My dad, Jim Ross, used to make a large batch of this fudge to give to family and friends. It's rich and delicious.
The large batch takes 3 hours to make. The small batch will come up to temperature faster and it will be easier to stir.
Large Batch (8 lbs) Small Batch (1 ½ lbs)
Buttermilk* 5 cups 1 cup
Margarine (or butter)** 1 pound ¼ pound
Dark or light corn syrup 2/3 cup 2 tbsp
Sugar 5 pounds 2 cups
Baking soda 1 ½ tbsp 1 tsp
Pecans 1 pound 1 cup
Vanilla ¼ cup 1 tbsp
Butter** 4 ounces (1 stick) 2 tbsp
* Instead of 5 cups buttermilk for a large batch, you can use 4 cups buttermilk (one quart) plus 1 cup milk.
** My dad found through extensive experimentation that margarine works best to make the syrup, and butter works best while it's cooling. If you'd prefer butter, other similar recipes call for butter.
Grease the sides of a heavy sauce pan with butter to prevent sugar crystals from forming, which could turn the candy into a grainy mass. Put buttermilk, milk (if making in large batch), margarine, corn syrup and sugar in pan over low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add baking soda. Cook slowly and watch constantly, as this mixture foams greatly when the buttermilk and baking soda are heated together. Do not rush; the foaming will stop as the mixture turns a rich caramel color.
Watch the sides of the pan for the formation of crystals. Brush down any crystals with a pastry brush dipped into hot water.
When foaming diminishes, cook the syrup to soft-ball stage. This is 234 to 242 degrees at sea level. Decrease by 1 degree for every 500 feet above sea level. You can test for soft-ball stage in two ways. First, drop a spoon full of syrup into ice-cold water. When it's ready, a limp, sticky ball will flatten when removed from the water. Be sure that your spoon is wooden or warmed metal and absolutely clean. Alternatively, you can use a candy thermometer. Warm the thermometer under hot water before placing it in the hot syrup to avoid shocking the syrup, which can cause crystallization.
Remove from heat and place the pan in a sink with just enough cold water to allow the pan to sit on the bottom of the sink rather than float. Add butter while mixture cools. Cool to lukewarm. Do not stir while cooling.
Meanwhile, line a walled cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Butter the foil. Be sure to prepare the cookie sheet before stirring the candy as directed in the next step since the candy will set up quickly.
It is helpful to have an extra set of hands during the last step. Both of you may want to wear thin rubber gloves. Have some cooking spray handy in case either or both of you need to use your hands to press down the candy.
Using a very sturdy wooden spoon, briskly stir the mixture until it begins to thicken and gets lighter in color. This takes a fair amount of muscle for the large batch since the mixture is thick and heavy. Moving quickly, add the pecans while continuing to stir. Add the vanilla as soon as the pecans are covered by candy and stir. Pour the candy into the buttered pan. If the mixture has begun to set up, apply cooking spray to glove-covered hands and press the candy evenly into the pan. Sometimes a rolling pin will be useful in pressing the candy down evenly.
When the candy is firm but still warm, invert the pan over a cutting board to free the candy from the pan. Cut in squares using a pizza cutter or sharp butcher knife. Foil-wrapped candy can be frozen for several months.
Words of caution: Sometimes the mixture will turn to sugar, even though you've done everything according to the recipe. If this happens, you can try reheating it to the soft-ball stage. Add some water to make up for the liquid lost during cooking. Be sure no sugar clings to the side of the pan. The flavor will be fine, but the texture may be more brittle or crumbly than usual.