She may work hard to fix the family veggies, but it’s a rare mom who doesn’t appreciate a special chocolate treat on Mother’s Day—especially if her child helped make it!
Here is a recipe for a classic, kid-friendly (and adult-friendly!) favorite: rich, chocolate fudge. Even the littlest ones can help measure the ingredients, but for children from fourth grade on, there is also some excellent science to learn. For starters, fudge is one delicious way to demonstrate changes in matter, as sugar changes from individual white crystals into a solid block of chocolaty goodness. And to accomplish this change in just the right way, young scientists must also practice lab skills such as measuring temperature and evaluating the stages of their mixture.
So this year, do consider passing up those storebought Mother’s Day candy boxes, and hit the kitchen with your child. There’s nothing like bonding with your child over a good science project—especially when it turns out to be something as scrumptious as fudge!
What You Need:
- 2 cups sugar
- ¾ cup evaporated milk
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 2 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened chocolate
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Candy thermometer (available at most cooking supply stores and sometimes in the kitchen section of stores like Target or Wal-Mart)
- Medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan
What You Do:
- Set up your cooking area—things can move fast, so it’s always wise to practice the French philosophy of mise en place, or "eveything in place," whenever you are preparing to bake or cook. Don't forget to make sure that everyone's hands are washed as well! This recipe makes an 8x8” batch of fudge, fairly thick, or one 7x11 inch pan full, slightly thinner.
- Choose the pan you want, grease it and put it aside. Then fill a small bowl or sturdy drinking glass with about 1to 2 inches of ice water, and put that aside as well.
- Now have your child measure out the first four ingredients exactly (beware: when practicing candy science, it's always best to be precise). Help your child place them into your saucepan and begin melting the mixture on low heat on the top of your stove, stirring continuously.
- Once the chocolate has melted and the whole mixture is liquid, clip your candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Turn your burner heat to high—the candy phase is starting up!
- Again stirring constantly (if you don’t, the mix can easily burn on the bottom of your pan!), heat your mixture to a full rolling boil. You will cook your fudge to the “soft ball” stage, which is measured two ways: first, watch the mixture reach 240° on your candy thermometer. Second, your child can drop a small amount—one teaspoon or so—into the cold water you set aside in Step 1. She should be able to reach in and form the mixture into a pliable ball after it has cooled in the water bath.
- Once your fudge has reached this stage, pull the saucepan off the heat and melt in the butter and vanilla. Beat the mixture thoroughly until it has reached the texture of thick, heavy cream. Pour it into your greased pan, and let it sit in a cool, dry area until firm.
- When your fudge has cooled, you and your child can cut it into squares and wrap it up nicely. The taste will be a delight to Mom—and to everyone else who gets to share a piece with her!
Did You Know? Candy science is usually irresistible just because of the end product, but if you’ve got an inquisitive sous-chef in your kitchen, don’t be surprised if you hear some pretty good academic questions, too. In case you’re worried about having to race back to your old chemistry textbook, here are a few “candy science” facts:
- When you make candy, you are dissolving sugar crystals in liquid, and then, working at high temperatures, boiling away almost all the water to leave a new configuration of crystals.
- “Rock candy” happens when large crystals pull together over several days. For fudge, you don’t want such large crystals; its texture comes from many small crystals which have been heated very quickly.
- The creamy texture of fudge is helped by corn syrup, whose sugar molecules are shaped a little differently from those in granular sugar. Corn syrup helps bind up odd angles and give the mixture its final smoothness.
- At the “soft ball” stage, you have cooked off all but about 20% of the liquid in your mixture; if you overcook fudge, say, to the “hard” ball stage, you have cooked off all but 10% of liquid. You know those lollipops at the store? Those have been cooked to the “hard crack” stage—300° and only 1-2% liquid!
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.