There’s no better place on Earth to learn about—and sample!—fudge than on Mackinac Island. If you arrive during the Fudge Festival, all the better. The saying goes that of each of the fudge shops you visit on this Michigan island, you’ll end up consuming about a half pound of fudge in samples alone. It’s a good thing that most of the visitors also bike the island’s 8 mile perimeter and climb the steep hill leading up to Fort Mackinac.
Even if you can’t make it to Mackinac Island, it’s possible to create great-tasting fudge in your own farmstead kitchen to enjoy yourself or share as a gift for the upcoming holidays. Fudge will not melt, making it a perfect item to ship to friends and family.
“Fudge caught on during World War I and II when the GIs needed a quick source of energy that was easy to transport without melting,” says Richie Wheeler, fudge maker and manager at Joann’s Fudge. Perhaps it’s the cool weather and the attraction of well-to-do tourists who stayed at the Grand Hotel when it opened in 1887 that also led to the popularity of the fudge on Mackinac Island.
“Murdick’s made it. Ryba’s popularized it. Joann’s perfected it,” says Wheeler, who’s in his ninth season with Joann’s Fudge. Mackinac Island has become the most popular place for fudge in the United States, though the sweet treat was invented elsewhere. Back in the 1880s, Harry Murdick started making fudge on marble tables and blowing the smells of cooling fudge into the main street. Years later, Harry Ryba moved the marble tables to the front of his store, catching the eyes of the crowds passing by. Joann’s Fudge’s chocolate toffee fudge is one of our favorites.
You’ll need to sample and decide for yourself which store makes the best fudge. Our son favored the peanut butter-chocolate fudge from Murray’s, with their “world famous” fudge. Each fudge shop seems to have their own slogan: Murdick’s is “The Original.” Ryba’s is the “best” while calling for fudgies to “think pink” because of their pink boxes. May’s Candy offers “Famous Mackinac Fudge®” (registered trademark symbol included). There’s nothing wrong with being a “fudgie,” a reference to the more than 1 million people who visit Mackinac Island every year and sample some of the more than 30 flavors of fudge prepared by fudge shops. Fudge is a treat, whether on family vacation or shared with friends during the holidays.
When stirring the copper pot filled with hot fudge, it’s important to keep an eye on maximum temperature. However, the secret to great-tasting fudge is actual ingredients used. The fudge recipes are closely held secrets among the candy shops.
According to one fudge maker at Murdick’s Fudge, the fudge is poured out on marble tables when it reaches 241 degrees F to and form into fudge logs.
As the fudge is folded, it loses its luster or shine. (The luster is captured in the photo above, just after the fudge has been poured.) It’s continuously turned to prevent the sugar from crystallizing. The tempering process creates a nice, creamy and smooth fudge texture. Mackinac Island fudge makers mix a lot of air into the fudge to slowly cool it. If you see lots of little bubbles when making your own fudge, you know you’re doing it right and forcing the air into your fudge. At the same time, cooling the fudge on a granite or marble counter slowly extracts the heat from the fudge.
Folding the fudge involves working around the table to turn over the fudge to create the traditional fudge log, from which individual slices are cut. Yes, it takes some practice, but it’s fun, too.
The best time to arrive in any fudge shop is near the end of the preparation, when the pieces are being cut. There’s always a little left over shavings that go to interested fudgies, young and old alike.
Recipe: Mackinac Island-inspired Organic Chocolate Fudge
To make best fudge possible in your own home, make sure you have a speckle knife (we used a bread scraper) for turning the fudge, a marble or granite surface to cool the fudge (our granite kitchen counter worked great) and a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature of the heated fudge.
As a bonus, make a decadent product even better by going organic. When selecting our ingredients, we opt for Organic Valley Family of Farms organic milk and butter, plus Equal Exchange Fair Trade-certified organic cocoa and Florida Crystals organic sugar.
If you like nuts, crushed toffee pieces or peanut butter, 1/2 cup can be added once the hot fudge has been poured on the cooling table. Adding the nuts or toffee in once the fudge has been poured helps keep the nuts or toffee crunchy.
Yield: 1 pound
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa
Mix milk, butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and salt in large pot, ideally with copper bottom. Cook over medium heat until boiling, stirring constantly to completely dissolve sugar and prevent burning.
Using candy thermometer, continue at slow boil until about 235 degrees F. Stir briskly to prevent burning.
After 5 to 6 minutes, when the fudge has shiny luster, remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Pour hot fudge mixture into a buttered 8x8x2-inch pan and let cool until set before cutting into individual squares.
Alternatively, if you have granite or marble countertops, finish fudge-log preparation as done in Mackinac Island fudge shops by pouring hot-fudge mixture on clean counter. Sprinkle the vanilla extract on top.
Let the fudge rest for a few minutes to start to cool. If the speckle knife (or bread scraper) just barely breaks through when tapping the fudge, it’s ready to start tempering. With a cleaned speckle, continuously turn over fudge from outside edges to center. Depending on kitchen temperature, the fudge will gradually set up and hold its shape after 5 to 15 minutes. The granite counter will aid in helping the fudge cool evenly. Once fudge log has been formed, let it cool and further set before cutting into individual slices.
Savoring the good life,