Merry Ball Fudge…

8DFD4493-DD67-439C-B6FE-1DF2E5A37A57Most of the iconic Southern Candies  are made in the wintertime- Divinity. Toffee. Peanut Brittle. Caramels. Pralines, Bourbon Balls and of course Fudge.  There’s are reasons for this winter phenomenon… some are scientific in nature, some are mythical and some are downright insane- we won’t go into that now, but here’s what you’ll hear at the desserts and sweets table… with lots of soulful shaking of heads and tsk-ing and sucking in of breath-

  • ‘Well, it’s finicky.’
  • ‘Have you tasted these pralines? Grainy.’
  • ‘Cooked it too long, it seized up.’
  • ‘Her Divinity is hard as a rock but she keeps making it like that every year.’
  • And maybe worst of all…‘It just won’t set up, I tried everything- I tell you it just wouldn’t set up- so I threw the whole mess out!’

Now, apparently there were a few wise souls in my storied youth who could make a decent batch of fudge… My Aunt Trix made the classic Fantasy Fudge, My Aunt DawDaw favored Mamie Eisenhower’s Fudge –  DawDaw was such a fan of Mamie’s.. she trimmed her bangs real short- though it didn’t work on DawDaw’s low forehead. But the fudge was good. And… Aunt Mary Sue used Mary Ball’s Fudge recipe. It turns out that all three of those recipes are basically the same! All call for semi-sweet chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, pure vanilla extract and either marshmallows or marshmallow crème. How do I know this? I’ve seen it in black and white.  I’ve made them all too. These recipes are legendary.

AEBF7E43-EA8B-47F2-B965-2DD63ECCD080 I was making a test run on Aunt Mary Sue’s dark chocolate fudge using the Mary Ball formula. Mary Sue was my favorite of the three aunts. The first batch was perfect. It was a cold crisp day after all… the humidity and the barometric pressure must have aligned. Still. Most recipes for fudge in old southern cookbooks tend to have a few variations… I was on the lookout for a variation that had some additions- maybe pecans or candied cherries- even almonds and almond extract….

How in the world I veered off course is still a mystery. I must have started out on the Bourbon Balls page, run down to Mamie Eisenhower’s fudge and  ended up with something akin to a Fantasy Fudge on steroids!

Let me break with my southern roots and say – I don’t like Bourbon Balls. Those crushed up vanilla wafers rolled in powdered sugar kind of bourbon balls. Never tasted one I’d write home about….however, this Bourbon Ball recipe I’d run up on wasn’t like the traditional ones at all! It was more like a fondant- a buttered powdered sugar base filled with pecans, candied oranges and cherries- and oh yes! Bourbon. That mixture was made into little balls then dipped in chocolate…sounded wonderful.

Still. I wasn’t making Bourbon Balls. I was looking for a variation on fudge. I don’t know why but I followed the dipped bourbon ball directions- ‘ Soak the pecans in bourbon overnight.‘ Check. The next morning, I chopped the candied fruits then started in on another batch of fudge. I drained the pecans soaked in bourbon, folded them in.4C8E4EA3-06D2-4166-BDA8-612481440017

I felt dizzy when the heat hit that chocolate mixture and those bourbon soaked pecans. Maybe it was the heat, humidity and the barometric pressure. Who knows? Still. Once you start a batch of fudge you can’t just stop. I was reeling, giggling and stirring like a whirling dervish, adding those candied oranges and cherries. Before I knew it… I’d made a batch of something befitting a finer name than Bourbon Balls or even Fantasy Fudge… Anyway, here’s how you make-19F76BAF-01A6-4150-AF61-B6988AFCEF22

Camellia’s Merry Ball Fudge

  • 3 (6 oz. packages semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 (14oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cups of miniature marshmallows
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of instant coffee or espresso powder
  • 1 1/4 cups of rough chopped pecans
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of Bourbon
  • 1 cup of candied cherries
  • 1/2 cup of candied oranges

In a sealed jar, soak chopped pecans in bourbon overnight. Set aside. Line a 9×12 dish with wax paper. In a medium glass bowl set over simmering water, melt semi-sweet chocolate chips with miniature marshmallows, a pinch of salt, instant coffee and sweetened condensed milk until thoroughly melted and smooth. Remove chocolate mixture from heat. Drain bourbon soaked pecans, reserving bourbon. Fold pecans, candied cherries and candied orange carefully into melted chocolate mixture. Add 2 teaspoons of reserved Bourbon, mixing gently but thoroughly. Spread fudge mixture into wax paper lined pan spreading evenly. Chill until firm approximately 2 hours- no longer. On cool counter or cutting board, turn out chilled fudge and remove wax paper. If you prefer uniform pieces- remove rough edges as a cook’s treat. Then cut into equal pieces. (I like to use miniature muffin cup liners as candy holders for fudge pieces.) Store in a covered container at room temperature or chilled as necessary.  Flavor develops overnight. Makes 2 or 2 1/2 pounds of fudge.


I had a good bit of trouble coming up with a name for this bourbon soaked pecan candied fruit studded fudge… I thought of-

  • Jubilee Fudge or
  • Fantasia Fudge,
  • Maybe Jewel Box or
  • Christmas Carousel since I felt like I’d been on a merry-go-round!

Then, I recalled finer days…when ladies showed up in Plaid Taffeta, Velvet, Silk or Satin- with stockings swishing; bejeweled and well heeled- sometimes dyed to match. The men were starched and pressed, clean  cut and close shaved, four-in-hand tied, spit shined shoes as we like to say… smelling good with fresh comb marks… ah yes! There was always soft music playing,  a bit of dancing and cheerful laughter as the night wore on… Sometimes there are still Christmas, Camellia or Poinsettia Balls. So why not call my festive fudge – Merry Ball Fudge? I would say- try this fudge at your own risk, who knows how much the bourbon will develop between now and then? All I know is that it’s a very festive fudge- similar in flavor to chocolate covered cherries and not overly sweet either…but yes! It sure is festive!

Oh my, like all southern tales, this one is part truth, part myth and part outright lies! Though Merry Ball Fudge is a real happy coincidence!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine.

P.S. For Basic Fudge- I won’t say foolproof since who knows what this fickle weather might do? The classic fudge omits the candied fruits, the bourbon soaked pecans and needs a few teaspoons of pure vanilla extract. Be sure to use pecan halves which have been salted and toasted- this always improves the flavor of pecans.  This is what a typical Mary Ball Fudge looks like: AEBF7E43-EA8B-47F2-B965-2DD63ECCD080

 

Alabama Pralines…

B707ECBF-D6AF-486E-BEEA-F7D6FF44D5F1If you’ve visited any great southern cities, particularly coastal cities such as Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans – chances are you’ve been drawn into a Praline Shop. We southerners call this sweet confection – Praw-leens,  we’ll know right away you aren’t from the south if you call them Pray-leens.  Since we’ve gotten the correct pronunciation out of the way, let me just say, however you pronounce Pralines, you will either love them or say- they’re too sweet!  Eat enough pralines in your lifetime and you will become a praline critic- I complain that some pralines are too grainy- the sugar isn’t smooth enough or sometimes the pecans aren’t toasted enough to suit me. Yet even as I criticize-  I  will stand there and eat a praline until all of the sugary morsel is gone… Every. Single. Time. Why is the South so famous for Pralines?

  • We seem to have a corner on the market of the famous pecan candy.
  • The infamous Southern Sweet Tooth is on full display in that little patty of a   praline.
  • The South grows an abundance of Sugar Cane and we do love our homegrown Pecans.

Still. Food historians tell us that pralines have been made for 100’s of years in the South- getting their start in New Orleans. According to John Egerton’s tome, called Southern Food– he quotes the Picayune Creole Cookbook written in 1901- Pralines are, ‘dainty and delightful confections that have, for upwards of 150 years, delighted…generations of New Orleans…’ Wait a minute! In 1901 they were saying Pralines had been made for 150 years? Crazy, now it’s over 250 years! Egerton goes on to explain that a  French diplomat named Cesar du Plessis-Praslin gave his name to a confection of ‘caramelized almonds and sugar’. Could we pause a minute.. I need to say a prayer of praise- ‘Lord, I’m thankful those Creoles swapped out toasted pecans for the almonds!’ Okay, let’s resume… I want to use my best words to describe pralines-

They are small puddles of caramelized sugar, rich with real butter and thick cream stirred in great copper vats. The fragrance of pralines spills out of candy shops onto sidewalks luring tourists As they watch confectioners with wooden paddles stir the roiling hot sugar to perfection before adding vanilla and exquisitely toasted pecans. On cobbled streets and sidewalks-folks watch in amazement as the hot sugary mass is carefully poured into small patties which become the delectable mass of Southern sweetness, we call Pralines.

4CD9B390-63E7-4059-8A51-EDC222D010DBAlabama isn’t widely known for her pralines- the sweet confections of my youth spun sugar more often into Divinity, Peanut Brittle or a plate of Chocolate Fudge; all of which depended on the weather for success. Humidity is the enemy of granulated sugar in cooked candies. Sugar will do weird things like turn grainy or stiff or sit there and sulk- weeping. I know this to be true- I’ve rarely found a perfect day and  have made enough mistakes to throw out whole batches of candy that weren’t fit to eat.  Recently, I found, a yellowed and fragile newspaper clipping with a recipe for Alabama Pralines stuck in my grandmother’s cookbook. I don’t recall that she ever made them. Perhaps she was unskilled at candy making…though she did revel in making a white mass of sugar studded with pecans into Divinity- only on a crisp, cool and dry day sometime before Christmas.  I recall Mimi saying-

‘Edna Earle brought her divinity. It was hard as a rock- I almost broke a tooth trying to eat a piece! You’d think she’d at least check the barometric pressure before she tried to make divinity!’

Will you allow me to go off on a short tangent? I didn’t have a soft cuddly grandmother…no, she was funny, opinionated, had high standards and might have been the best cook I’ve ever known.  The women’s rights movement in the 1960’s never made much of an impression on Mimi. Why? She’d always been in charge of the men in her life.  Mimi was a spicy Southern Spitfire. Still. To find an unmarked recipe for Alabama Pralines in my grandmother’s cookbook intrigued me. I’ll admit I’m no stranger to making candy-

B3E430F2-2101-4333-A94A-CB3D14962C14Toffee and Caramel are two successful favorites…I’ve rarely attempted making Divinity, for fear it might turn out like poor Edna Earles. I’ve tried making pralines a time or two and failed. Anyway, when I decided to make these Alabama Pralines, it was on the absolute worst day for making candy. It was hot and humid- dark clouds threatened rain. I thought this recipe would surely fail. I made them because of one change from the other recipes I’d tried… the Alabama Praline recipe doesn’t call for granulated sugar! Okay, my sweet tooth had flared up too. It didn’t hurt that I had all of the ingredients and a bit of free time. I am happy to report- the recipe for Alabama Pralines not only worked but as most real deal recipes will tell you- pralines can be stored in the freezer. Now, that’s important because faced with a dozen glorious pralines? Let’s just say- they need to be frozen for health and safety concerns! I know you’ll want to make a batch of-

Alabama Pralines 

  • Toast 3/4 chopped pecans and salt. *Here’s how I do it. Put the pecans on a small baking sheet in a single layer- don’t be shy with the salt. Place the salted pecans in a cold oven, setting the temperature to 350 degrees- when the oven has reached 350 degrees- the pecans are toasted perfectly! Set aside and cool. Meanwhile…
  • Over low heat- Melt one stick of Butter- no substitutes and
  • 1/3 cup of light brown sugar- packed.
  • Cook butter and brown sugar over low heat for 3 minutes- stirring constantly
  • Gradually add 2-3 Tablespoons of Half and Half- (you may substitute evaporated milk or heavy cream) Please don’t add milk to the hot sugar and butter mixture all at once lest it bubble up too much! Now-
  • Still on low heat, bring the butter/ brown sugar/ milk mixture up to a boil.
  • Remove from heat- add 1 Teaspoon of Pure Vanilla Extract stirring completely
  • Add 1 cup of sifted confectioner’s sugar-( I had to add another 1/3 cup to my mixture- this could account for the humidity of the day) Beat confectioner’s sugar in well. If the mixture is too thick, you may add a tiny bit more milk
  • Add salted toasted pecans. Stir in well.
  • Drop from heaping tablespoon into glorious puddles on a cookie sheet lined with silicone mat or wax paper until cool.
  • Wrap in wax paper or parchment paper. Yield – one dozen. *When cooled and wrapped the pralines may be stored in the freezer in an airtight container.

Oh my, I hope you’ll try these Alabama Pralines. I would not double the recipe since candy making is a science and the cooking time may vary to get the right consistency. This recipe’s use of confectioner sugar- created a smooth praline-there was no graininess at all, the toasted and salted pecans offered a welcome relief to the oh so sweet praline mixture. Best of all-  no huge copper kettle or wooden paddle required!  Amazingly, the original recipe also says you can pour the praline mixture into a buttered glass baking dish, cool then cut into squares like fudge! I didn’t try that, I wanted to see if I could actually pull off the dropping into buttery puddles! F9BDBF25-017C-4D1F-89B0-402CBB61FA92

I hope you’ll try making a few batches of Alabama Pralines…apparently they remain fresh in the freezer for 6-8 months. Why, if you make them now… Alabama Pralines can be your effort toward Christmas in July! I’m guessing mine won’t last that long! Oh me…

Love y’all, Camellia F7AF9421-91F6-4B68-BC79-34C5BB48972F

* Crushed pralines are a wonderful topping for ice cream.

*John Egerton, a southern food expert, in his landmark work- ‘Southern Food’ subtitled ‘at Home, on the Road, in History’ (copyright 1987) is one of my all time treasured books, find his remarks about Pralines on page 325.

*All photographs are obviously mine

Give me some Sugah!

img_1839What the South lacks in snowy white winters, we more than make up for in Sugar! After all, how many regions can boast sugar plantations, big copper pots bubbling with molten  sugar for Pralines right on the streets, and Sugar Cane chopped and ready to make Sorghum Syrup? One of the joys of my childhood was getting a sliver of sugar cane and chewing on it at county fairs or farmers markets. Long jointed fat sugar canes stripped and chopped into three inch pieces were a special treat for adults and children alike. In the South,

  • Most of us are born with a Sweet Tooth.
  • Sugar is a pet name- pronounced- ‘Sugah’ even shortened to ‘Shug’ .
  • To say ‘Give me some Sugar.’ is to ask for a peck on the cheek or a Sweet Southern Kiss.

I admit to believing Sugar had it’s own special magical qualities. Cooks I knew would say: ‘Now, Betty Jo, you know we can’t make Divinity this week- it’s raining, we’ll have to wait until a good dry day or that Divinity will be as hard as a rock!’ The same was true for Pralines or Chocolate Fudge- make it on a rainy day and it would be grainy, they said- ‘Not fit to eat.’  And, horror of all horrors-  ‘Can you believe she put out that grainy Fudge and that hard Divinity? I almost died’.Sugar syrup is a staple in the Southern Pantry- a must have for iced tea or added with confectioner’s sugar to make Icing for cakes. Now, remember, we don’t say Frosting. For holiday candy making, making a sugar syrup with a candy thermometer is a must- it has to be bubbled to just the right temperature, for the type of candy you are making-img_1805

I have yet to per-fect even the first batch of Southern Pralines or Divinity- however they are on the culinary bucket list! I can make Snow White Marshmallows, a fairly decent caramel and if the weather conditions and the candy thermometer are just right, ButterToffee is one of my favorites! Topped with Chocolate and Chopped Pecans, I have to say- it is a little bite of heaven. img_1839

The mystery of sugar, the science of sugar, the timing, the weather conditions, the culinary art of candy making is daunting, yet somehow irresistible to me. I drag home five pound bags of sugar, dreaming of the perfect batch of Butter Toffee, Caramels or homemade Snow White Marshmallows, sugary visions dancing in my head. Give me some Sugar, a big pot and a candy thermometer and I’m transformed into a combination of Meteorologist, Mad Scientist and Cauldron Watcher. I feel very mysterious and sticky! If the candy doesn’t turn out- I throw it out and start all over! I never failed to be amazed how- cooking sugar to one temperature can result in an amber colored Butter Toffee and another temperature results in a perfect batch of Snow White Marshmallows- image

Here’s a photo journey- Butter Toffee first:

And Snow White Matshmallows:

Oh yes, Give me some Sugar! Pure Cane Sugar. Like I said, what we lack in Sugar White Snowfalls- we more than make it up in Granulated Sugar!  It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Give me some Sugar and the Magic begins!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are mine.