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Chocolate fudge is a favorite to give (and get!) around the holidays and a classic vacation treat, in part because of its rich, homemade flavor. But there’s some confusion about fudge itself—namely, are fudge and chocolate the same?
Though we’d be happy to receive either one any time of year, it must be said that fudge and chocolate are two distinct desserts; and though fudge is commonly made with chocolate, it can also be flavored with countless other ingredients running the gamut from peanut butter to vanilla to coffee.
Whether you make it at home or pick it up from one of the time-honored shops that still make their own fudge, knowing more about how fudge is different from chocolate will come in handy. Let’s dive in and find out the difference.
While there are countless forms of chocolate, the primary types used for baking in the kitchen are pre-formed in bars, chips, or discs. Since the actual process of crafting chocolate from the cacao tree is extremely labor-intensive and requires specialized equipment that would intimidate even the most high-tech chef, most people start with already-processed chocolate. Baking chocolate, which is unsweetened, is perhaps the most common for creating chocolate desserts at home. It’s worth noting that recipes that call for baking chocolate will also require sugar, as baking chocolate is extremely bitter on its own—be sure to keep this in mind when substituting!
However, for candy-making in particular, easily-meltable chocolate discs are sometimes preferred. Most chocolate for these purposes are available in a variety of percentages, indicating the amount of cacao used in each. Dark chocolate, for instance, has a higher percentage of cacao than milk chocolate, which is diluted with more milk and sugar to create its creamy, mild taste. Either of these types of chocolate can be used to make fudge, though higher-percentage chocolate is more common because of its robust flavor. (That said, even white chocolate fudge exists, but it can be sweet to the point of cloying.)
Of course, “chocolate” as an umbrella term can also encompass ready-made chocolate confections for those who don’t want to DIY, including truffles, bon bons—and fudge.
Though fudge can be made in a variety of flavors, chocolate is generally the most common. Fudge is easily recognizable by its texture—whereas a bar of chocolate should snap appealingly when broken in half, fudge has a much more malleable feel, allowing it to bend and remain soft.
Modern fudge typically relies on sweetened condensed milk to create this dense but flexible texture—however, mid-century bakers began to favor marshmallow fluff as a no-fail way to create a similar effect. Aside from these ingredients, fudge is generally comprised simply of milk, sugar, and butter as the base. To this basic recipe, one can add chocolate chips, butterscotch, peanut butter chips, white chocolate, or even espresso powder to create compelling flavor combinations.
The main issue that novice bakers encounter with fudge is that it can be a bit of an exact science. Traditional fudge recipes require heating the sugar mixture to what is called the “soft-ball stage,” or the point at which sugar will hold a ball-like shape (but not become hard and crystallized) when dropped in a bath of cold water. This process is shared with another confectionary treat, caramel—both require the aid of a trustworthy candy thermometer to get the temperature just right.
If you’re a nervous novice and don’t want to risk a “failed” batch of fudge, we suggest using a recipe that calls for marshmallow fluff or condensed milk, which mitigates this risk. Try our recipe for peanut butter chocolate fudge. Or, use Nutella as a substitute to create this not-quite-fudge fudge (we won’t tell, and no one else will be able to!).
No matter what recipe you use, you’ll know your fudge is finished when it has “set” in the refrigerator and holds its shape with a slight bit of give. Fudge can be cut into squares and wrapped for easy and delicious snacking, though we’re partial to topping near-finished fudge with nuts for an additional touch of flavor—or, simply swirl a butter knife through the top of the fudge as it sets for an elegant, polished presentation.
Despite its name, hot fudge (such as the chocolate sauce often found on sundaes) isn’t truly fudge at all. Though it has a similarly glossy finish, so-called “hot fudge” will not “set” into hardened blocks the way true fudge will. That being said, a dessert topping is a good use for failed fudge that has refused to set!
Now that your curiosity has been sated, try some of these recipes to satisfy your sweet tooth too.
This fudge is pretty impossible to mess up; all you have to do is boil butter, vanilla, brown sugar, heavy cream, and peanut butter on the stove for a few minutes (no candy thermometer required), then mix in powdered sugar and let it set—and top it with crunchy roasted, salted peanuts for a kicky contrast. Get our Easy Peanut Butter Fudge recipe.
Another easy, nearly foolproof fudge recipe, this one relies on sweetened condensed milk, plus bittersweet chocolate, a little espresso powder, vanilla, and salt. Delicately crunchy crystals of sea salt flakes on top sparkle and set off the sweet dark chocolate flavor. Get our Easy Mocha Fudge recipe.
Sweetened condensed milk combines with mini marshmallows, smooth peanut butter, and bittersweet chocolate for yet another ultra-easy fudge recipe that you really can’t screw up (or stop eating). Get our Peanut Butter-Chocolate Fudge recipe.
Want another way to make incredibly (even dangerously) easy fudge? Here you go: melt butter, bittersweet chocolate, and heavy cream together, then mix in two cups of Nutella for a rich, delicious treat. Topped with salted, toasted hazelnuts, it’s even better. Get our Easy Hazelnut Truffle Fudge recipe.
Made of sugar-free chocolate, coconut milk (or coconut cream), vanilla, espresso powder, coconut sugar (or other compliant sweetener), salt, and peanut butter, this easy fudge is vegan, paleo, and keto-compliant, so no one has to do without dessert! Get our Easy Vegan, Paleo, and Keto Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge recipe.
Now we’re getting a little more complicated. The whipped fudge filling of this quadruple chocolate layer cake is actually still really easy (just bittersweet chocolate, heavy cream, and corn syrup, melted, chilled, and whipped in your stand mixer), but the dense chocolate cake layers and the luscious chocolate buttercream frosting take some more time and effort. Clearly, it’s worth it. And that final drizzle of melted dark chocolate is the icing on the icing on the cake. Get our Chocolate Cake with Whipped Fudge Filling and Chocolate Buttercream recipe.