Most 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.
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.
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-
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: