Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Fickle Nature of Fudge

A couple of weeks before Christmas, I (finally) set out to make a batch of fudge. I had purchased the ingredients weeks, nay months, previous and had simply not had the time, desire, energy to be in a kitchen that I do not love. In fact, I regularly find myself in this kitchen for any number of reasons, and I somehow end up spending at least an hour, if not more, cleaning up after other people. Washing dishes, drying dishes, putting dishes away so that I can wash more dishes, taking orange and banana peels off the counter and throwing them in the compost bucket, taking butcher paper and plastic out of the sink and throwing it in the garbage, scouring the stove top of bacon grease, and soup spills, and sauce spills, wiping toast crumbs and coffee stains off the counter, sweeping the floor and if I'm really pissed off, scrubbing it by hand.

And why, pray tell, am I the one who ends up doing these things? Because I have significantly lower threshold for filth than anyone else in my family. Except the toast crumbs. That's entirely related to my autoimmune disorder.

I find that by the time I'm finished cleaning up after everyone else in the household, I have no energy to do anything in the kitchen that I enjoy doing for myself. I cook meals because I have to eat, and I no longer take any joy in any of it. The funny thing is, I wouldn't mind washing other people's dishes as much as I do if everyone bothered to eat at the time or, heavens forbid it, actually ate the meal I spent at least an hour preparing for them rather than turning their nose up at just to be contrary and making a mess of epic proportions in my sparkling clean kitchen after I've gone to bed for the night and am sleeping soundly, ensuring that I will wake up to that mess and feel as though I truly have accomplished nothing.

So it was with rather a significant deal of joy that I found myself some weeks ago with a freshly scrubbed kitchen and both the energy and the desire to whip out my pans and chocolate and make some fudge. Oh, giddy delight!

And I failed. I did everything right. The same way I always do. And somehow I ended up with a product I was unwilling to serve certain members of my family, never mind people I like and love. And so those to whom I had promised fudge months before were without.

I wracked my brains trying to figure out what exactly had gone wrong. I couldn't imagine it was the pan I had used. It was a great pan. Sure it was a different pan, but higher quality than my standard fudge pan, so that couldn't possibly be it. It might have been the fact that the chocolate had come from the freezer. Having purchased it months before when the weather was hot, I threw it in there for its own good. Perhaps I ought to have taken it out, brought it to room temperature before I began. Then again, maybe it was the chocolate itself. Not having access the brand I typically use, I had substituted. But then, I had used this same substitute in other application with no ill effects.

I was devastated by my fudge failure, and though there were several potential reasons it had come to be over crystallized and terrible, I did not know which factor or factors were the culprit(s).

Then, today, I found myself longing to prove to myself once again that I am an exceptional candy maker! I make candy and people rejoice! I make fudge and hearts melt. People I know and love are haunted by my fudge and cannot stop themselves from dreaming of its creamy texture and rich taste, longing even in sleep for a mouthful of this most delicious of confections. And so, I set out to make fudge once again.

As I reached into my cupboard, withdrawing my canister of sugar, my evaporated milk, my chocolate, and extracts, and such, I held my candy thermometer in my hand, and thought for a moment of the long journey it had made with me some months before. It is a harrowing tale that I cannot bring myself to share. Suffice it to say, I suspected that my candy thermometer might not have come through unscathed, whole though it appeared to be. And so I tested it, plunging its tip through the cloud of steam and into the roiling depths of a pan full of hot water.

What, per chance, did I discover? 200 degrees F.

200 degrees.

But, water boils at 212 degrees F, we all know this.

And so it was that I discovered that my candy thermometer, dear friend and companion, confectionery aid second to none, was off by 12 degrees. That explained everything.

So, I made the necessary adjustments to my recipe, and began again. Two pans of fudge are now cooling on the counter, and tomorrow will be packaged and whisked to areas of the world as exotic as Washington, DC, and New York City thereafter.

And thus ends the tale of The Fickle Nature of Fudge.

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