Everybody loves Oreo cookies. It’s hard to believe that they’ve been around for a century, but they were invented in 1912 and originally sold by the pound. Over the years the standard Oreo hasn’t changed too much, with the exception of a redesigned pattern in the 1950s. The company has introduced all kinds of different varieties and limited edition flavors and has expanded their sales to more than 100 countries. The origin of the name is still a mystery, though. One theory is that the Os represent the round cookie and the “re” in the middle is shortened from “cream.” Others think it comes from the Greek word Oreo, which translates to “beautiful.” There are also those who believe the name is just a made-up word and any attempts to figure out its meaning are a waste of time.
When we learned that this iconic American brand is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, we knew we had to find some way to mark this momentous occasion. After much soul-searching and intense debate, the solution finally dawned on me, as if a divine voice had whispered in my ear, “Hey, why not put Oreos in the fudge?” Thus inspired, I created our new Oreo fudge, which will be available shortly.
When I was a kid I used to eat the cream filling and throw the cookie part away–or offer it to my little sister, who for some reason was never very excited to get a bunch of creamless Oreos. Now I’m old enough to better appreciate the whole thing, and the Double Stuf version helps improve the cream-to-cookie ratio, but I still want more of that sweet filling. The Oreo fudge finally satisfies that burning desire. It’s essentially a slab of rich cream with just the right amount of crunchy chocolate cookie pieces mixed in. Oreo fudge is sure to be a big hit with kids and adults alike.
In addition to being an expert fudge maker, I’m also a nerd. So this week I’m going to explain the chemistry behind fudge. I know you probably slept through high school science class, and some of you have already stopped reading, but I promise it’s not as boring as you think. Pay attention, there might be a pop quiz at the end.
Making a good batch of fudge is hugely dependent on getting all the variables just right. Even small mistakes can result in a disaster. (Ironically, fudge itself was originally a result of botching some other candy recipe). If the ingredients, technique, and temperature are all perfect, you’ll have smooth, creamy fudge. If not–well, let’s just say that instead of fudge you get something fudged up.
Fudge depends on supersaturation and crystallization. Remember learning about those in school? No? Well, keep reading. Controlling these two processes is the key to making traditional fudge. Supersaturation means dissolving more of a substance (in this case, sugar) in a liquid than would be possible under normal conditions. This is achieved by heating cream, which allows us to add more sugar, which in turn allows the cream to reach temperatures well above its normal boiling point. For fudge, the temperature needs to reach 234-240°. This is called the soft-ball stage. If the temperature is too low the fudge will be runny; too hot and it will be too hard. Humidity and altitude both affect the exact temperature required, so it takes some skill to know when the fudge is really done cooking.
Sugar doesn’t like being in a supersaturated solution. It really prefers being a solid and will try to become one at any opportunity. Controlling sugar’s natural desire to crystallize is very important for getting smooth fudge instead of a grainy texture. Even a single sugar crystal–called a “seed”–can cause the rest to rapidly crystallize. Fortunately, there are a few ways to avoid that. Many fudge recipes call for a little corn syrup, which is mostly glucose. These extra glucose molecules get between the sucrose molecules and prevent them from forming crystals. Think of glucose as the chaperones at a school dance, keeping the kids from getting too close. Letting the fudge cool completely undisturbed until it reaches 110° is another important step. Then when it’s cool it needs to be stirred constantly. At that point we want it to crystallize, since that’s what makes it firm up, but the goal is to keep the crystals as small as possible. As the crystals form the fudge will go from being shiny to a bit duller, a signal that it’s ready to pour into a pan to set.
I’ll bet you didn’t know there was so much science behind a seemingly simple treat like fudge! And I didn’t think you’d read this far, so we’re both surprised. The next time you want to try a chemistry experiment, make a batch of fudge. And then eat it all, in the name of science.
Customers visiting our store are often surprised to learn that we make our own fudge on site. If the timing is right,they sometimes get to see the process in action. Our fudge recipe is top secret, of course, but I can tell you that it all starts as either vanilla or chocolate. I guess there isn’t really anything particularly special about plain chocolate fudge; recipes for that are a dime a dozen. But as Henry John Heinz (you know, the ketchup tycoon) once said, “To do a common thing, uncommonly well, brings success.” Not to brag, but I think our common chocolate and vanilla are done uncommonly well, and our customers seem to agree.
We use a specially designed kettle that cooks the fudge at the perfect temperature while stirring at the same time. You wouldn’t believe how awesome the fudge smells while it cooks–the aroma fills the whole store and seems to pull people inside. The real magic happens when I take the basic chocolate or vanilla and add flavorings, nuts, marshmallows, caramel, or whatever else the recipe calls for to create any of our thirty gourmet flavors. Anyone who sees this step invariably asks how I stay so skinny when I have a job like this; I’ll admit that it can be pretty tempting to lick the bowl clean when I’m done, but fortunately I have just enough willpower not to. I doubt the health department would approve of that anyway.
It takes about an hour to make a twenty pound batch of fudge, plus several more hours to let it cool. When it’s ready we either display it in the store or carefully package it to be shipped out to lucky fudge lovers all over the country. I’ve had many customers tell me that they enjoy giving fudge as a unique gift and seeing it made right in front of them makes it even more special.
If you’re ever in the neighborhood we’d love to have you stop by to watch us make some great homemade fudge. We’ll even be more than happy to give you a sample!
Summer officially starts June 20th, bringing us longer days and lots of sunshine. At least I hope it will–it’s been pretty cool and rainy here in this corner of Washington state. Those of you who are already enjoying the sunny summer weather might think that it’s too hot to ship fudge, but don’t worry. Fudge actually travels quite well with the appropriate packaging. After the fudge leaves our kitchen we have to trust the shipping company to take good care of it, but by taking some common sense precautions we can avoid trouble. We check weather conditions before shipping and use insulated boxes and cold packs when necessary to ensure that you receive a solid block of fudge, not a puddle of it. If your fudge is soft when it arrives, just refrigerate it until it firms up again.
Don’t let hot weather keep you from enjoying your favorite flavor of fudge. We’ve got the shipping under control.
We make more than forty flavors of fudge, which some people might think is enough. But when it comes to fudge, more is always better. It’s fun to experiment with new recipes. This week I’ve been working on a fudge that you might not expect: chili mango. I know it sounds weird, but chili and chocolate is actually a good combination that’s pretty popular right now. Lots of companies are offering chocolate bars with a spicy kick, so it’s about time we jumped on the bandwagon and put our own twist on the idea.
I started this project in the grocery store spice aisle. After picking a few to try, it was back to the kitchen to make a batch of fudge. I made several samples with varying recipe combinations of spices, but none of them quite worked. Jalapeno just wasn’t right; it didn’t go with the sweetness of the chocolate. Some of the samples included cinnamon, but it kind of overwhelmed the chili. I liked the chocolate and cinnamon together, though, so don’t be surprised if it shows up on the site in the future. My colleague Andrey, in a moment of culinary inspiration, suggested switching to dark chocolate fudge and adding mango, which turned out to be the way to go. I also doubled the spice for good measure. I made a batch to sample here in the store to get customer feedback and after a few more tweaks finally had some fudge I’m happy with.
Dark chocolate chili mango fudge will be available soon—are you brave enough to try it?