From the loving hands of gifted candy makers comes a selection of melt-in-your-mouth gourmet sweets that are seducing palates across the country.
Marie-Louise Trollip, the creative mind behind Mari’s Crumbly Butter Fudge, fell in love with fudge in her mother’s kitchen when she was little. “My mom cooked fudge using a traditional recipe handed down to her by my grandma.”
She remembers a big, thick-based pressure cooker pot, which was her mother’s trade secret. “We were four children and each of us would take a turn to stir the pot. We waited impatiently for the fudge to be ready, but I could smell when it started to caramelise. Then I knew the end was near and worth the long wait.” Her mother would pour the liquid gold into a big pan to set, making sure not to clean the pot out too much. “We all sat around the pot on the kitchen floor scraping and licking it clean until there wasn’t a trace of fudge left.”
Marie-Louise’s childhood memories were reawakened when she was expecting her first child and finances were tight; “I was six months pregnant and woke up one morning feeling very discouraged, wondering how we would be able to look after little Maya if we didn’t even have enough for ourselves”.
She scratched out her grandma’s irresistible recipe and got to work. Initially operating as Soete Sonder End (Sweet Without End), they re-branded last year. Today, five years later, Marie-Louise and husband Ivor employ six women in their factory in Riviersonderend and makes over two tons of fudge per month. They supply 250 shops across the Western Cape, Gauteng and Durban, including Tuinroete Agri, Beans About Coffee, various Spar stores and several farm stalls along the N2.
Despite their budding success, Marie-Louise insists she is a small-scale artisan who produces small, quality batches at a time. “Every batch is unique and each woman who makes a batch has her own particular touch.”
The range includes honey fudge, made with locally produced honey. “It’s my favourite because the honey makes the fudge extra creamy.” Marie-Louise is also extremely proud of her delicious chocolate orange fudge, which features her homemade candied orange.
The original caramel flavour is the bestseller. Hard to the touch, but forgiving to the bite; it is thick, dark and has that tell-tale powdery patina of perfect fudge.
Mari’s recently launched a flagship chocolate almond brittle, flavoured with salted popcorn. “People are hooked on it because it’s not as hard as most brittle.” The layered confection includes crumbly toffee embedded with salted popcorn and is topped with dark chocolate and roasted almonds.
Superior home-grown ingredients are a hallmark of their remarkable buttery fudge. “We source great local ingredients, including Lancewood butter from George, Jersey milk from a local farmer and we make our own full cream condensed milk,” says Marie-Louise. The couple use only natural flavours for the manufacture of their gourmet sweets and shun artificial additives.
When asked if there is a secret to Mari’s Fudge, the sweet maker humbly replies: “Patience and strong forearms.”
Knysna-based Hantie Gerber’s flavoured fudge is a favourite at the Wild Oats Community Farmers Market in Sedgefield and shops in the Southern Cape.
A master of the notoriously capricious and tricky art of fudge-making, Hantie says the science of good quality, melt-in-the-mouth fudge hinges on the correct crystallisation of the sugar. “Mass produced fudge is hard, grainy and just sweet,” she says, “that is the difference between factory and artisan products; the passion and the personal touch – and that, you can literally taste.”
She relies on her refined skill and senses: “I started out experimenting with different ingredients and in the end realised it’s all in the technique. The right temperature, the clean buttered sides of the pot, the cooling down before beating and the duration of beating are all essential components.
“Every piece of fudge goes through my hands. It’s not something you can teach someone to do, I think. You sense when the right things start happening. You see the toffee-like consistency change from shiny to dull. You can feel the smooth texture when the spoon goes through the mixture right before it starts setting.”
Hantie’s Homemade Fudge is available in twelve mouth-watering flavours, including Turkish Delight, Rocky Road and peanut butter. Demand for her confectionary has now spread to Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, and she has begun to courier fudge countrywide.
She also produces other noteworthy foodie products, including three different flavoured salad dressings and a basting sauce that recently featured in the Ooh Box gourmet tasting group as well as the Kokkedoor Kardoes wine and food discovery bag.
Precious Pudge Fudge
Pudge Fudge matriarch Barbara Lee‘s confections have tempted many a sweet tooth on the Garden Route over the past 20 years.
A wall of buttery sweetness envelops visitors at Barbara’s quiet home in George like a warm embrace. The aroma comes from the Pudge Fudge factory adjacent to the family kitchen.
Humbly reluctant to disclose the secret of her success other than ‘hard work and dogged determination’, Barbara says: “I started with a microwave oven in my kitchen and 24 cans of condensed milk.” Now she has three full-time staff working in her kitchen and has much of her family employed in offshoots of the company, supplying fudge across the country.
“We have up-scaled,” she jokes. Pudge now buys their condensed milk in 10-litre buckets and has a cold room for storage. While production generates several bakkie loads of fudge every month, each piece is still lovingly made by hand; hand mixed, cooked, cooled and cut by staff whom Barbara regards as part of her extended family.
Her three daughters and four grandchildren swear by the fudge scrapings still warm out of the baking tray. “Once you taste that,” says her daughter Gillian Lee, “no other sweet ever really matches up. Mom banned us from eating the fudge when we were little, knowing that unlimited access could completely corrupt us, but we still managed to sneak some of the warm crumbly offcuts straight from the baking trays.”
Barbara is visibly proud of her successful sweet industry. “I love my business and am incredibly proud of it. It’s seen my family through tough times and now I can finally say all our hard work is paying off, and I can see my family and staff reaping the rewards.”
If you are up early enough in George’s industrial area, the delicious scent of warm honey in the air will lead you to the Milano’s sweet factory on Pearl Street – the home of the unmistakable Milano emblem of a smug teddy bear licking his muzzle.
Production manager Ivan Kotze is often hard at work by 5am, supervising his team of confectioners on the pristine air-conditioned factory floor. Honeycomb syrup bubbles on a gas stove and is whipped into a sticky frothing lava-like consistency. The mixture is then carefully poured into cooling pans and left to set. “Honeycomb is a difficult product to make and confectioners are careful to handle it quickly. If it’s beaten incorrectly there is a danger it will flop and develop a toffee-like consistency,” says Ivan.
In a cold room, one of Milano’s magic makers is dipping jagged and rustic lumps of broken honeycomb in a vat of melted chocolate.
Fresh batches of white, pillow-soft nougat are churned for hours before adding a selection of luxurious chopped fruit, nuts and coconut. The ingredients are delicately folded into the meringue base before being poured into cooling pans, lined with rice paper. Over 4000 bars are made at the factory every day.
Ivan is clear about what he has set out to achieve: “Milano’s nougat is chewy and fresh; it is the best handmade product on the market. We have succeeded in becoming a household name.” While locally best known for their delicious display at the Outeniqua Farmers Market in George, Milano’s also distributes nationally. “Milano’s handmade nougat is more expensive than mass produced bars in supermarkets because it is made with higher quality ingredients, including specially sourced cashew nuts, slivers of roasted almond, dried mango, plump figs, coconut and syrupy cherries.”