“And though I like to act the part of being tough
I crumble like a sugar cube for you.”
-Yo La Tengo
A former French teacher of mine often offered tea and coffee to her students to make their lessons a little more enjoyable. One summer, however, she began to notice that the sugar bowl was being refilled almost daily; her sugar cubes were disappearing at an alarming rate. After carefully watching her students and noting nothing particularly unusual about their sugar consumption, she relayed the Mystery of the Disappearing Sugar Cubes to me for a second opinion. Like her, I was at a complete loss.
Then, one fall evening (long after we had resigned ourselves to never discovering the truth), Madame M. greeted me at the door with a smug little smile and a hop in her step. The mystery was solved.
“It was the new teacher I hired in June,” she said matter-of-factly. “I walked in on him eating sugar cubes straight from the bowl while he waited for his next student to arrive. No coffee, no tea, just straight sugar!” she exclaimed with disdain. “Can you imagine?!”
I widened my eyes and brought my hand to my mouth in mock horror, shaking my head in a vigorous no and tsk tsk-ing along with her. All the carefully choreographed response of a fraud, I'm afraid. In reality, I was far less horrified than I was letting on, having been known to casually nip a cube or two myself as a youth during the post-sermon meet and greet at the Coquitlam Presbyterian Church (or maybe even a cube or two of Madame M.'s as an adult in a moment of weakness).
These days, I still enjoy sugar and cubes, but have discovered a more socially acceptable alternative to pilfering from the French teacher or the church kitchen. So, for all those who have eaten a few sugar cubes in their life, who have carefully kept their secret or who have suffered the scorn of others when discovered, I can help.
Who said you can’t have your sugar in a cube and eat it too?
Penuche (Brown Sugar Fudge)
1/2 cup whipping cream or evaporated milk
2 cups brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
Combine evaporated milk, brown sugar, butter (cut into cubes) and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently for about 25-30 minutes or until the mixture reaches 238 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer and a teaspoonful dropped in a small bowl of cold water holds a soft ball.
Transfer the mixture to a heatproof bowl (I used stainless steel) and let cool for 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat with a mixer on medium speed. Add the icing sugar slowly, beating continuously until the mixture is smooth and thick (about 3-5 minutes). If you’re using a KitchenAid mixer, be sure not to overbeat or the mixture will become too thick.
Spread the mixture evenly in an ungreased 8” square pan and leave to set at room temperature. Once firm, cut into 1” squares. Refrigerate in an airtight container.
Yields: 64 squares.
Source: Slightly modified version of a recipe from Epicurious that was originally published in Gourmet in July 2003.
Postscript: The penuche tastes a lot like the brown sugar fudge served at the breakfast chain Cora’s/Chez Cora. My internet research suggests that the use of icing sugar in this recipe makes it a somewhat non-traditional penuche, but tasty nonetheless.