Valentine's Day is less than a week away. If you want to do something different this year, leave the box of chocolates at the store and make your Valentine some homemade candy instead. Making candy doesn't have to be hard. It doesn't have to be chocolate either!
My mother made the best peanut butter fudge. Her recipe called for cooking part of the ingredients until they reached the soft-ball stage. The remaining ingredients were stirred in and the mixture was spread in a square 9-inch pan. The result was perfect fudge every time. She made it look so easy! I've never had success with her recipe, even though I've used a candy thermometer and a digital thermometer to know when the mixture was at the soft-ball stage. Fortunately, I found a recipe that rivals my mother's fudge, but is much easier to make.
Before you begin, measure all the ingredients and line a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan with foil. A quick and easy way to line the pan is to turn it upside down and shape the foil around the pan.
The fudge gets its smooth texture from cream cheese. My family is used to eating Neufchatel 1/3 less fat cream cheese so that's what I use. The fudge will be firmer, though, if you use regular cream cheese. You can use whichever one you prefer, but don't use fat-free cream cheese. The fat in the cream cheese helps make the fudge firm.
Put cream cheese, peanut butter and peanut butter chips in a microwave-safe bowl.
The original recipe didn't call for any flavoring, but I think the fudge tastes better with the addition of pure vanilla extract. Pure vanilla extract is expensive, but it's so much better than imitation vanilla. Imitation vanilla is made from artificial flavorings and leaves a bitter aftertaste. If you don't have the real thing, leave the vanilla out; the fudge will still be good.
Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, using your hands to knead it into the peanut butter mixture. Once all the powdered sugar has been incorporated, press the mixture evenly into the foil-lined pan.
You may think the pan is too big, but it's not. The fudge is rich so you want the pieces to be thin rather than thick. Let set at room temperature until firm, about 2 hours. Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, use the foil to lift the fudge out of the pan.
Peel the foil off and put the fudge on a cutting board. To make the pieces look nicer, I trim the edges off before cutting the fudge into 1 1/4-inch pieces.