There’s a serious battle being played out in our kitchen at the moment between the much loved, often requested, traditional chocolate caramel slice and a new contender; a very modern salted vanilla fudge shortbread square. Having baked just one caramel slice too many and wanting to expand on my newly honed fudge making skills, I decided to challenge the status quo by combining a gorgeously creamy fudge with a shortbread biscuit base. Sprinkled with sea salt and sliced into small squares, its a symphony of butter, sugar and cream. Sweet and Salty. Utterly rich and decadent. Proof that you don’t always have to turn to chocolate when you’re craving a sugar fix.
Contrary to popular opinion, perfectly smooth and creamy fudge, made the old fashioned way with pure ingredients is quite easy to achieve once you understand the process and faithfully follow a few key processes. As summarised in my previous fudge making post in its simplest form a fudge recipe would read something like this:
Combine cream, honey and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stop stirring when the mixture reaches boiling point, but continue cooking undisturbed until it reaches soft ball stage. Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla. Do not stir or agitate the pan. Once butter has melted pour the mixture into a clean, dry bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until the fudge thickens and loses its gloss. Pour into a greased pan to set.
Of course those instructions are a little sketchy on the pitfalls and nuances of creating perfect fudge. If the recipe for the salted vanilla fudge topping provided below looks a little long and daunting, it’s only because I’ve tried to explain each step along the way. Since I have been following these “rules” I have managed to produce melt in the mouth fudge every single time, no mean feat considering a previous string of fudge making disasters.
Salted Vanilla Fudge Shortbread Squares
125g unsalted butter
3/4 cup icing sugar
1 ½ cups plain flour
Salted Vanilla Fudge Topping
4 cups caster sugar
3 tablespoons honey
2 cups pouring cream
125g butter, diced into small cubes
1 tablespoon pure vanilla essence
2 teaspoons sea salt flakes, for finishing
For The Shortbread Base
PREHEAT oven to 180C
LINE the base and sides of a 20cm x 20 cm square baking tin with non stick paper, extending paper over sides. This makes removal of the slice from the tin easy when set.
CREAM butter in a bowl until soft. Beat in icing sugar until mixture is light and fluffy.
SIFT flour into mixture and use a spatula or knife to form a soft dough.
PRESS shortbread dough evenly into the base of the prepared tin. Cover with plastic wrap and rub with the back of a spoon to smooth the top. Remove plastic, prick with a fork and chill for 30 minutes.
BAKE for 15-20 minutes or until golden, remove from the oven.
For The Salted Vanilla Fudge Topping
USING a little of the butter grease the sides of a heavy based, minimum 12 cup (3 litre) saucepan. The saucepan needs to hold twice the volume of the sugar and cream to avoid boiling over as the mixture is heated to soft ball stage, and a heavy base to avoid scorching. Buttering the sides helps stop any residual undissolved sugar crystals from clinging to the sides of the saucepan.
PLACE sugar, honey and cream into the buttered saucepan and stir well to combine. Cook over medium- high heat stirring constantly until the mixture just begins to boil. At this point all the sugar should be dissolved. Place a tight fitting lid over the saucepan and boil the mixture for just one minute. The steam will help dissolve any residual sugar crystals that may have been thrown onto the sides of the pan while stirring. Remove the lid.
CONTINUE cooking with no further stirring at a steady simmer until the mixture reaches soft ball stage ( temperatures in the 112-115°C range on a candy thermometer). I like to reduce the heat to medium-low and place a simmer mat under the saucepan to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom. This step usually takes about 20 -30 minutes at medium-low heat and will entirely depend upon the size and shape of your saucepan, cooking temperature of your stove and humidity of the day. To avoid any crystallisation of the mixture and a grainy fudge, you must resist the urge to stir.
USE a candy thermometer to gauge when temperatures reach soft ball stage but remember that thermometers are not always accurate. After cooking the mixture for about 15 minutes I like to begin testing my fudge to see how close it is to soft ball stage. The old-fashioned way by dropping a small teaspoon of the mixture into a glass of cold water. The mixture should hold its shape after cooling down a little. If it flattens as it cools, it needs to be cooked for a little longer. If the mixture forms a hard ball the fudge has been taken too far and will seize as it is beaten and cools. It may be possible to rescue the fudge by taking a quarter of cup of the hot fudge mixture, diluting with an equal quantity of chilled pouring cream, then very carefully stirring the mixture back into the fudge without scraping the sides or bottom of the saucepan. Continue to cook until temperature reaches soft ball stage.
IMMEDIATELY remove the saucepan from the heat when the mixture reaches soft ball stage (115 C).
GENTLY add the diced butter and vanilla to the saucepan. Do not stir the mixture or agitate the pan. Allow to sit for five minutes as the residual heat begins to melt the butter.
CAREFULLY pour the fudge mixture into a clean, dry mixing bowl without scraping the sides or bottom of the saucepan. This is important as you do not want to introduce any errant undissolved sugar crystals into the fudge mixture.
BEAT with a wooden spoon or on low speed with an electric mixer until smooth and thick. This will take a good 10 minutes. As it thickens the mixture will lose its glossy shine and become dull and matte. The mixture will continue to thicken as it cools.
POUR mixture over the shortbread biscuit base and allow to cool for 30 minutes before generously sprinkling with sea salt flakes.
ALLOW to cool completely to room temperature before covering with cling wrap and refrigerating for at least an hour to help the fudge set and slicing easier.
TO SERVE, remove from tin using the long sides of the baking paper as handles. Slice as much as you need into 2cm squares. I like to store the remainder of the uncut slice in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.