I am about to show my age. Look away young things, look away.
I remember when school fetes sold home-made lollies. Those impossibly hard, tooth-cracking disks of toffee in patty papers. Cubes of coconut ice, striped luridly pink – or elegantly pale, depending on the maker and their affection for cochineal. Fluffy marshmallows. And sweet, sugary fudge. Not the slick, brownie-sized bars with clever flavor combinations seen in shops and markets these days, but the old-fashioned, rough chunks in chocolate (for real traditionalists) or caramel.
Occasionally, you’d find Russian caramel: small, rich brown squares of chewy goodness. While the toffees in paper were almost impossible to eat (that was the point, surely – parents were able to keep children occupied for hours, sucking away, for the investment of only a few cents), these glossy caramels treats had just the right degree of chew.
Why Russian, you might ask. You might, but don’t waste your time. Because I can’t tell you. My food history books are no help at all. The weighty Oxford Companion to Food has entries on both fudge and caramel, but doesn’t delve into the finer points of fudge nomenclature.
Why do I care about the branches of the fudge family tree? Because recipes for “Russian caramel” often make what I think of as caramel fudge. Almost identical recipes abound titled Russian fudge. But what I had a hankering for was the Russian caramel of my memories.
I dug out my old Russian caramel recipe and after a lot of stirring and beating I had… a tray of caramel fudge. And while it wasn’t what I’d been after (it’s been so long since I made this, I’d forgotten what the end result was like), it, too, took me on a taste trip down memory lane.
One day, when I crawl out of the sugar coma that eating all this fudge has induced, I’ll have another go at making real Russian caramel (the difference lies in preventing sugar crystalisation – I’ve save that explanation for later, too). In the meantime, here’s my recipe for caramel fudge. (I should note here that I have absolutely no idea where this recipe came from. It’s been in my folder of favourite recipes for at least 15 years, and back then I wasn’t so good at noting who had given me each of the recipes I collected. I hope the person who shared this won’t mind if I do the same.)
4 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 395g tin condensed milk
2 tabs golden syrup
Grease a slice tray with butter or spray with canola oil.
Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan and allow to stand for a few minutes before cooking. Bring to the boil over low to medium heat (this will probably take at least 10 minutes – don’t turn the heat too high or you’ll burn the bottom of the mixture), stirring constantly. Boil for 20 minutes, stirring well the entire time. Remove from heat and beat for 4- 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer, until starting to thicken. (The “starting” is important. If you beat for too long, the fudge is already setting as you are trying to pour it into the tray. If you want perfectly smooth squares, you need to avoid overbeating, get it into the tray fast, and cut it before it’s set too much. All of this has
no effect on the flavor, though – if you go a little too long with the beating, you can just scrape it all out with a spoon or spatula and smooth it out in the tray. It will still taste just fine!)
Pour into prepared tray. When starting to set, cut into squares. When completely set, break up and store in an airtight container. It will keep for weeks.