My friend M first told me about her balsamic fudge recipe several years ago. I added it to my to-make list of holiday treats, but that list is/was so long it got shuffled to the bottom and then pushed to the “wait until next year” pile. Then, my thoughtful mom sent me some black cherry balsamic vinegar from Monadnock Oil & Vinegar, a shop she discovered during her annual Veteran’s Day weekend trip with friends. The balsamic is thick and luscious, slightly sweet and makes you think immediately that (at least) 534 beautiful, juicy cherries were incorporated into this very bottle. It is wonderful stuff. One day, I was lucky to be staring at the bottle in my cupboard at the same time I was thinking about holiday food gifts… and this recipe was born.
So, balsamic vinegar… in fudge? A thousand times yes. Balsamic vinegar, reduced into a syrup, is a classic pairing with ripe, sweet fruit, most often strawberries. Vinegar in a recipe functions much the same as citrus, highlighting the flavors of the ingredients with which it is paired. Because balsamic vinegar has a very mellow-tasting acidity, it works to highlight the richness of the chocolate without overpowering it with a sharp, acidic flavor. The result is unexpected and elegant. Using a flavored balsamic, like the dark cherry I chose, adds another level of flavor– I adore cherries with chocolate. The finished fudge is accented with flaky sea salt, which looks as nice as it tastes. If you’re still not convinced, I will tell you that this fudge still looks and tastes just like classic fudge. There is a hint of cherry, a hint of almond, a hint of saltiness, but the vinegar flavor is not at all strong. In fact, it’s not really perceptible as vinegar, just as a kind of brightness, much the same as adding a little lemon juice to a cake. It doesn’t become a lemon cake, per se, but all the other ingredients are enhanced. This easy recipe produces one of the most exciting, interesting confections I have ever made.
When I made a batch at Christmastime, it was fun to watch how folks reacted to the first bite. If I mentioned the balsamic ahead of time, there was some healthy skepticism about vinegar in fudge, though most people were still game to try. When I just offered a piece to try, without explanation, I got universally emphatic response. Even those friends who balked at eating the fudge at first agreed that it was a great flavor combination. I was so proud when my mom commented about it; she makes so many Christmas treats for family and friends (including dozens of pounds of chocolate and peanut butter fudge), but doesn’t eat many of them herself. Her words of praise about this fudge meant so much to me! If you’re looking to make something a little fancy, a lot unexpected, and quite delicious, I can’t think of a better place to start than this black cherry balsamic fudge.
Black Cherry Balsamic Fudge (adapted from a chookie chookie)
- 2 1/2 c. chocolate chips
- 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 T. balsamic vinegar* (I used Monadnock Black Cherry Balsamic)
- 3 T. unsalted butter
- 1/2 tsp. almond extract (optional)
- sea salt to top (I used Jacobsen Pure Flake Sea Salt)
Line an 8″ x 8″ square pan with wax paper, leaving some hanging over each edge.
To the top of a double boiler, or a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water, add all ingredient except for the salt. Allow the mixture to heat slowly, and stir constantly once you see the butter and chocolate starting to melt. Stir, folding the mixture over itself as you scrape the bottom of the bowl, until the butter and all chips are melted. You should have a thick, very smooth, shiny mixture:
Pour (or spoon) the fudge into your prepared pan. Use the spatula to press the mixture out to each corner, and smooth the top. I like to put a bit of a swirl pattern in to catch some salt pieces. Sprinkle the top conservatively with sea salt and refrigerate for two hours to set.
Holding opposite corners of the wax paper, remove the fudge in a block from the pan to a cutting board. Trim the edges if you like, and cut into pieces. I generally get about 48 pieces, 4 rows of 12 rectangles, but you can make them larger or smaller as desired. Add a tiny bit more salt to the cut pieces if necessary, but don’t overdo it– a little goes a long way.
I prefer to store this fudge in the freezer: it stays just soft enough, but lasts longer without blooming. It will keep for up to two months this way, though the salt does evaporate.
*If you don’t have access to flavored vinegars, try a good quality aged balsamic instead. Otherwise, use any flavor you think would go well with semisweet chocolate. Monadnock has a fig balsamic I’m dying to try in this recipe. Espresso, vanilla, raspberry, blackberry, orange– let your imagination run wild. If you do move away from plain or cherry, depending on the flavor you choose, it might be best to omit the almond extract, or replace it with vanilla.