Is it too early to start in on Christmas desserts? I’m usually a pretty staunch Christmas-must-wait-until-after-Thanksgiving type, so with Thanksgiving barely 24 hours behind us, I almost feel bad posting such a Christmas-y recipe. But not that bad, because Christmas desserts are the absolute best! This unique opera fudge is a Christmas recipe I’ve been wanting to try for ages, ever since I saw it featured in a Better Homes and Gardens December issue years ago. I had never heard of opera fudge and had no idea what it was, as compared to regular fudge. I just went along with my imagination and assumed it was some old-fashioned confection that used to be served at the opera. Visions of ladies in fancy ruffled dresses being served cherry fudge in their theater balconies danced in my head.
But apparently, this is not the source of the name opera fudge. When I looked it up, I found that opera fudge is a candy originating in Lebanon, Pennsylvania–the authentic version is still sold and shipped from there. No one knows why it was named opera fudge, though there did used to be an opera house in the town in the late 1800s. As for the candy, it’s technically not a fudge. (So no opera and no fudge…if it weren’t so delicious, I think I’d be getting disappointed right about now.) In its most traditional form, it’s a fondant made with heavy cream, then coated with chocolate. This candied cherry version, however, is chocolate-free, allowing the pretty red candied cherries to give it a visual pop to match its tangy-sweet taste. For me, it was fun to make something that turned out so festive-looking. If you stop by my house this Christmas season, I just might whip some out of my freezer (yes, it freezes well) and make you sample some!
Candied Cherry Opera Fudge
(Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)
3 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. milk
1 c. half-and-half
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. coarsely chopped candied red cherries
1. Line an 8 x 8 square pan with aluminum foil, extending foil over the edges of the pan. Spray with cooking spray and set aside.
2. Spray the inside of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan with cooking spray. In the saucepan, combine sugar, milk, half-and-half, corn syrup, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan. (Yes, you need a candy thermometer. Making an educated guess about temperature will be very difficult with this recipe.)
3. Continue boiling at a moderate, steady rate, stirring occasionally, until thermometer registers 236 degrees (soft ball stage–about 20 minutes). Adjust heat if necessary to maintain a steady boil.
4. Remove saucepan from heat. Add butter and vanilla but do not stir. Cool, without stirring, to 170 degrees (about 20 minutes). Remove thermometer from the pan and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon about 5 minutes. Add candied cherries and stir 1 more minute. Pour into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Let stand until firm. Use the foil to lift the fudge from the pan and cut with a sharp knife.
Makes 1 8 x 8 pan.