My mom is a huge candy fan. Looking back, I still don’t understand why she wasn’t a whole lot bigger than she was, considering she always had it on hand. Her purse was usually a good bet for a Mars bar, or a Mounds, or a $100,000 bar on any given day. For a real splurge, she especially adored turtles, and thanks to the marketing genius of companies like Brach’s, Russell Stover, and later, Godiva, Valentine’s Day meant a box of chocolates in the house, under her jurisdiction.
At Easter time in our house, like most others in New Orleans when I was growing up, I imagine, the candy box of choice was Elmer’s Heavenly Hash. The local department stores – Maison Blanche and Krauss’ – were piled high with them during the season, in all their gleaming cellophane glory. Coming out of a sweet-deprived Lent, it really did seem like a little slice of heaven.
But back to Valentine’s Day. People like to ask me, being a pastry chef, what my favorite Valentine’s dessert is, and I have to say, no fancy-flavored, gold-dusted truffle has ever moved me like a nice nutty piece of fudge. First of all, there’s nothing more tedious than rolling ganache in to little balls. But even if someone else is making it, there’s still nothing more appealing to me than a perfect morsel of fudge, preferably studded with pecans, thanks to my Southern bias. The smooth, soft chocolate with the crunch of a fresh roasted nut is an ideally balanced texture. The richness is decadent. I’m talking about Heavenly Hash, but without the marshmallow, which can put even my seasoned sweet tooth right over the edge. So while we’re at it, as I prefer the complexity of a little salt in my sweets anyway, let’s sprinkle these lightly with a fine hand-harvested French salt. There you have it: in my professional opinion, the perfect offering for Valentine’s Day.
Salting sweets is nothing new in the professional pastry industry. Ten years ago, any high end restaurant worth its salt (forgive the pun) had a dedicated pastry chef experimenting with various methods of achieving that intriguing juxtaposition of flavors. And it’s certainly getting trendier all the time. I’m proud to say it’s been a lifetime habit of mine, personally. I used to salt my watermelon as a six-year old; nothing fancy, just table salt, but think how that would bring out the sweetness! I grew up hearing my dad, who is from Havana, tell about a favorite childhood treat: jumping into Cabañas Bay with a whole fresh peeled pineapple. As he and his buddies swam, their pineapple bobbed along, soaking up enough salt water to emphasize the sweetness; after about 30 minutes, they would haul the fruit back to shore for an instant picnic. It’s a good story, but probably not something you’d want to try in today’s waters…
This fudge, on the other hand, is definitely worth trying, and perfectly safe. With only a handful of basic ingredients, the only slightly exotic one being the imported fleur-de-sel salt, it cooks up quickly and sets without a fuss in a nice tidy pan. If you want to show some extra effort, you could cut it in squares and set them in little brown candy cups in a pretty box. But a big heap of it piled high on a plate can’t fail to make a big impression, either. So give it a try – and remember: nothing says “I love you” like thousands of sweet little calories.
Heavenly Hash Fudge
Yields: 16 squares
1 cup sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3⁄4 pound semisweet chocolate (preferably 58%–61% cacao), finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 cups toasted pecan pieces
1 1⁄2 cups mini marshmallows
Lightly coat an 8-inch-square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place a
10-inch-square piece of parchment paper in the baking dish, coat with nonstick cooking spray, and set the dish aside.
Bring the sugar, evaporated milk, and corn syrup to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the syrup reaches 220°F (it will have a foam of finely textured bubbles on top like the foam on a beer), about 8 minutes.
Turn off the heat and whisk in the chocolate, vanilla, and salt until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Let it cool for 3 minutes (you shouldn’t feel any heat if you touch a dab to the bottom of your lip) and then stir in the pecans and marshmallows until combined.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet and spread it into a somewhat even layer using a rubber spatula (it’s okay if it’s a little bumpy and rustic). Tap the pan on your work surface a couple of times to compact, and then cover flush with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Place a deep bowl or pitcher of hot water next to your work surface. Invert the chocolate onto a cutting board and carefully remove the parchment paper. Dip a chef’s knife or pizza wheel into the hot water and cut the bar into 2-inch squares. Place the heavenly hash in paper candy cups, wrap in decorative foil, or arrange on a serving platter and refrigerate. Let the candies sit out at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving.
David Guas exchanged his longtime corporate role for an entrepreneurial path that includes private consultation, boutique catering and a new retail coffeehouse and Southern bakery. Damgoodsweet Consulting Group is the irreverent name he has given his company. Bon Appétit called David one of the country's eight "Dessert Stars." DamGoodSweet - Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth New Orleans Style is his first cookbook. Learn more about David at damgoodsweet.com.
Paula's Note: I have been trying to have David on Paula's Best Dishes for a year now. I hope we can work out all the details to make that happen soon so everyone can get to know him. He is a Southern dream and I want y'all to fall in love with him like I have. By the way, I made the Heavenly Hash Fudge and it is out of this world!
Food Editor's Note: Excerpts from DamGoodSweet are courtesy of The Taunton Press. The book is co-authored by Raquel Pelzel. Photography by Ellen Silverman.
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