intensely trivial



Oh, fudge!

For most of my life, I have been subject to obsessions with seemingly trivial things. I don’t really know if they can be called pathological, because they don’t seem to disrupt my life; in fact, I kind of enjoy them. As a 4-H project one time, I cross-stitched a fairly intricate picture of a little girl having a tea party with her dolls, and when I was done, I counted the stitches in the picture: 15,505, not counting backstitches, lazy daisies, and French knots. (That is what mine looked like, but it is not in fact the picture I cross-stitched.) In college, I decided to learn to make really good biscuits. My roommates helped me devour I don’t know how many batches of buttermilk biscuits, most of which were baked from the same recipe, with my technique eventually honed to perfection. I learned to make really good biscuits.
Several years ago, I got on a fudge-making kick. Here’s some bonus background for you: My first memory of fudge is from when I was four or five, and we ate fudge at Nila’s Gem and Gift during Sabetha’s window-opening (big nostalgic event that happens the day after Thanksgiving, at 6 p.m., and Santa rides down Main Street and all the stores stay open till 9!!! and offer the festive Christmas shoppers free cookies and candy and popcorn and free hotdogs, and the Christmas lights are lit for the first time that year!!!). Anyway, the year I was four, I think, everyone in my family got the flu after gorging on Christmas treats at window-opening. Or at least my mom blamed the copious vomiting on all the sugar we ate that night before going to bed. And there was nothing more sugary than the fudge at Nila’s.
Even with all the guilt attached to the fudge, I could never get fudge out of my head. You go into candy stores everywhere — at amusement parks, at airports, in little rows of antique stores, and what’s the candy they showcase the most? Fudge! What always looks the most decadent? Fudge! How much does it cost? A lot! (I rarely buy expensive candy, as much as I LOVE candy.) Anyway, finally, when I was about 30 years old, after a lifetime of fudge deprivation, I decided I was old enough to make my own fudge if I wanted fudge.
(I realize that back story wasn’t necessary, but maybe it will give you a glimpse of. . . something. I tend to start stories and then backtrack to fill in details, then backtrack to fill in the reasons behind the backtracking, then take a little detour to make a footnote, but you see, there’s always a REASON for telling all that stuff. I guess if you get tired of it, you can try reading my blog posts backwards. Toward the end of a post, you’ll find the main point of it. Then you can decide how much back story you want.)
Searching online led me to T. P. Skaarup, a candy-making guru with an extensive network of pages about fudge. He had written entertaining, instructive articles about the chemical processes involved in candy-making. He was like an early Alton Brown dedicated to educating people about fudge. From him I learned, for instance, that water is the enemy of fudge. I learned that real fudge is not made by melting together chocolate and sweetened condensed milk. (Sorry if that sounds snobby, but that’s just chocolate and sweetened condensed milk melted together.) To get real fudge, you have to cook sugar and other things to a temperature that changes the structure of the sugar.
So I started practicing fudge-making. For a few years, I made only recipes that Skaarup approved, most of which are based on the “Fantasia Fudge” pattern. Dan’s colleagues were willing guinea pigs for my experiments, so I didn’t eat it all myself. I made regular chocolate fudge (countless times), milk chocolate fudge, peanut butter fudge (with peanut butter, and with peanut butter chips), dark chocolate fudge, Superbowl fudge, cranberry fudge, white chocolate fudge. . . shrimp scampi, fried shrimp, shrimp gumbo. Anyway, the point is that I got pretty good at making fudge — with that one method.
Then I got tired of that and decided to branch out. The trouble is that I’ve never had a trustworthy candy thermometer, and that makes a big difference. Now that I frequently depart from the familiar fudge paths of yore, I end up with less perfect fudge. Last year, I tried making a bittersweet chocolate fudge that never did work out right! I didn’t even want to guess how much money I spent on that particular obsession.

Another departure from my trusted favorites was this peanut-butter fudge recipe — which I made again today. The very strange thing about this fudge recipe is that it has flour in it. I know, very weird. When you eat the un-set fudge off the spoon after you cast it into the pan, it tastes like flour. On the other hand, it was much enjoyed last year, so I made it again today. It’s easy, that’s for sure. And it fits into the definition of fudge, because you do actually have to make a sugar slurry. But still, it’s a stretch for me. I don’t know if I should be ashamed to call it fudge or if I should just stop obsessing about it. Probably stop obsessing.

If you’re interested, here’s the recipe. I was going to take a picture, but Dan’s in the dungeon right now, and I don’t want to bother him. And after this, I’m going to nurse my cold and go to bed.

Weird, Floury Peanut Butter Fudge that is actually pretty tasty

First, line a 9″x13″ or slightly smaller pan with foil.

Next, mix together and set aside:

1 7-oz. jar marshmallow creme

12 oz. peanut butter

2/3 c. all-purpose flour

Combine in a large saucepan:

4 c. sugar

1 c. milk

1/2 c. butter (1 stick) — butter, not margarine

Bring this mixture to a rolling boil (that is, all of it is bubbling) over medium heat. Cook for 5 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Quickly, add the peanut butter/marshmallow creme mixture to the sugar slurry. Stir till combined well (1-2 minutes or so, and there should be no more lumps). Pour into the foil-lined pan. Let set at room temperature.

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