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RECIPE: Penuche, A Brown Sugar Confection Like Fudge

Penuche
[1] Penuche, an old-fashioned brown sugar treat. Here’s the recipe from Endlessly Inspired.
Nut Free Penuche
[2] Nut-free penuche. Here’s the recipe from Fearless Fresh.

Chocolate Sea Salt Penuche
[3] What could make it better? Some chocolate and sea salt. Here’s the recipe from Rook No.17.

Piloncillo
[4] Piloncillo, a cone of panocha. Here’s more about it from Sweet Potato Chronicles.

 

July 22nd is National Penuche Day. Penuche (pen NOO chee) is often called brown-sugar fudge, but it’s actually a brother or sister.

While it follows the same preparation method, what makes it different is the use of brown sugar rather instead of white, and plain milk instead of cream. (The other ingredients common to both are butter and vanilla).

For both penuche and fudge:

  • A fat-sugar solution is heated to the soft ball stage, 236°F.
  • The solution is set aside to cool to lukewarm, about 110°F.
  • Flavorings are added and the solution is beaten until thick. Mix-ins (nuts, M&Ms, etc.) are added.
  • The mixture is poured into a pan, allowed to cool until semi-hard, and cut into bite-sized pieces.
  •  
    Using milk instead of cream gives the confection a lighter body. Over time, some cooks substituted evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk in their preparation.

    In recent years, a version with maple syrup has surfaced in New England. With the popularity of salted caramels, versions have appeared topped with a layer of chocolate fudge and sea salt (a great idea, by the way).

    Penuche has a tannish color, a result of the caramelization. Caramelization also engenders a more complex sugar flavor, with notes of butterscotch or caramel.

    You may encounter penuche with different spellings: panocha, penocha, penochi, panucci, pinuche and penuchi, among others.

    In the Southern United States, it is called creamy praline fudge, and brown sugar fudge candy.

  • Penuche is very similar to a Québec confection called sucre à la crème (cream sugar), a holiday season tradition.
  • A cousin is the southern praline, which is made by boiling brown sugar, butter and cream and cooked to a soft-ball stage like penuche, but filled with pecans and spooned onto wax paper to form patties.
  • An ancestor is Scottish tablet.
  • An adaption is penuche frosting, a brown sugar boiled icing flavor. It is popular with spice cakes and versions with prunes and other dried fruits (photo #5).
  •  
    Ready to make some penuche?
     
     
    RECIPE: CLASSIC PENUCHE

    Nuts add another flavor dimension, and can be larger pieces or chopped to your desired consistency.

    You may note that some recipes add corn syrup to prevent crystallization. But if you’re planning to scarf these within a few days, it’s not an issue.

    Ingredients

  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon butter plus more to grease the pan
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (substitute walnuts)
  • Candy thermometer
  •  
    Preparation

    1. LIGHTLY BUTTER an 8×8-inch pan and set aside.

    2. COMBINE the sugar and milk in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stirring constantly, let the temperature rise to the soft-ball stage, 236°F.

    3. REMOVE the pan from heat. Add butter but do not stir. Set aside to cool to lukewarm, 110°F.

    4. ADD the vanilla and beat until the mixture is smooth, thick and creamy. Add the nuts and pour into the prepared pan. When set, cut into squares.

    Variation

    For comparison, here’s a recipe for penuche made with condensed milk.

     


    PENUCHE HISTORY

    While brown sugar-based fudge existed previously, penuche appears to have originated in New England. Brown sugar, light or dark, provides a hint of molasses that yields a spicier, richer flavor than regular white sugar.

    The difference between a lighter and darker tan color is light versus dark brown sugar. A dark brown sugar recipe has more of a molasses taste.

    While the origin of penuche isn’t known for certain, it looks like a descendant of a Scottish confection called tablet.

    We’ve pieced together some background.

  • Some sources claim the idea for penuche fudge originated in 1924, made by or for a Boston Bruins player named Mark Penuche. However, we could find no record of a Mark Penuche online [source].
  • Penuche is a Mexican Spanish word for raw sugar. According to MexGrocer.com, panela or penuche, raw brown sugar, can be purchased in panocha (chunks) or piloncillo (a tall cone shape—photo #4), and is “a delicious ingredient to prepare Mexican desserts.”
  • Another historical link is to Scottish tablet, a fudge-like treat with a caramel flavor, made from boiling butter, condensed milk and sugar. Boiled sweets are a Scotch tradition dating to the 1600s when sugar was first imported from the West Indies.
  • Scottish tablet was first mentioned in a household account book in the 18th century owned by Lady Grisell Baillie and it’s caramel buttery taste is still loved above all other confections in Scotland, to this day [source]. Here’s a recipe for Scottish tablet.
     
    Wherever the origin of penuche may lie, it became a New England favorite in the 1920s, and subsequently migrated to fudge counters across the country.

    Now that you have the recipe, try some!
     
     
    FOOD TRIVIA: FUDGE

    Fudge was an accident, the result of an attempt to make caramels. And what a happy accident!

    Here’s the history of fudge.

  •   Penuche Frosting
    [5] Brown sugar frosting, popular with spice cakes, is called penuche frosting. Here’s the recipe from Cafe Johnsonia.

    Scottish Tablet

    [6] Scottish tablet seems to be the closest relative to penche. Here’s the recipe from London Eats.

     

      




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