Sunday, 26 August 2012

Elephant No. 329: Chocolate Fudge

One of my close friends was asking me the other day if I'd tried making fudge elephants yet. Since I hadn't, I thought I'd try it today.

Fudge is a very sweet, very rich candy made by mixing sugar, butter and milk together, often combined with chocolate, nuts and other flavourings.

Fudge is actually very similar to a traditional recipe for something called tablet, which first appeared in The Household Book of Lady Grisell Baillie in the early eighteenth century. In the United Kingdom, the word "fudge" usually refers to a softer version of tablet, rather than the chocolate confection common in the United States and Canada.

Chocolate fudge seems to have originated in the United States around 1886. Emelyn Battersby Hartridge, then a student at Vassar College in New York state, mentioned in a letter that a schoolmate's cousin had made chocolate fudge, which she sold for 40 cents a pound (approximately 88 cents a kilogram). Hartridge later got the recipe and made 30 pounds (14 kilograms) of fudge for a Vassar charity auction.

For years to come, the Vassar fudge recipe remained popular at the school. Other women's colleges also began making fudge, producing their own recipes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In Canada and the United States, most people think of a thick, sweet chocolate when they think of fudge. In addition to being consumed as a candy, "fudge sauce" is often added to ice cream and other desserts in the form of what is essentially a viscous chocolate fondant.

Most recipes for fudge call for sugar, combined with milk and butter. In addition to making the fudge easier to blend, the addition of milk has a practical purpose, preventing the sugar from crystallizing too quickly. When the crystallization process is carefully managed—which also involves keeping an eye on temperature—the resulting fudge has a smooth texture, rather than being hard and grainy.

Over the years, many other substances have been added to the basic fudge components. The most common of these are chocolate and nuts, although everything from peppermint candy to edible flowers—and even candied bacon—have been tried.

Nor is it always necessary to make fudge with sugar, milk and butter. Some recent versions require a simple blending of ingredients such as sweetened condensed milk and melted chocolate. This particular recipe relies on the fact that the chocolate will re-harden when cooled.

For today's elephant, I decided to go the latter route. For one thing, I didn't have milk or enough butter on hand. For another, I find traditional fudge too sweet, and prefer making fudge with condensed milk and semi-sweet chocolate chips. Since I had to turn it into some kind of elephant or elephants, I also needed something reasonably soft. What I call "cheater fudge" fit the bill perfectly.

The recipe below is essentially adapted from the recipe you find on the label of many brands of sweetened condensed milk. If you prefer to be more traditional, there are many, many fudge recipes available online.


Sheila's Cheater Fudge

3 cups (750 ml) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 can (14 oz/400 ml) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. (5 ml) vanilla extract or 1/2 tsp. (3 ml) other flavouring such as almond, orange or peppermint
1/2 to 1 cup (125 to 250 ml) chopped nuts (optional)

Melt all ingredients in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly.

Spread into 8 x 8-inch (20 x 20 cm) pan lined with foil. 

Chill two hours, or until firm. Cut into squares, roll and cut into shapes, or shape by hand. Keep chilled.


I started by melting everything together on the stove. For flavouring, I used essence of orange. I decided not to add nuts because I thought they would be visually confusing when I made elephants. If you were adding nuts, however, you'd add them after everything is melted, but before removing it from the stove.

Once it was fully blended and melted, I poured it into a pan lined with foil to cool. My original idea was to simply cut out elephant shapes with a cookie cutter, then I decided it might be interesting to shape into elephants by hand.

Because I planned to shape the fudge by hand, I chilled it for about an hour. This made it firm enough to work with, but not so cold that it would have required a lot of extra work to soften it. Or so I thought.

I started to mould a small elephant as a sort of cake-topper. The fudge mixture began turning oily and soft almost immediately. I got as far as a body with head and four stubby legs before I had to stick all the parts in the freezer. After a few minutes, I pulled the pieces out and joined the legs to the body, smoothing out the joins a bit.

It still wanted to fall apart, so I stuck it back in the freezer and left it there. I tried a few more elephants without joins, sort of pinching them into shape, but the mixture was even more unmanageable. I don't know if it's because it's hot here today, or if you need ice water in your veins to handle this stuff, but it was almost impossible—for me, anyway—to form reasonably solid shapes with this fudge mixture.

My next idea was to try using a cookie cutter. Because a big cookie cutter would have made a very large slab of fudge, I decided to try small elephants, using the same cookie cutter I'd used for my moulded sugar cubes.

Once I'd cut out ten of these, I shaped them into whole elephants, rather than leaving them as abstract elephant heads, as I'd done with the sugar cubes. While these looked okay, my fingerprints stayed in the surface. I tried to make these a bit more interesting by adding an eye and the suggestion of an ear and, as long as you don't examine them too closely, they don't look bad. The camera's close-up lens is a little cruel here.

For my final fudge elephants, I decided to roll out the mixture into a slab about 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick, which I then cut with my usual elephant cookie cutter. To make these a little less plain, I dusted it with powdered cocoa and added a silver dragee for an eye. I liked these final elephants best. They're not that different in principle from the rectangular slabs people usually buy, and are prettier.

That was more than enough fudge-making for me. I usually spread it in a pan, cut it into squares, and give it away. I don't even really like fudge. And I now know that I will probably never try to shape it again.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In 1942, during the Second World War, a 53-year-old tea planter named Gyles Mackrell became famous for rescuing hundreds of Burmese refugees—with a major assist from several elephants.

Fleeing the advancing Japanese army, thousands of Burmese—many of whom were wounded, sick and starving—had walked for miles through the jungle, seeking safety in neighbouring India.

Unfortunately, when the refugees arrived on the shores of the Dapha River dividing Burma and India, they became trapped. Monsoon rains had swollen the river considerably, making it deep, swift, and virtually impassable to humans. Enter Mackrell and the elephants.

After receiving a distress call from one group of refugees, Mackrell collected the working elephants from the tea plantation he managed, and set up a makeshift camp on the riverbank. 

Over the weeks that followed, Mackrell and his team conducted hundreds of men, women and children across the river on the backs of elephants. It is believed that most of them would never have made it to safety without Mackrell's efforts, and those of his elephants.

One of Mackrell's plantation elephants entering the water loaded with Burmese
refugees, June 1942.
Photo: Gyles Mackrell © PA

By all accounts, Mackrell was a modest man. After receiving the George Medal for his bravery and ingenuity, he was apparently embarrassed by the attention. He even worried that people would think he had returned to India only in hopes of receiving a second medal.

He later retired to Suffolk, England, where he died in 1959. Little, however, is known about the elephants involved in an operation dubbed "the Dunkirk of the Far East". It is likely that they thought nothing at all of the whole business, and simply returned to work on the tea plantation.

Interestingly, Burma is the only country in the world which still employs large numbers of elephants as labour, particularly in the logging industry.

Three of Mackrell's plantation elephants fording the Dapha River, loaded with
Burmese refugees, June 1942.
Photo: Giles Mackrell © PA

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