Sucre à la crème is Quebec’s quintessential comfort food. Mothers and grandmothers make big batches of it for the Christmas season. During wartime when sugar was rationed, little children were given the precious fudge as a birthday treat. You can even find packages of sucre à la crème at pretty much every grocery store or corner dépanneur in Montreal. Many of them contain both the traditional brown sugar fudge and a chocolate-flavoured version that’s similar to American-style fudge.
Like cheese curds, tourtière and pâté chinois, sucre à la crème is ubiquitous. And if you have a sweet tooth, you have to try it at least once in your life. I’m serious: put it on your bucket lists, my friends!
Think of sucre à la crème as a sort of firm but melting fudge. It is similar to Scottish tablet or vintage brown sugar fudge. The traditional recipe is golden brown and tastes like brown sugar. When made well, you do have to bite into the fudge. But once you take that bite, it will truly melt in your mouth. The experience is seriously transcendent. There is nothing on earth quite like it.
Read more about the do’s and don’ts of making sucre à la crème or skip down to the recipe so you can write up your grocery list now.
Tips for Making the Perfect Fudge
The ingredients are simple but candy recipes in general tend to be fussy. There are a number of ways you can mess up this candy – as is the case with most homemade candy recipes.
Use a candy thermometer for the best results, and be sure to follow the recipe instructions exactly. Our grandmothers just eyeballed everything and used a cold water test to judge when the sugar had cooked long enough. You can still do that today, but it’s a lot easier to read a thermometer!
Choose a saucepan that’s fairly deep, as the sugar will bubble a lot during cooking. You also want the bottom of the pan to be fairly thick, as you’ll be cooking the sugars and cream without stirring and you don’t want the mixture to stick or burn.
Don’t try to cook a double batch of sucre à la crème. If you need more than one batch, you can do two at once in different saucepans, or make one batch after the other. Fudge can be frozen, so it’s fine to make your sucre à la crème well in advance of Christmas. Take your time and make it right.
Don’t try to add the butter and vanilla until the hot sugar mixture has cooled. If you rush this step, your fudge won’t turn out right.
Although you can beat your fudge by hand with a wooden spoon (my mother always did) it goes a lot faster if you use a hand mixer.
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Line an 8” square pan with baking parchment, leaving a good bit of the parchment hanging over the sides. If the sides of the pan are not well covered by the parchment, butter them to prevent sticking.
Place the cream, granulated sugar, and brown sugar in a large saucepan. Stir just until the sugars are dissolved.
Heat the sugar and cream mixture over medium-high heat until it reaches the soft ball stage, 237 °F or 114 °C. Do not stir while the sugar is cooking, no matter what you’ve been told in the past! (Note: If you like your sucre à la crème a bit more firm, continue to heat the mixture until it reaches 116 °C, or 240 °F.)
Remove the saucepan from the heat and place it in a heat-proof bowl filled partially with room temperature water. Cool for about 20-30 minutes, or until the sugar mixture reaches about 122 °F (50 °C.) The temperature can go as low as 110 °F (43 °C) and you’ll still be able to add your butter. So don’t worry if you don’t catch the cooling at the exact temperature.
Add the butter and vanilla. Beat the fudge with a hand mixer on a fairly low speed, about 3-4 minutes or until the sugar loses its shine and the colour becomes more creamy. If using nuts, stir them in now.
Pour the finished fudge mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Let cool at room temperature about an hour, or chill in the refrigerator about 30 minutes. At this point, the fudge won’t be completely set, but it will be firm enough that you can cut it into 3/4” or 1” squares. This is the easiest time to cut it, but let it cool longer before eating it. We usually let our sit for several hours before eating.
The Science of Sucre à la Crème
Sucre à la crème, like any traditional fudge, is essentially a supersaturated solution of sugar in cream. Heating the mixture allows more of the sugar crystals to dissolve into the cream, but disturbing the sugar-cream mixture will cause sugar crystals to precipitate out of the solution. (If you’ve ever grown sugar crystals with your kids or made rock sugar, you’ve seen this first-hand.)
It’s important not to stir the sugar while it’s heating. Some recipes will also tell you to use a pastry brush dipped in a tiny amount of water to wash down the sides of the saucepan during heating. This is to prevent sugar crystals clinging to the pan and later falling into the sugar where they will “seed” the formation of more crystals. You do want crystals to form, but in order to get fudge that melts in your mouth, they have to be small crystals. If you stir too soon, or if seed crystals fall into the cooling sugar, the crystals that form will be bigger and the texture of the fudge will be more granular. It will still taste good, but sucre à la crème won’t melt in your mouth quite the same way if it’s too granular.
The reason we use dairy products like heavy cream or evaporated milk when making brown sugar fudge is that the milk fat interferes with the formation of sugar crystals. Similarly, some of the more contemporary recipes for sucre à la crème add corn syrup to serve the same purpose. The idea is to slow down the formation of the sugar crystals so they’ll develop at just the right time.
In contemporary recipes for American-style chocolate fudge, you will often find ingredients such as sweetened condensed milk, marshmallows or marshmallow spread, and even cream cheese. All of these help to slow down the crystal formation so the fudge will have a smoother texture. These “foolproof” recipes do make it easier to make fudge, but their flavour pales in comparison with the vintage recipes – whether it be Scottish tablet, sucre à la crème, or the original chocolate fudge recipe from Wellesley or Smith College. If you love your microwave 3-minute fudge, I can’t fault you for wanting to make it the easy way. But at least once in your life, you need to taste the real vintage fudge.
Do you make fudge every year at Christmastime? Have you ever tasted authentic Quebec sucre à la crème? Tell me about it in the comments!
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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
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