Last year I got the brainy idea to make fudge, but didn’t want to use condensed milk or marshmallow fluff (which, in my opinion, is pretty freaky stuff). My friend Amy gave me her WWII fudge recipe, which (as all good recipes), never fails.
Ah yes. That little word never.
Let’s just say it not only failed, but I broke my favourite wooden spoon trying to stir the stuff. I told Amy there had to be a mistake in the recipe, and she checked what she sent me against what her mom used. Eventually we figured out I’d used condensed milk instead of evaporated milk — a ridiculous mistake since the original goal had been to find a recipe that didn’t use condensed milk at all. I had to throw out the entire five-pound batch. After all, it had splinters of a spoon in it, so it wasn’t like I could share it. Epic fail.
Amy mailed me two new, virtually indestructible spoons and encouraged me to try again. This time I used more care in reading it, and the only difficult instruction had to do with the recommended boiling time, which passed before the sugar came up to the recommended temperature. I figured that might have to do with the difference between her Colorado altitude and my Ontario one, so I kept cooking. This time, the fudge was fantastic, and we decided it was even good enough to share with the neighbours for Christmas.
This year, I decided to repeat the Christmas gift, and I’m happy to say the fudge, again, is everything a fudge should be. Creamy, chocolatey and rich. The texture is exactly what I like–it melts in my mouth but I can cut it in nice little pieces.
So because I can’t leave a good thing alone, I decide I would also make a second flavour and scoured the internet. I decided on Maple Walnut fudge, because what could be more Canadian than maple candy?
Did I mention the recipe said it would never fail?
I brought real Québécois maple syrup, sugar and evaporated milk to a boil, delighting in the distinct fragrance. Just like the WWII fudge, it took longer than the recipe indicated to come to temperature so I wasn’t concerned. I poured it over the butter and vanilla, and I put it on my stand mixer–just as I had done with the WWII fudge.
That’s the moment, the very moment, that things went wrong. With one flick of the switch, my entire kitchen became transformed into a sugary mess. The air time made it harden instantly, especially because I keep my house fairly cool. And it was everywhere — on the ceiling, the floor, the dishes I had just washed. It added an art-deco texture to my cobalt blue Kitchenaid, and stuccoed the white and cobalt tiles on the wall. It left several angry splatter marks on my arms, and one on my cheek.
Epic fail? I think so.
As I was wiping up whatever I could, I mentally compared the two recipes. I realized that one stirred into a considerable amount of chocolate that would have helped to bind the whole mess together and thicken it quickly. Without that chocolate the proportions were way off. So I went to my pantry and moved a million mason jars filled with oatmeal and raisins, salt and walnuts, dried cherries and stevia packets until I found one that had white chocolate chips. I dumped in a lot–who knows for sure how much–and no matter how long I beat it, the texture was nowhere near what the chocolate had been. I knew it needed more chocolate, but I also knew enough time had passed that it wouldn’t melt anymore.
I unstuck my sock from the floor and started to cry. I added walnuts because they were already chopped and after ten more minutes of mixing, I slopped the mess into the prepared pans. Not wanting to look at it anymore, I put it in the fridge anyway. It would have to set at least a little before I could throw it out.
Then I got to work chipping dried maple sugar from my mixer. I used razor blades on the wall. Hot water on the floor. Cold water on my arms. With every swipe of the rag I thought, “Fail. Epic fail.”
With every swipe of the rag I thought, “FAIL, EPIC FAIL”.
Several hours later I pulled the pan from the fridge. It had set after all, but it was soft. I experimented and found that if I could cut it if I used a hot knife. My husband used a spoon to eat the edge pieces that I removed to square it off and, he loved it.
One of my friends expressed an interest in my fudge, and I said I would drop some off at her work. Of course, I apologized for how soft the maple fudge was. This morning, she posted a picture of a spoon and a few smears of fudge on empty parchment paper. And because she loved it, we decided to share it with the neighbours anyway. My husband schlepped through the rain and ice today to deliver it, and delighted in people’s responses.
He giggled as he told me. I realized then that my epic failure was really just a lovely thing in disguise. There were mistakes, certainly. Some of them took a lot of effort to rectify. In fact, if I hadn’t, I likely would have wrecked both my mixer and my wall.
Life’s just like that some days, isn’t it? Mix in a little creativity and some hard work, and the biggest of messes can be transformed into joy.
As for the never fail part? I think I’ll risk it.