Whether you choose to spell it Mackinaw or Mackinac, this small island town has NEVER had an identity crisis. And it’s definitely NOT a one-horse town.
Mackinac’s name alone conjures up images of its charming, bustling, turn-of-the-century Main Street filled with horse-drawn surreys, fat-tire bicycles with wicker baskets, souvenir shops and magnificent views of the lake and beyond. It’s also famous Mackinac’s famous fudge.
With the exception of photographs and memories, once you board the ferry back to the mainland, there’s no better way for most of us to take a piece of Mackinac back home with us than to buy a box of fudge. The practice is so common that the locals have a name for us, too. We’re called Fudgies. And thankfully for the folks that run the ever-popular fudge shops on the island, we’re not a dying breed.
Nowadays, for those who can’t make it to Mackinac each summer, many of these popular shops (now over a dozen in downtown alone) have distribution by mail or on the mainland. Shops such as Rybas, Murdick’s, Joann’s, May’s, and Murray have made it easier than ever for us to enjoy one of this state’s most beloved confections. Now Mackinac Island can’t take credit for inventing fudge, but it sure perfected it.
From pure ingredients like heavy cream, fresh dairy butter, pure vanilla, rich chocolate, fresh nuts and WAY too many delicious ingredients to mention, it’s not hard to see why over 10,000 pounds of fudge leave the island every day throughout the summer.
If you’ve been to Mackinac, you already know that the show is definitely part of the experience of this island’s fudge. Just a glance down main street and you’ll immediately know where all the popular fudge shops are because crowds of Fudgies, noses pressed against their windows like children at toy stores, watch intensely while batch after batch of fudge is cooked in copper kettles, dumped on thick marble tables and then turned by paddles as the batter-like confection slowly transforms into a clay-like bar.
Most fudge recipes are pretty much the same. They have to be. Otherwise, you don’t get fudge. The quality of the fudge’s taste depends on the quality of its ingredients. The quality of its texture is the result of two things: the temperature to which it’s cooked and how it is cooled and paddled. It may be a show, but what happens after the recipe’s ingredients are added to that big copper kettle is the secret to great fudge.
Fudge is cooked to a specific temperature, and that temperature is between 235 F and 240 F, which is also called the soft ball stage by candy folks. A lower temperature won’t allow the fudge to sufficiently firm up, and a higher temperature will make it too firm and brittle once cooled. 237 F is the Goldilocks Zone for fudge. With summer coming to an end, it won’t be long before Mackinac’s Fudge shops are boarded up for the winter, so why not learn to make your own Mackinac-style fudge right at home? You can!
My Mackinac Chocolate Fudge (Makes about 3 lbs. or 1 Serving)
1 ½ Cups Half & Half
4 oz Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
2 Cups Light Brown Sugar
3 TBSP Light (clear) Corn Syrup
¼ tsp Kosher Salt
3 TBSP Butter (salted is just fine)
1 ½ tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1. In a mid-sized, heavy saucepan over a low heat, melt the chocolate with the milk. 2. Add in the sugar, corn syrup and salt. 3. Stir continuously until mixture is boiling. 4. Reduce heat and continue to cook, without stirring, until mixture reaches 235 to 240 F on a candy thermometer. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you will know your mixture is done when a teaspoonful of the mixture forms a soft ball when dropped into cold water. 5. Remove from heat JUST before the mixture reaches 240 F. 6. Now add in the vanilla and the butter, and stir 10 seconds only. 7. Allow the mixture to cool until it is lukewarm. 8. Once mixture has reached desired temperature, stir it with a wooden spoon until the mixture begins to lose its gloss and starts to thicken. This will take about 10 minutes or so. 9. Spray an 8” x 8” baking pan (with a 1 ½” high wall) with a nonstick vegetable spray. You may find it easier to remove the fudge for cutting if you line the bottom of the pan with waxed paper. 10. Allow mixture to stand until cool and hard. 11. Flip the fudge out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into bars or squares.
*Now, for those of you who would like to add other stuff (like nuts or mini-marshmallows) to your chocolate fudge, do so after it has cooled to warm and before you stir it. About a good cupful of nuts is about right.
Want to see how the Fudge Pros at Murdick’s make it? Watch here!