut into squares and/or dip into tempered chocolate. Store in an airtight container.

 

[1] The glucose will keep the fudge dazzlingly white, the golden syrup will add a very pale golden hue.


Candied Cranberries

Candied Cranberries

Wotchers!

Here’s a recipe you might want to try, now that fresh cranberries are back in the shops.

After discovering the joys of home-candied peel a few years ago, I have since tried my hand at several different fruits. With it being the season for mincemeat and fruit cake decorating, when I spotted some punnets of fresh cranberries on sale, I thought I’d givethem a try.

Hunting around on the internet, it seems many people’s idea of candied cranberries is to dip them in egg-white and roll them in caster sugar. Beautiful and festive and twinkly-frosty, but not really candied in the traditional sense.

I also found no recipes on the traditional method of candying for these particular berries, so I thought I’d make up my own.

My method is a combination of the old-fashioned method of making conserves with delicate fruit, and how to make sloe gin *hic!*

This recipe takes about a week, but your active involvement is little more than an hour. Over the week, the delicate berries will gradually exchange their juice for sugar, thereby making the cranberries becoming more robust the more sugar they absorb, and as a bonus you’ll get a beautifully coloured cranberry syrup.

For ease, select a pan you can get by without using for a week.

Candied Cranberries

1kg fresh cranberries
1kg caster sugar

  • Poke holes in each cranberry with a cocktail stick in order to let the juice out (and the sugar in). You don’t have to be too fastidious – I made about 5 or 6 holes around the middle.
  • Layer the cranberries and the caster sugar in a pan – a wide pan is better than tall saucepan, for ease of gently moving the berries around later.  Leave for 24 hours. The sugar will draw out some of the juice.
  • Next day, heat the pan very gently to melt the sugar. You’ll probably have to add a little water to get it started – about 1/2 a cup. Shake, don’t stir – or if you absolutely have to, stir very gently. Vigorous stirring and/or heating will cause the berries to burst. Some will burst anyway, but try and keep that at a minimum by being gentle.
  • Once the sugar is melted, turn off the heat, cover, and leave 24 hours. As the sugar is absorbed by the cranberries, they will gradually become more robust, but for the first day or two, you’ll need to be careful.
  • Repeat the heating gently for 5 minutes then leaving overnight for 5 days. Gradually the syrup will become redder and the cranberries more jewel-like.
  • After 5 days, warm the syrup (to make it easier to drain) and pour through a sieve to separate the cranberries from the syrup.
  • To finish, the cranberries need to dry a little, so line 2 large baking sheets with parchment and scatter the candied cranberries over. Try and get them separated, to facilitate drying, but there will be some squished ones you can’t do much about at this stage.
  • Last thing at night, put the trays in the oven and turn the heat to 170°C/150°C Fan for 5 minutes, then turn off and leave to dry overnight.
  • Repeat the drying next day – 170°C/150°C Fan for 5 minutes then turn off and leave to dry. If extremely sticky, they might need another overnight drying (I did Friday night/Saturday day/Saturday night).
  • Once only slightly tacky to the touch, they’re ready to use. I sorted mine into 3 groups: Perfect ones went back into the syrup (to keep moist) to use as decorations. I dipped a few of the not-so-perfect ones in dark chocolate, and rolled the rest in caster sugar and stored in a ziplock bag. The exploded ones I chopped and put in a jar for mincemeat.

Fudge

Fudge

Wotchers!

Confession: This is not my recipe.

It is the original fudge recipe that used to be posted on the Carnation website and for some reason was taken down a few years ago.

Luckily for me – and you – I have it ingrained on my brain as it is the best, no-fail recipe I have ever used, and I am posting it here so I can be lazy and just point everyone who asks for the recipe here, instead of writing it out again and again.

It makes the kind of fudge that has texture: when cooled, it is hard to bite into – yet it melts in the mouth.Very similar to the confection known in Scotland as Tablet.

The secret is two-fold: boiling the mixture to the correct temperature, and beating it as it cools to ‘grain’ the sugar.

You CAN make this the Old Skool way, testing for the Firm Ball stage by doing the drop test in water, and by beating the cooling mixture hard with a wooden spoon. However, I’m all for using gadgets wherever possible, so a thermapen or similar thermometer and an electric whisk or stand mixer are my recommendations.

Each batch makes a 1.2kg slab large enough to last over the festive season. Alternatively, you can make a batch and divide it up into small batches in clear plastic bags and use it for presents, or make two batches of contrasting flavours and make it go even further.

You can use the basic recipe to make a number of equally delicious variations, and I’ve thrown in an extra one by Nell Heaton – a favourite author of mine from the 1940s/1950s, who deserves greater recognition for her delicious, trustworthy recipes – which is a real explosion of flavour when made with home-made candied peel, fruit and nuts.

Fudge

1 x 397ml tin of sweetened, condensed milk
150ml milk
125g butter
450g Demerera sugar

  • Line a baking pan with parchment. The size of the pan doesn’t really matter, but I recommend a rectangular pan, for ease of cutting the fudge into cubes once cooled. The original recipe suggested a pan 18cm square, which will make for a small, very thick slab. Personally, I use a pan 30cm by 24cm
  • Put all of the ingredients into a pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring to the boil and stir continuously until it registers between 116°C and 120°C on a thermometer dipped into the centre of the pan. Make sure the tip of the thermometer doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan, as this will be much hotter and the thermometer will thus give a false reading.
  • When your fudge reaches temperature, remove from the heat and allow the bubbles to settle. Pour into your stand mixer and use the beating paddle (not the whisk) to beat slowly until the mixture thickens. Alternatively, use your electric hand mixer directly into the pan, also whisking until the mixture has thickened.
  • When it is thick and still just pourable, tip it into your parchment-lined tin and smooth over.
  • Leave to cool completely.
  • When cold, cut into cubes with a sharp knife and store in an airtight box.

Variations

  • Rum and Raisin Fudge: Warm 115g raisins in 3-4tbs dark rum and leave to plump. Add just before beating.
  • Chocolate Fudge: Melt 170g dark, 60% chocolate and add just before beating.
  • Fruit and nut fudge: Stir in 85g mixed dried fruit and chopped nuts.
  • Nell Heaton’s Tutti Frutti Fudge (my favourite) Add 350g – yes, a whopping 12 ounces in old money – of mixed chopped nuts, dried fruit and candied peel sliced or diced small. I suggest about 90g candied peel, 130g flaked or slivered almonds and chopped walnuts, and 130g mixed raisins, sultanas, cranberries and chopped apricots.

Oat Brittle

Oat Brittle with Peanuts

Wotchers!

This has to be one of the shortest and salty-sweetest recipes on the blog.

Deliciously simple and infinitely customisable, what’s not to love?

Salted Caramel Oat Brittle with Salted Peanuts – although it could be with anything that takes your fancy: cranberries, apricots, cashews, macadamia nuts, flax, sesame and sunflower seeds….. I could go on, but you’re already starting to doze, so I won’t.

Regular readers will know how much I love oats, and a little bit of salt with whatever you’re putting them into really brings out their toasty flavour, so salted nuts are my number one choice.

This recipe is wonderfully moreish whether you’re using the highest quality ingredients or the cheapest of the cheap from the basics range of a supermarket. I’ve tried both and the taste is awesome whatever your budget can stretch to. The world is your crustacean of choice, but 500g of sweet and salty deliciousness for about £1.20 using basics ingredients is a bargain in anyone’s book.

Best of all there’s no need for an oven – this treat can be prepared using just one pan on the hob – who needs mountains of washing up when there’s a treat waiting to be enjoyed? Actually, with this recipe, you might do – because you’ll need something to do while you wait until it’s cooled down enough not to burn your mouth, but *waves hands dismissively* ANYHOO….

Let’s get on with the recipe!

Oat Brittle

Use a non-stick pan.

150g rolled oats
225g granulated sugar
100g butter
100g salted peanuts
1/2tsp salt (optional)

  • Lay a sheet of baking parchment onto a chopping board or into a roasting tin, for the hot brittle.
  • Pour the oats into a coarse sieve and shake to get rid of all the oat ‘flour’ that will have accumulated. There will always be some, whether you’re using the finest steel-rolled oats or budget basics. Ideally you want the finished brittle to be a delicious contrast between glossy caramel, toasty oats and crunchy peanuts, so getting rid of this ‘dust’ can only improve it’s visual appeal.
  • Put the oats into a dry pan and toast them over medium heat to dry them out. You will be able to smell their nuttiness as they become toasted. Light or dark, your call.
  • When you’re happy with the colour, pour them into a bowl and set aside.
  • Wipe the pan clean of any dust and pour in the sugar.
  • Set it over a low heat and DO NOT STIR. It will gradually melt and turn a rich caramel brown.
  • Keep an eye on it while you’re NOT STIRRING, and shake the pan if necessary in order to move the sugar around.
  • Keep NOT STIRRING until all the sugar has melted.
  • Add the butter and stir briskly as it melts until it is mixed in, although don’t be too diligent – you don’t want the mixture to cool too much before the rest of the ingredients are added.
  • Remove from the heat and add the toasted oats and nuts (and/or fruit and salt if using).
  • Mix thoroughly to combine.
  • Tip the mixture out onto the baking parchment and arrange into artistic clumps about the size of a walnut. You don’t want there to be huge lumps, because they’ll be difficult to break apart once the mixture is cooled. And then you’d have to eat those yourself *poker face* which would be a trial, but we can’t be having any waste, so somebody has to be prepared to do that.
  • Once cooled, break apart into bite-sized pieces and store in an airtight container or zip-lock bag.
  • Enjoy with coffee, tea or a good movie.