I am not a huge peanut butter person. I think this goes against my American blood because it seems to me that everyone goes absolutely mad for the chocolate and peanut butter combination, everyone except me. Justin will eat a pack of Reese cups before breakfast; my mother is famous for her peanut butter cookies, soft and sugary with a Hershey Kiss smooshed into the center like a tiny chocolate mountain; and I met my very first boyfriend one summer while I was working at an ice cream parlor and he would come in twice a week to get a peanut butter milkshake. Needless to say, I could never be with someone who ate that much peanut butter, so it didn't last but a few peanut-shake filled months.
Around Christmastime last year, my Mom brought home a small plastic tub with snowflakes and jingle bells painted on the lid, the kind you see piled to the ceiling of Wal*Mart all through the season, destined to be filled with cookies and toffee and in this case - peanut butter fudge. I have never made fudge myself, although I was always fascinated with the rows and rows of it at the boardwalk candy stores - cookies and cream fudge, chocolate walnut fudge, and even something called King Tut that could hardly be called fudge since it was really a three-inch thick slice of caramel with bits of toasted walnuts tucked inside and a swath of milk chocolate on the top and bottom. There was even a store that made it right in front of you - a man in an apron looping thick ribbons of the candy all around a marble slab in front of the shop window.
My seventh grade English teacher kept a mini-fridge in the classroom filled with tiny bits of homemade peanut butter fudge in plastic baggies to be given to overachieving students on test days. My classmates would beg, borrow, and steal to get a piece of that fudge, but I couldn't have cared less. First, it wast the color of espresso, nearly black and only slightly discernible as light brown when you held it up to the light, and I've certainly never seen peanut butter that color in this lifetime. And even as a child who didn't grow up with a standard for fudge, the texture didn't seem right to me - it was gritty and chalky and sort of crumbled against your teeth. It just wasn't nice.
So when I peeled back the snowflaked lid that afternoon and peeked inside, I thought that perhaps this was vanilla or coffee flavored fudge - it was a pale cafe au lait color and creamy all the way through. It melted like warm butter on my tongue and the peanut butter flavor was nothing more than a gentle nudge in the background, enough to know it was there but not so much that it sticks to your throat and you make a beeline for the milk jug - peanut butter can be really intrusive that way. And between you and me and the dog who watched it all, I ate six squares of it in one sitting. Six. Then I spent the same number of hours stretched out on the couch, groaning and cursing the day I ate so much fudge.
If you've ever made fudge before, this couldn't be easier. Unfortunately, I was a total fudge rookie and while the person who made this fudge was kind enough to pass the recipe on to me, it was the sort of recipe that has only a handful of words in the instructions and allows entirely too much room for error. It read something like, "Cook sugar and milk, add other ingredients, pour into pan. Cut." I tried winging it, only to find that there are lots of things that can go wrong with fudge - like the fact that you have to stir the milk and sugar constantly or else it scorches on the bottom of the pan. Nobody told me that. Hopefully the kitchen garbage can likes botched peanut butter fudge, because it ate a lot of it that day.
As with all fudge, this candy is tooth-achingly sweet. It makes enough to store in the freezer for later, and while I can't tell you for sure - I bet it is delicious straight from the icebox. Also, and this may seem obvious but I have made the mistake a time or two, be sure you use evaporated milk and not sweetened condensed milk. While there are fudge recipes out there that are made with sweetened condensed milk, this is not one of them.
Peanut Butter Fudge
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup marshmallow fluff
1 cup creamy peanut butter
Clip a candy thermometer to the side of a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and evaporated milk and cook to the soft ball stage - 234 degrees F, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. This should take about 4 minutes or so.
Once you reach the soft ball stage, remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the vanilla, marshmallow fluff and peanut butter (I used a wooden spoon) and mix until it is smooth. Pour the fudge into a buttered pan, about 9 x 9 inches, but smaller or a bit larger will also do. Cool at room temperature for about 4 hours or in the refrigerator for 2 hours and cut into squares.
Makes about 2 pounds.