My lovely Grandma drummed into me that it's all about the giving, and not the receiving. Which is why I give away so many home-baked goodies throughout the year and never get any in return (not bitter, honestly - just trying to underline to my husband why I do this). So I was mildly disturbed by not having managed to get hold of the address of a friend who recently moved, slightly more disturbed that I asked someone for their new address and then promptly posted their birthday and Christmas card to their old address and in a mild state of stress come Christmas morning when I realised I'd forgotten to do the Thornton's run and not bought the usual box of chocolates for one of my aunties (who is really the wife of a cousin of my Grandma). She'd enclosed a lovely crisp tenner in our card which I selflessly put into the child's money box as a way of assuaging some of my guilt.
|My gift box of fudge, coconut ice and truffles|
Since then, it's eaten away at me. She's lives just over the road from my Grandad so it's not like it's difficult to get a present to her. Hmmmm.... Then, whilst staring at the mountains of uneaten food and the jars-of-things-you-only-ever-buy-at-Christmas-and-have-only-had-one-spoonful-removed-from-them (cranberry sauce, Branston pickle, pickled onions, gherkins, maraschino cherries,mincemeat - half empty jar of home made stuff) and wondering what to do with it all, I remembered a recipe for mincemeat shortbread I'd recently happened across in one of the huge pile of books that I own.
Perfect. Until I got up at stupid o'clock this morning to make the shortbread before the family departed and realised that I only had half a block of butter in the fridge. How did that happen? Every week, Ocado dutifully remind me via my favourites that I get through six blocks of butter - well I don't, but ever since I had a mad baking week and bought six blocks, it tells me I need six more, no matter how many times I change it to one. Scuppered!
Not enough ingredients for the lovely Nutella and Sea Salt Fudge I wrote about the other day. I had a little bit of Dan Lepard's Soft Raspberry Coconut Ice and a few of the Chocolate Mint Truffles still in the freezer. Still not enough to fill a gift box. So I decided that while I had a child-free half an hour (she was still sleeping) I'd give my new Heston Blumenthal sugar thermometer a whirl and make some Vanilla Fudge from Short and Sweet.
|New Heston thermometer in action|
I have mixed feelings about reviews on Amazon sometimes. They're often helpful, but I also realise that people are more likely to write a bad review of something they had a bad experience with than write a review about something average that does the job it says it does. I note from checking the reviews as I type that it currently has an average rating of one star...
How did I fare with it? Well it was reasonably easy to operate - there are pre-programmed temperatures for all the common sugar temperatures (soft ball, hard ball....) and and it clipped easily to the pan and I could manouvere the head to where I could easily read it so no burnt fingers. But when it hit 113c (I was after 115c for soft ball) the alarm went off and the temperature didn't rise any further. Being paranoid that my fudge may burn, I finally removed it from the heat but it has ended up with a very pale creamy colour where I was expecting something a little more toffee-coloured. Sadly there's no picture in Dan's book to show me what it should look like. I'll have to try the recipe again some other time.
However. If you pop over to the blog by the lovely Ali of Hungry Squirrels fame, you can see that hers is the colour I think mine should have been. I was really grateful for this blog post about the fudge as she had two 'learning attempts' before her final success. All through making my fudge, I had her tips resounding around my head. The most notable one was to '...watch like a hawk, stir like a Kenwood...' Excellent advice and I have nothing to add to that.
The other issue I had was which tin to use. Lepard suggests a loaf tin as he cuts his into cubes. I wanted to do festive shapes (I'm such a copycat - you have to check out Ali's Fudge Scottie Dogs, they're ace!) so I put mine into a 20cm square tin. It ended up being quite thin (to be expected) but the fudge is so sweet, it doesn't really matter any way. I also had to bung it in the freezer once it was cool to get it to set firmly enough to cut and pack before my free delivery service (my Grandad) left to go back home.
I went for the double cream and glucose option as I have a half a litre of cream leftover from Christmas in my fridge (it was for the unmade Croquembouche/profiteroles). Ali used evaporated milk. Maybe that's what made the colour difference? I feel more experimenting coming on...
- 400g caster sugar
- 150ml evaporated milk or double cream
- 100ml whole or semi-skimmed milk
- 75g unsalted butter
- pinch of salt
- seeds from ½ a vanilla pod or ½ tsp vanilla bean paste
- 2 tsp of liquid glucose (if using double cream)
Equipment - sugar thermometer, parchment lined loaf tin
- Place the sugar, evaporated milk, milk, butter and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
- Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil, stirring constantly
- Reduce the heat to just under a boil and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring constantly to make sure the fudge doesn’t stick and burn.
- Once the temperature reaches 240°F, remove the pan from the heat, and leave until the temperature drops to 230°F.
- Add the seeds from the vanilla pod or vanilla bean paste, and beat with a wooden spoon for 8-10 mins again until the mixture is thick and creamy.
- Pour into the tin and leave until cool before cutting with a clean sharp knife, or with a cutter.
And as a sub-note, the mincemeat and almond shortbread is in Rachel Allen's Favourite Food For Friends. Another book I've bought rather excitedly, read from cover to cover and never cooked anything from. Because I have no friends. *Sob* (okay that's not really true)