December 16, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Maureen Tisdale

Let's Talk Food: Tisdale fudge, and what's your holiday must-make?

A recent batch of our delighful family fudge; I love this recipe's relative flexibility (if you don't mind imperfect confections). (Maureen Tisdale / The Detroit News)

When my brothers and sisters voted against me bringing fudge to our family Thanksgiving, I was devastated. (OK, maybe devastated is strong, but at least disappointed.)

Granted, the confection is very rich, and now that none of us are kids, most of us veer healthy (I haven’t actually eaten this fudge since 2003, despite making it every year). Even my youngest sister, Mavi — who comes closest to me in wanting to hold onto the sentimental things — says she takes one bite, and then it’s just too much.

Still, I was secretly triumphant when, in the middle of the flurry of cooking, my brother Bill said, “Is it wrong I want a piece of fudge right now?”

No, brother — it’s so, so right.

As I mentioned in our “Fine Cooking Chocolate” giveaway Saturday (don’t forget, you only have til 3 p.m. Tuesday to enter that final hopefully in-time-for-Christmas giveaway), I absolutely insist on making fudge every year. Even after burning myself out on baking ala the Legendary Seven Cookie Swap Cookies of 2013, I simply can’t imagine not making it.

It’s not just the fudge itself (though I do love just having the silky little squares around), it’s the associations they bring up — especially of my parents. One of my earliest memories is watching my mom sway at the stove, humming as she stirred the confection. Fudge is really a carryover from her childhood, when she and a girlfriend would make it.

But over time, my dad — who had a larger than life personality — made it a legend. After people raved about the fudge at any event to which we brought it, he began insisting that we treat the recipe like a huge secret. We did, and it started to seem like magic. Dad had a way of turning something ordinary into something special like that.

It was only when I was an adult and casually glanced at the back of the marshmallow fluff container that I realized the basic recipe is right there, available for anyone (which is why I have no bones about sharing it with you now).

Years later, I’ve made it so many times I can add the ingredients to the grocery list and make a batch while chatting on the phone. It’s so simple: basically chocolate, marshmallow fluff, sugar, butter and evaporated milk melted together, with a bit of vanilla and salt to enhance its rich goodness.

The nine minutes you have to stir it are always, always a time of thinking about my family, how we were back when there were seven of us scampering around our harried parents, how we’re changing. I think a lot about Dad, who has been gone since 2005, and now Bobby, the brother we lost last year.

This year, following fudge’s conspicuous Thanksgiving absence, the confection will be used for holiday parties, gifts and care packages. In fact, it’s possible Bill (whom I’ll always really think of as Billy, my little brother with whom I’d fight over scraping the fudge pan) should be receiving a care package of fudge in the next day or two, marked, “Never say die! NEVER SURRENDER!”

What’s your must-make-every-year holiday dish? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below the recipe. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re easy to sign up for, and free. Over the next few days, Detroit News Food Editor Maureen Tisdale will respond to comments or questions. You also can follow her on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!

Classic Tisdale Fudge

Chocolate is really the classic Tisdale fudge, but we have made it with butterscotch, peanut butter and white chips before. Having done one classic recipe so far this year, I’m thinking of making my second batch sometime this week, substituting the teaspoon of vanilla for a teaspoon of imitation hazelnut or orange extract, since I think those would pair nicely; peppermint extract, which I’ve done before, is also a nice spin for the mint-chocolate lovers. Watch the bubble on those nine minutes, and your stirring; too high a temperature and/or negligent stirring can lead to little flecks of burnt sugar, which hurts the texture and taste. But you don’t need a candy thermometer; I wouldn’t even know what to tell you to aim for, temperature-wise. One of the many things I love about this recipe is it is fairly forgiving; use too little or too much sugar, or get the rolling simmer just a little off, and you might make it silkier or crumblier, but it will still be delicious.

4 1/2 cups sugar

2 sticks butter

1 can evaporated milk

1 teaspoon salt

1 7-ounce jar marshmallow fluff

18 ounces chocolate chips

1 teaspoon vanilla

Get the chocolate chips measured (it’s 1 and 1/2 packages of the most common chocolate chip bag size, which is my justification for making two batches — it just makes sense to use up that second bag!) and marshmallow fluff open, with the vanilla on stand-by. Get a large baking sheet (with edges, of course, not an edge-less cookie sheet) sprayed with cooking spray or better (for easier removable), buttered.

Bring the sugar, butter, evaporated milk and salt to a bubble — a gentle rolling that’s halfway through a simmer and a boil — perhaps on medium heat (a little higher or lower won’t kill you). Keep it there for exactly 9 minutes, stirring constantly but not vigorously. Let your mind wander to the ghosts of fudge-making past.

At 9 minutes, take it off the heat and add the fluff, chocolate chips and vanilla, stirring until they’re melted and the fudge is solidly chocolate-colored and velvety. Pour immediately into the baking sheet and spread it to the edges quickly; it will start to cool and solidify before long.

You can let it cool on the counter for a while, then in the fridge or even on a porch, lightly tented. (My first year in Michigan, when I made it with my friend Lynda and her kids, I tried just sticking the pan atop the snow to cool. Bad call, between it sinking deeply quickly and a nearby squirrel’s unexpected interest.) You can cut it directly out of the fridge or even semi-frozen, but I recommend letting it warm up some for easier cutting and prettier pieces.

It keeps unbelievably well for some time; maybe forever in the freezer (I wouldn’t know — it never lasts that long). Enjoy!