Two Books and a Recipe
Those holiday gift guides that just smoosh anything shallow and fancy together aren’t much use to anyone who has a more thoughtful approach to giving things, so I thought I’d try to put some good things together with that in mind. A book couple, one thick and one thin, below, seemed to match perfectly with the the spirit of the recipe I’m offering too—a balance of substance. I like gifts that matter. Gifts that change lives, imagine that! Next week I return with the spirit of the hodgepodge…
The new Agnes Martin retrospective, Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances is the best one yet—or ever probably, the most complete and in the nicest physical form. If you know anyone who feels an unshakable imperative to make rather than just consume this book is essential. Beautiful, makes an impressive gift, but also useful, memorable. Martin was an underrated late-midcentury minimalist painter, who (as a testament to her own strange subtlety) considered herself an Abstract Expressionist. Her eerie, pale, gridded color fields have startling conviction, the best kind of minimalism, absorbing and diffusing; Rothko if he had any guts at all. For the last ten years I’ve had a dogeared copy of her book Writings near me, which I occasionally open, even if just to find my all-time favorite sentence in it, “We need more and different flags.” Martin’s writings, especially paired with her clear and direct paintings, are inspiring beyond the regular little (or overblown) urgings of manifestos and craft lessons, actually agitating at times: they make you want to make.
Watch this interview with her for an example. She’s wrong about some things, sure, but she makes making feel important again.
This book’s counterpoint is Louise Glück’s new collected works, Poems 1962—2012. Maybe you are the creative person, maybe even a poet, and there is that supportive family member/spouse/friend who is sort of interested in reading more poetry? For me this is my mom; she loves Mary Oliver but doesn’t know where to go from there. An anthology or small bit of someone is not helpful, I think; a whole scope of poems rattles them all together for a kind of depth and sense that can’t come otherwise. Glück is personable but also says big things, big real ideas that lesser poets seem to avoid only because they have given up on them. This range of work proves how a poet might not give up, and we are richer for it.
And for this aesthetic pairing, here’s a recipe for you to make. Listen to me: this is how to make fudge. It’s such a perfect, stunning and simple gift, so do it up; any recipe that calls for marshmallow fluff or condensed milk is not actually fudge, just sweet firm goo.
The problem with fudge, I have discovered after much testing, is the chocolate. It interrupts the bond between the pure fat of cream and the suspension matrix of sugar heated to soft-ball stage. The wrong humidity, or slight temperature changes, or particular mix of ingredients in the chocolate you use, and your fudge is runny, or chalky, or grainy or flakes up. So, make vanilla fudge. It’s foolproof. It’s fantastic. In a lot of recipes, using a real vanilla bean can be a huge waste if the flavor is going to be lost under a lot of other stuff, but this is the perfect use for one—the flavor and even slight texture of the vanilla beans will be appreciated. Top with all the chocolate you want and have the best of both worlds.
1 ½ c. heavy cream
3 c. sugar
¼ c. light corn syrup
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp cold butter, sliced into thin pats
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, scraped
4 oz semisweet chocolate
1/3 c toasted, salted, coarsely chopped hazelnuts
Line a 8×8 or 9×9 square pan with nonstick foil. When the fudge is cool, you’ll be able to lift it right out of the pan to cut neatly.
The best nuts for this fudge are hazelnuts, and the best hazelnuts are the ones you toast yourself. Test for yourself the difference between raw and toasted hazelnuts—the flavor is unbelievably different, so don’t skip this step! Toast them for about 25-30 minutes in a low oven, 275, stirring often, then peel skins off immediately by rubbing the batch in a clean dishcloth. Chop very coarsely and sprinkle with sea salt while still warm.
Mix together the cream, sugar, corn syrup and salt in a heavy saucepan and cook, stirring constantly over med-low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to a boil, stop stirring when mixture boils. Reduce heat to low and cover pot with a lid, allow to boil for 3 minutes. Remove lid and clip in your thermometer. Boil until temperature reaches 237 degrees (or 239 if it is extremely humid/raining out). Turn off the heat, do not move the saucepan. Once the boiling has died down, place the thin pats of butter on the surface so they will melt and prevent the surface from drying out. Allow to cool to 110 degrees, which can take up to an hour and a half. Do not move or bump or touch the pot as it cools.
Once at 110 degrees, stir the mix as fast as possible with a wooden spoon, slowing after a few minutes. When the mix turns thick and less shiny, add vanilla and vanilla bean scrapings, pour immediately into prepared pan. Allow to cool completely. Chop and melt the chocolate and spread over the cooled fudge, adding hazelnuts immediately. Cut when cool and store in an airtight container.