What Role Does Sugar Play In Fudge?

What is the role of sugar when making fudge?

In the world of modern desserts, fudge still remains a firm favorite for many – offering a deliciously moreish sweet treat that is perfect for any occasion.

However, what many people don’t know is the way that it is made, and what role ingredients like sugar play in the whole process. 

So this begs the question: how is fudge made, and how important is sugar to creating this iconic, popular dessert? 

What Exactly Is Fudge? 

Before we talk about the specific roles that sugar, and the other ingredients play within the creation of fudge, it is first important to actually define what fudge is.

Whereas other desserts are fairly easy to categorize, fudge has always hung somewhere in between, being neither one thing nor another. 

Generally speaking, fudge is a crystalline type of candy (sort of), which has a consistency that is somewhere between the softness of fondant candies, and the hardness of firm caramel. 

What Are The Ingredients Of Fudge? 

When we talk about the basic recipe for your standard flavor of fudge, there are several ingredients that are considered essential to make this candy a reality.

These include

  • Sugar
  • Butter
  • Milk

Of course, there are numerous varieties and flavors of fudge – not to mention a number of additives – but the above three ingredients are considered the most important and common to create the basic dish. 

However, other common additions include vanilla extract, chocolate, or indeed fruit. 

The Science Behind Fudge Making

When we talk about the fudge making process, the really important thing is controlling the crystallization of the sugar within the mixture – namely keeping it saturated enough so that the smaller ‘seed’ crystals of sugar do not become larger formations of sugar crystals. 

The Cooling Process

The most important step of the whole process is the cooling process – and this means bringing the temperature down at just the right rate, and to just the right temperature so as to stop it from being too runny, or too firm and hard. 

This is where fudge can instead become hard caramel, and as such care and attention is needed to gently control the process. 

The higher that the peak temperature reaches, the more water will evaporate, and the higher the sugar content will be.

To control this, cooks can either use a thermometer, or the ice water test – a process that involves dropping the cooked confectionery into cold water, turning the cold water room temperature, and giving the fudge a distinct consistency. 

If this consistency is soft and can be molded into balls, then it is the right texture for fudge.

However, if the balls are hard once added, they have gone wrong, and are more akin to overcooked, harder fudge types. 

Adding Butter

Once you have the desired texture and finish, you then need to add butter to the mix – thickening the mixture, and ensuring the sugar crystals remain small throughout.

This is then often poured onto a marble slab while still warm, where it is spread out, shaped, and then allowed to cool organically. 

What Role Does Sugar Play? 

When we talk about those three basic ingredients of sugar, butter, and milk, there are specific things that each ingredient plays in the making of fudge – and without which, the entire dish would not have been possible. 

Enhancing The Sweetness

Sugar is perhaps the most important ingredient within fudge, as it gives the dessert its distinct sweetness, and helps to mask any bitterness (or dullness) caused by the butter and the milk mixture.

However, there are other roles that sugar plays in creating the classic fudge recipe – many of which might come as a surprise. 

Controlling The Texture

As the above sections highlight, sugar (and the crystals therein) is incredibly important to ensuring the right consistency and texture of the candy you produce. 

The size and number of the sugar crystals are the determining factor as to the outcome of the candied dessert.

For example, if the crystal particles are small enough, then the outcome will be a creamy, smooth candy like fudge.

But if the particles become too large, then the outcome will be something harder and more akin to caramel. 

Pivotal To Candy Production 

The thing to remember is that all candy is formed from sugar syrup – a process wherein sugar is brought to the boil, turned into a syrup, and then combined with other ingredients to achieve the desired consistency and taste. 

Therefore, without sugar – or some similar crystalline product – the creation of candy is simply not possible.

This makes sugar not only the most important ingredient in fudge making, but also in the development and creation of countless other candy desserts all around the world. 

Why Does Fudge Need So Much Sugar? 

Ultimately, fudge production requires the addition of so much sugar because it is the key ingredient of the whole dessert.

This is the base upon which all the other additional ingredients are added, and as such, without such a large amount of sugar, the dessert would turn out completely different. 

This is akin to asking why chocolate cake needs so much chocolate – or indeed why a Rice Krispie treat needs so many Rice Krispies.

The end results speak for the why, and if you were to ignore such a key ingredient, then your fudge would be tasteless, mushy, and generally undesirable. 

Why Does Fudge Crystallize? 

We have probably all tried disappointing fudge at one time or another – usually when we have made our first attempts to create our own at home.

But don’t worry, this is completely normal for first time attempts, and is due to distinct reactions that happen during the heating process. 

Undissolved Sugar

Fudge begins to crystallize when dissolved sugars within the mixture return to their crystal form – something that is usually a consequence of the sugars not being dissolved before the boiling process begins. 

All fudge is created using microcrystals – microscopic grains of sugar that are created through the dissolving and boiling processes.

These keep the fudge firm and in shape once cooled, and are pivotal to creating good fudge.

When this process goes wrong, or the steps are not followed properly, the sugar will return to its crystal state – creating grainy fudge. 

Lack Of Fat/Liquid

A lack of fat or liquid added during the process can also cause the sugar to reform into crystals once more.

This is because there are insufficient conditions for the dissolving process to occur, and as such, the sugar remains in a crystalline state. 

Excess Sugar

Crystallization can also occur if there is excess or surplus sugar coating the side of the saucepan – and if these are not mixed into the mixture during stirring, or otherwise dealt with, then the fudge will most likely turn out grainy and unappealing. 

Stirring While Boiling

While the substance is cooking, it is important to constantly stir so that the sugar dissolves.

What Role Does Sugar Play In Fudge (1)

However, once the mixture reaches boiling point, it is important to stop stirring – otherwise sugar crystals could once more form.

The amount of stirring depends entirely on the recipe you are following, so be sure to check it carefully before committing one way or the other. 

Using Cold Thermometers

Using a cold candy thermometer can also surprisingly cause the fudge to crystallize in the pan.

This is caused when a thermometer that is too cold is plunged into the hot mixture, shocking the sugar molecules, and causing them to crystallize upon contact. 

To avoid this happening, always warm the thermometer under warm water beforehand. 

Beating While Hot

Another way that fudge can become crystallized is when you beat the mixture while it is still too hot. 

Beating should only ever be done during the latter stages of the process, when the mixture has reached a lukewarm temperature.

Then you can then begin beating until thickened. 

Can Crystallized Fudge Be Salvaged? 

If you have made a mistake and your fudge has become crystallized, then do not worry, this is not the end of the world!

In fact, there are a couple of things you can do to salvage your crystallized fudge and make it perfect for eating once more. 

Step One

Firstly, put your fudge into a big saucepan with water and cream.

Remember, the amount that this will require is dependent on how much mixture you have, so always check before proceeding. 

Step Two

Add a teaspoon of cream of tartar. This will prevent the sugar from crystallizing further, and will not taint the flavor of the fudge in any way. 

Step Three

Next, stir the mixture gently over a low heat, continuing to stir until all of the sugar has dissolved.

Ensure all of the sugar crystals have been dissolved before stopping stirring and increasing the heat. 

Step Four

Bring to the boil, and be sure to brush the sides of the saucepan to remove any sugar particles that may still be stuck to the side of the pan.

After all, we don’t want to make the same mistake twice!

Step Five

Do not stir once at boiling point, and continue to cook until the mixture has reached your desired temperature. This will be highlighted in your recipe. 

Step Six

Once you have done this, allow the fudge to cool until lukewarm – be sure to regularly check with a warm thermometer, and beat until the mixture is thick and creamy. 

Then pour the cooling mixture into a pan, before allowing to cool and set properly. 

Final Thoughts

And there we have it, everything you need to know about fudge making, and the role that sugar plays in the whole process. 

It’s true that fudge is a firm favorite dessert for many people – offering a delicious, sweet treat that can be enjoyed at any time of year.

However, many people still don’t know what fudge is, or the ways in which it is made. 

So if you want to learn more about the fudge making process, then be sure to follow this handy guide. Something tells me you won’t be disappointed!


Hi, I'm Sarah and welcome to Call Me Fudge! From a younger age I've always pottered about in the kitchen and even selling my fudge in the high school grounds. Cooking and baking to me is like second nature and I want to share this passion with you.

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