When I was a little girl, living in Southern California, my family used to take weekend trips to Tijuana Mexico every once in a while. My greatest memory was visiting the candy shops during the Autumn when they had displays full of Dia de la Muerta (Day of the Dead) candies: little sugar skulls, bright colored marzipan figures, and cubes of buttery caramely brown sugar fudge that had a bit of a salty finish. I had no idea what it was but I loved it, and I got some every time we went.
This recipe is an homage to the candy I had and loved as a child.
If you don't have a candy thermometer, which I highly recommend having if you make candy with any frequency, you can use the cold water method to check the state of your candy. With a bowl of very cold water (throw a piece of ice in there for good measure) once the mixture has been boiling for about 10 minutes (this is totally an estimate, look up water method if you've not used it before, please) over medium to medium low heat, drop a small bit of sugar mixture into the cold water and create a ball, it should smoosh like a pancake when you take it out of the water hence “soft ball stage.”
2 pounds light brown sugar
1 cup evaporated milk (or heavy cream)
1/2 cup butter
3 tablespoons light corn syrup, optional (makes it creamier)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla powder (or alcohol-free extract)
In a medium saucepan, mix brown sugar, milk, butter, corn syrup if using, and salt.
Cook, stirring, until sugar is dissolved.
Cook without stirring until soft ball stage is reached or to 238°F on a candy thermometer.
Remove from heat and let cool to 110°F or room temperature.
Add vanilla. Beat until it loses its glossy sheen (It took a really long time for me, and I was concerned for my stand mixer just a little bit. It might take up to 10 minutes, but don't give up, it gets there. If you are doing the beating by hand (use a wooden spoon), you might want to employ friend and family to help take turns so your arm doesn't fall off).
Pour into a buttered 9-inch square pan or an 9x13-inch pan for thinner pieces.
When firm, cut into squares.
Makes about 3 pounds of penuche.