A very taxing and mood-souring week ended, finally and at long last, with a whimper on Friday night as I wearily filed the last piece of paper from my inbox, wrestled the kids to sleep, folded a final load of clothes, and threw myself, with great fanfare, into My Chair to page through the final issue of Gourmet which, now that I think about it, only adds to my sense of ennui. I'm really going to miss that magazine.
Things started to look up this morning though, after The Boy Wonder gently woke me from a solid, uninterrupted night of glorious sleep. I knew The Carnivore would be home all day, thus acting as the Pied Piper to his devoted children, Miss Hazelnut had slept for 14 blessed hours after a week of coughing and fretting every night, and my agenda was blissfully clear.
I had all the makings for a perfect day to piddle around in the kitchen, and just the framework from which to begin: a recipe I had unearthed, quite by accident earlier in the week, for coffee fudge.
I love coffee. I sneak coffee liqueurs into cake batters, consider dark-chocolate coffee beans to have vitamin-like qualities, suffer midnight lustful cravings for coffee ice cream, and, of course, drink coffee like it's going out of style. Coffee fudge, then, seemed like an obvious necessity to a complete life well-lived, yes?
Thus, after a couple cups of coffee, I made pancakes for the rugrats and spent some time outside pondering the ideal location for The Boy Wonder's Spring science project (read: vegetable garden), and then snuck back into the house when it looked like The Carnivore and his spawn were happily ensconced in tree trimming, tree climbing, and whatever it is that Miss Hazelnut does when she hangs out with them.
A quiet house is a beautiful thing.
The idea of coffee fudge has intrigued me for some time, but because I had never actually run across any, even at candy shops, I would tend to brood obsessively on the subject for a while, and then forget all about it again. Come to think of it, I employ that strategy with many of my interests. One more thing to add to my list of character flaws.
Previous internet searches always ended abruptly with recipes that included, I kid you not, marshmallow cream. I probably don't even need to get into the list of reasons why this is such an appalling idea. A few days ago, though, while having a near meltdown about owning too much stuff and trying to purge more of the same, I flipped through a silly little gift book about coffee that I've been dragging around for umpteen years and, right before I tossed it into the 'donate' pile, I saw a recipe for a pistachio and coffee fudge.
And the obsession was reborn.
This recipe had the right jumping off point for me. I could easily sub instant espresso granules for the coffee, marshmallow cream wasn't involved, and I could do anything I wanted where the nuts were concerned. Pistachios, while lovely and addictive, weren't what I was looking for here. Hazelnuts seemed ideal - I can't count how many hours I wasted at the old Athens Coffee House with a tableful of friends and a pot of hazelnut coffee back in my early college days - but hazelnuts were nowhere to be found at the grocery store and I wasn't terribly inclined to do one of my drive-around-town ingredient searches. I briefly contemplated using cacao nibs, but was afraid they might be too bitter to match with the espresso, and dark chocolate chips seemed not to be the right texture. Then I remembered my old favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor, the now-retired (argh) Coffee English Toffee Crunch, and I dug a little deeper into the back of the fridge and came out with a bag of Heath Toffee Bits leftover from a Mocha-Kahlua Cake experiment from last spring.
The end result has a flavor reminiscent of pralines, with a nubby texture from the toffee bits, and just a hint of the coffee - not enough to repel those odd souls who aren't addicted to coffee (even my children liked it), but enough to attract those of us who smile even at the scent (I can't get my husband to stop eating them). Actually, if a Frappuccino were made into a candy, I'm pretty sure this is what it would taste like. Starbucks, consider this recipe copyrighted - you know how to contact me.
COFFEE TOFFEE FUDGE (makes about 3 lbs of candy)
Notes: I used natural cane sugar with great results, though white sugar is traditionally used in fudge. Cafe Bustelo makes an instant espresso that comes in a jar in most grocery stores. Heath Toffee Bits can be found by the chocolate chips, but feel free to substitute nuts.
- 1 1/4 cups whole milk
- 4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 Tbs instant espresso granules
- 2 Tbs light corn syrup
- 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
- 1/2 cup toffee bits
- Grease a small jelly roll pan or an 8x10-ish glass casserole dish. A larger dish can be used, and will result in a thinner piece of fudge (nothing wrong with that).
- In a large saucepan, continuously stir the milk, sugar and butter over low heat until sugar has dissolved.
- Add the instant espresso, corn syrup, & condensed milk, and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often.
- Continue to boil the mixture, stirring very often, for about 20 to 30 minutes, until mixture has reached about 230 degrees (or soft-ball stage: drop small spoonful into bowl of cold water; a soft ball should form).
- Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.
- Stir in toffee bits, and beat mixture with a wooden spoon for 2 or 3 minutes, until mixture is no longer glossy and has thickened slightly. This is the only tricky step: if you stir too long, the fudge will begin to harden too much in the pan and will be a little grainier when it is cooled. When in doubt, stop stirring.
- Quickly pour into greased pan. Let stand for a few minutes, until cool to the touch. Cut into squares, then allow to cool completely.