Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Wait, are you still making fudge this year?"

I don't have a lot of holiday traditions. Some years, I don't even put up the tree, although I lie and tell my mom that I did because otherwise she gets this sad tone in her voice when she asks, "What are you putting your presents under?"

They're on the kitchen counter, Mom, under the ceiling lights.

Merry Christmas.

See how depressing that sounds?

So, even when I don't put up the tree, I lie and say that I did so that people don't worry about me. Even though I don't always decorate, though, I do have one holiday tradition that I've upheld since 2010: Every year, sometime in December, I attempt to make fudge from the Carnation Famous Fudge Kit, and I blog about how it is a constant source of failure, disappointment, and mental self-abuse. This year I thought about not following through with my tradition, because I'm so serious about my diet that people accuse me of an eating disorder and having a pan of fudge in the house would not be conducive to maintaining diet integrity, but then a friend asked me if I was still going to make fudge.

"It's not on my diet."

"Don't keep it. Take it to work."

I hadn't thought of that, but it is the season for giving. Maybe I could give some fudge to the office. I could maintain my holiday tradition, stay on my diet, and do something nice for other people. Everybody wins that way, right? Everybody, that is, except for the makers of the Carnation Famous Fudge Kit, because after I decided last year that the Famous Fudge Kit is impossible to use according to the directions on the box, I decided to break the cycle. This year, I decided that I would forgo kits and gimmicks, and just make fudge from a recipe like normal people do.

My Mom responded to last year's blog entry by going in the complete opposite direction. Apparently having mistaken Mommie Dearest for a tutorial rather than an indictment, my Mom has now purchased the fudge kit two years in a row, and patiently explained to me that her fudge turned out just fine, so it must be me doing it wrong. I love my mom, but her story doesn't hold up under cross-examination; each time her fudge has turned out fine, but each time she has deviated in some way from the instructions on the box. I stand by my point that the fudge on the front of the box is impossible to produce according to the directions on the back.

Since my Mom can apparently spin straw into gold and make actual fudge out of chocolate chips and an overwhelming sense of failure, I asked her for recipes to make fudge this year, and she provided one for peanut butter fudge and one for chocolate. Feeling ambitious, I decided to try both.

I was only partially successful.

The chocolate fudge was very easy and, dare I say it, practically foolproof.

Chocolate Fudge

1 14oz can sweetend condensed milk
3 cups chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts or other nuts (optional)

I left the nuts out, and, since I like the people I work with, I sprung for the expensive Ghiradelli chocolate chips. (I didn't spring too far. They were on sale. Still, it's the thought that counts.) I poured the milk and the chocolate chips into a pot:

fudge (1)

set the stove for medium heat, and began to stir and wait for the chips to melt:

fudge (2)

As soon as the chips were fully melted, I removed the pot from the heat and stirred in the vanilla:

fudge (3)

and my God, did it actually look like fudge. Beautiful, well-made fudge. I spooned it into the pan:

fudge (4)

(yes, I used a cheap disposable pan; I'm not taking any of my Pyrex to the office) and put it in the refrigerator for two hours to set. After that, I sliced it, and ate a small piece:

fudge (5)

It's good. It's not quite as soft as I like fudge to be, but I bet using milk chocolate chips instead of regular chocolate would make all the difference there. Other than that, it tastes good, and all is right on the chocolate fudge side of the world.

The peanut butter fudge side of the world, on the other hand, is a barren terrain of heartbreak and despair.

Peanut Butter Fudge

1 cup milk
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup peanut butter

Mix milk and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir continuously for 2.5 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla and peanut butter, and stir until blended. Pour into lightly greased 8 by 8 inch pan and set in refrigerator for at least two hours.

I should have been able to do this. I watch Mom do it while I was home for Thanksgiving, and it was almost effortless. Mine looked right until I added the peanut butter, and then it became obvious that something was horribly wrong.

peanut butter fudge (2)

I was on the phone with Kristin at the time.

"This fudge is really, really liquidy. Like, something's wrong with it."

"Can you add something to it? Maybe some flour? Or a little bit of cornstarch?"

"You don't put flour in fudge. I'm going to heat it for another minute and try to cook out some of the moisture."

"Good luck."

It thickened up a little, so I poured it into the pan and hoped for the best:

peanut butter fudge (3)

When I took it out of the refrigerator a couple of hours later, it had firmed a little, but attempting to slice it was a disaster:

peanut butter fudge (4)

That clearly wasn't right, but I wasn't ready to give up. I put it back in the refrigerator, and came back two more hours later:

peanut butter fudge (5)

It sealed the cuts that I made in it.

I invented self-healing peanut butter fudge.

I threw the whole pan away, and decided that maybe I'm just not good at making fudge, but my Mom is.


Marcheline said...

Egads, Joel. This is great stuff! I suppose all my life my impression of what fudge is has been completely wrong. I never suspected it was just melted chocolate chips with milk in it. I mean, that just seems like... melted chocolate chips with milk in it. I thought fudge had some magical ingredients, with special incantations and possibly dance moves that turned the whole thing into something thick and velvety and chocolatey and not - well, melted chocolate chips with milk in it.

Thank the gods you left out the nuts! I'm sure the folks in the office wouldn't want to eat fudge your nuts had been in.

Yeah. I went there.

Marcheline said...

(Later) - Well, I was kind of right. I just went and looked up a crapload of fudge recipes, and 99% of them called for butter, marshmallows, salt, condensed milk, and chocolate chips. I bet it's the marshmallows that give you the velvety light mouthfeel you were looking for... and the flavors of butter and salt are essential (in my mouth) for fab fudge.