This is a distinctly un-serious post, but a delicious one. This is a post about the most indulgently sinful candy you will ever have the privilege to eat. It has become the central metaphor in my new novel, an edible representation of forbidden desire. It’s fudge, but not just any ordinary fudge—which as a rule, has not been my favorite treat: I confess, I am more of a gumdrop and jelly-bean sort of girl. It seems whenever I’ve tried various types of fudge (on the Jersey boardwalk, on Mackinac Island, the farm-stand, even at the best candy stores), it always seems to have a weird stale aftertaste, or not much taste at all. And sometimes I find the texture disturbing, so it’s something I usually skip.
On my trip to Gethsemani Abbey last spring, my friend the West Virginia priest told me to check out their famous fudge. He orders pounds of it at Christmastime to send to other pastors and friends. Well, I wasn’t necessarily going on retreat in search of candy. But one day after lunch, several plates appeared in the dining room, with little beige and dark brown squares I assumed to be samples of the monastery’s famous confection. So as an afterthought, I tried one. And WOW!
The secret, you see, of Gethsemani’s outstanding fudge is the real Kentucky bourbon they apparently pour into it. It’s like a little solid mixed drink. Mixed with fresh milk and butter, plus excellent quality chocolate, it’s quite extraordinary. If you could have mouth orgasms, this would probably do it. You can only eat a very small quantity at a time—too much of it would probably kill you. But you likely could not afford to binge on it, because a pound of it will set you back at least two Benjamins.
So when I got home, I found myself thinking about that amazing fudge, and how I could replicate it at home. Because somehow, it found its way into the novel I am writing; I created a minor character, a runaway from a monastery who had been its ‘fudge-monk.’ So I turned to my cookbook collection, and then to the Internet, culling as many recipes as I could find for fudge with liquor mixed in. I decided not to copy Gethsemani’s superb version (and not ‘waste’ any of the luscious bottle of ‘very old’ bourbon I had purchased out in Bardstown), and instead turned to my own heritage, using Irish whiskey instead. Now, you can do the same, since I’m not about the divulge my final recipe here. For one thing, I have not yet perfected it. I’ve made about four batches so far—only one was a complete disaster–but I haven’t hit on the magic formula yet. Fudge is pure chemistry, involving variables of heat, time and motion. There are the ‘shortcut’ versions involving confectioner’s sugar and such, but I’m convinced true fudge has to be cooked. One of my problems is my balky electric stovetop, which doesn’t keep the mixture at an even temperature. And the timing—if you’re off by a minute, you end up with some sticky, gluey substance that refuses to solidify. But if you’re going to try it, here are some tips: Use the best chocolate you can find, not the chips on sale at Shop-Rite. Use brown sugar instead of white; condensed milk instead of fresh—but fresh butter, absolutely. And I’m not totally convinced on the necessity for corn syrup—it doesn’t seem to make a difference for me. The whiskey (or bourbon or whatever) should be added at the final stirring, or it will cook away.
When I figure out the best recipe, I will publish it in the new book! In fact, I’ll write a scene about it: How’s that for incentive to buy it!