Big Little Recipes

Shiny, Gooey Hot Fudge With 2 Ingredients

June 30, 2020

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else—flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re turning two pantry staples into a dreamy dessert sauce.

“When I imagined the perfect hot fudge,” David Lebovitz writes in The Perfect Scoop, “I envisioned it being gooey, shiny, silky smooth, and full of deep, dark chocolate flavor.” And I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Hot fudge sundaes took hold in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century, largely at soda fountains and drugstores. But while Americans today readily associate this chocolatey sauce with ice cream—and sherbet and sorbet and summer and happiness—this recipe was likely born from an oh fudge! moment. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

According to a blog post by award-winning cookbook author, Nancy Baggett:

It’s a good bet that the first hot fudge sauces resulted from early fudge failures. Fudge-making—a traditional American activity—started catching on at several New England women’s colleges in the late 19th century. Sometimes, when the mixture wasn’t cooked enough, it wouldn’t set and had to be eaten with a spoon.

And who’s going to complain about that?

All you need for hot fudge. Photo by Rocky Luten

If you’re new to fudge-making, here’s the gist: Boil ingredients like milk, butter, sugar, and chocolate to the softball stage (candy lingo for 235°F to 240°F), cool to around 120°F, then hand-whip until smooth. Undershoot the initial temperature and the fudge will never set. Overshoot and it’ll turn out dry.

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Top Comment:
“I love this simple recipe for hot fudge. I'm definitely going to make it.”
— Cjanifer

Luckily, hot fudge is more forgiving. Considering that it materialized from shoddy candy-making, it makes sense that, all these years later, most hot fudge recipes require no thermometer and, frankly, no skill. The technique can be as simple as: Dump ingredients in a pot, stir over modest heat, and pour on top of the nearest scoop of ice cream.

Which brings us to those ingredients. Here are the usual suspects, culled together from several popular recipes: heavy cream, brown sugar, granulated sugar, light corn syrup, bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cocoa powder, water, unsalted or salted butter, vinegar, vanilla extract.

The light corn syrup works to “prevent the mixture from becoming too grainy, but may also inhibit candying by trapping excess moisture,” writes Florence Fabricant in a 1990 review of a book all about fudge. But this Big Little Recipe needs no corn syrup. Or brown sugar, or granulated sugar, or cocoa powder, or heavy cream, or butter.

Sweetened condensed milk and chocolate take care of everything.

Serve it up with no-churn ice cream, whole-milk Greek yogurt, any-fruit sorbet. Photo by Rocky Luten

I first stumbled upon this approach via Eagle Brand, when developing a sundae years ago. Maybe you’ve seen something similar on The Pioneer Woman.

Simply milk and sugar, reduced until 60 percent of the water evaporates, sweetened condensed milk is, yes, sweet and milky. But as Stella Parks notes on Serious Eats, “Maillard browning creates this beautiful complexity, giving it a toasty, toffee-like character.” Which means this ingredient not only contributes hot fudge’s gooey, ganache-esque consistency, but it also brings a more complex flavor than fresh dairy.

Now onto the chocolate: In the other two-ingredient hot fudge recipes I’ve seen, semisweet chocolate—interchangeable with bittersweet, usually ranging between 35 to 60 percent cacao—is the default (I suspect because most American desserts swing toward the sugary end of the spectrum). But because sweetened condensed milk is plenty, well, sweet, you can sub in chocolate that’s totally unsweetened, and end up with something even better. Unsweetened chocolate just brings chocolatey-ness—yielding a hot fudge that is less cloying, more, dare I say, sultry.

My favorite Big Little ingredient, water, makes the hot fudge pourable. While a small amount of water is infamous for making chocolate seize up, a larger quantity does the opposite. See: Hervé This’ Genius Chocolate Mousse.

From there, you could off-road the recipe however you want. A splash of vanilla extract, sure. Or a spoonful of instant espresso powder, a pinch of cayenne, a pour of bourbon. The paths are endless.

I hope though, at least the first time, you’ll try the bare-bones version, which, even without any flourishes, is still gooey, shiny, silky smooth, and full of deep, dark chocolate flavor.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Fernanda Galloni
    Fernanda Galloni
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  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Fernanda G. July 7, 2020
This is called brigadeiro! It's a very popular recipe in Brasil
Emma L. July 7, 2020
Hi Fernanda! Thank you so much for sharing this—we always appreciate when our community shares additional context on recipes, and we appreciate you noting the ingredient similarities here.
Sarah July 5, 2020
Really good! Never would have thought to thin it with water, but worked out great. Followed exactly (except had Callebaut unsweetened chips), used 1/2 t Morton's kosher salt and was very happy. Poured on coffee ice cream, then topped it with raspberries and toasted almonds.
Emma L. July 6, 2020
Mmmm sounds so good! So glad you enjoyed the recipe.
Kelly July 5, 2020
Sounds delicious! Does this keep or do you have to use it while it’s still warm?
Emma L. July 6, 2020
It keeps very well in the fridge! It will stiffen as it chills—just gently rewarm on the stove or in the microwave, maybe with a splash of water to help things along, and stir until smooth.
Cjanifer July 1, 2020
I love this simple recipe for hot fudge. I'm definitely going to make it.