Got your candy thermometer? Let’s get this party started! 

Winter is the ideal time to make homemade candies and confections. And while homemade fudge is a project that is always a great one to tackle, what do you do when you or someone you love isn't a fan of chocolate, or worse, is allergic?

Instead of fudge, make penuche! 

Enter penuche, a brown sugar vanilla fudge that gives you all that great texture and sweetness of fudge but with no chocolate in sight. It is a terrific confection to serve at the end of a meal with coffee and tea, or with a port or dessert wine, since chocolates can often compete with those. If I want to get fancy, I use a small scooper to put it into mini muffin cups and place a single walnut or pecan half or a whole hazelnut on top.

I had frankly never heard of this style of fudge, which is common all over the American South, until I met my Kentucky-bred husband. It has its roots in British-style fudge, which is very similar. This treat is a favorite of his dad's, and as soon as I knew that my father-in-love was a fan, I knew I had better learn how to make it! 

What exactly is penuche?

Penuche is essentially a whipped brown sugar caramel that crystalizes into a solid, cuttable slab. The flavor is similar to pralines, especially if you choose to add nuts. While it is easy to make, you do want to control that crystallization. If it seizes while you are beating it, you won't be able to get it into the pan and smoothed out, so be sure to just beat until it lightens in color and feels a little fluffy and then transfer quickly. Because of this potential to seize up, don't double this recipe until you have made it a couple of times and are comfortable with how it behaves.

Credit: Getty / Cappi Thompson

My favorite recipe for penuche

This recipe is one that is a little bit different from other confections you might have tried, but once you make it once, you'll make it over and over. You can add nuts if you like, but it also works fine without, so do whatever you like with mix-ins! I recommend walnuts as my nut of choice; the bitter edge is ideal with the sweet fudge, but it can be made with pecans, peanuts, almonds, cashews and hazelnuts, so use what you love. 

Penuche Fudge adapted from The Joy of Cooking 1975 edition

Makes about a pound

2 cups dark brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

½ cup milk

½ cup cream

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla paste or extract

1 ½ cups toasted nuts of your choice, chopped coarsely (optional)

1. Spray an 8- or 9-inch square pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper, then spray the parchment.

2. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat whisk together the sugars, salt, milk, and cream; stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil.

3. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and let cook for 3 minutes.

4. Uncover and continue to cook on low WITHOUT STIRRING until the mixture reaches 234°-236° on a candy thermometer. Remove the pot from the heat and put in the butter and vanilla, but do not stir, just let it all hang out while the mixture cools to 110°, checking every few minutes so that it doesn't cool too much.

5. When it hits 110°, beat well with a wooden spoon until creamy and smooth and lightened in color, then add the nuts if you are choosing to do so, and transfer to the pan and spread out into an even layer. 

6. Let cool completely in the pan at room temperature. Use the parchment paper as a sling to remove the fudge from the pan and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.