Picture yourself as a scientist white lab coat on, chemicals at the ready, surrounded by beakers, burners and utensils. Now, imagine that the subject of your lab experiment is sinfully sweet and delicious homemade fudge!

Fudge is a popular treat during the holidays. There are many recipes to make fudge, but old- fashioned fudge made on the stovetop can be a lesson in food science.

Here are some secrets to help any kitchen scientist make the smoothest fudge:

1. Corn syrup and butter (not margarine!) help prevent crystallization and a grainy texture. Adding butter after boiling the chocolate mixture helps dissolve crystals.

2. Clean the sides of the pan so crystals dont slip into the fudge mixture during boiling. Simply cover the pan with a lid to trap steam after the mixture starts boiling. Leave the lid on for two minutes and crystals will slide down the sides of the pan and melt into the fudge.

3. Use a candy thermometer to know the temperature. Fudge is cooked to the soft-ball stage (236F to 238F). This concentrates the sugar so the fudge will have the proper firmness in the end. If the temperature is too low, the fudge will be soft. If too high, it will be too firm.

4. After reaching the soft-ball stage, leave the fudge alone. Shaking or stirring at this point results in crystal formation and the crystals will keep growing, giving a grainy, sugary end product.

5. Let the mixture cool until it is 110F, glossy and dark brown. Be patient. If too hot, the result is grainy fudge. If too cool, it will set up and be stiff.

6. If your fudge recipe includes nuts, while the candy mixture is cooling, spread the nuts on a baking sheet and warm them slightly (in a 200 degree oven) before stirring them in. Nuts also can be placed in a skillet and warmed on the stove top at a low temperature. Warming the nuts helps to support the gradual cooling process and also enhances the flavor of the nuts.

7. Let the beating begin! This creates smooth fudge with tiny crystals and a light brown color.

8. After beating and adding nuts or other additions such as marshmallows, fudge should be spread in a prepared pan and allowed to firm at room temperature.

Fudge can be cut and stored in a covered container at room temperature. (Now is the time for any good scientist to perform a sensory analysis test by sampling a yummy piece.) Well-covered to prevent drying out, fudge will keep for several days, until it is given as gifts or consumed by the lead scientist and the rest of the kitchen laboratory crew. Enjoy!

More information about holiday foods can be found at my "Living Well" blog at SWKTalk.com/livingwell.