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ISO: Meeting times for FCMAW (Failed Candy Maker Addicts of the World)

Veteran Member
16900 posts
Joined: Dec 12, 2005


Posted to Thread #4981 at 12:01 am on Dec 18, 2006

The warning signs were all there: It was December and fudge and caramel recipes filled my screen while hand-wrapped candies filled my dreams. I inexplicably found myself at the checkout counter with 20 pounds of sugar and had no memory of why mounds of pecans sat on the kitchen table. One morning I was horrified to awaken and find “The Joy of Cooking” laying on the pillow next to me, wide open to “Candies and Confections” for all the world to see.

Hello. My name is Marilyn and I am a Failed Candy Make-aholic.

It started the way all addictions do, with an adrenaline rush that accompanies a perfect first attempt. It was peanut brittle and I was 12.

In a way, I was fortunate. Being from Pennsylvania, we were probably the only state that included the town of Hershey in the geography syllabus. I already had a major lust for chocolate, so making sugar candy from scratch failed to thrill me. I read about Divinity, Sea Foam and Fondant in my mother’s cookbooks, but considered the exercise pointless. Why spend hours making candy when I could just buy a Hershey’s bar?

An adult long before visions of real sugared plums began dancing in my head, I was brave when it came to making pastries, but candy chemistry scared me. My trial by molten sugar came four years ago when I was seduced by Michael in Phoenix’s “Chocolate Macadamia Nut Caramels.” I documented that travesty in “Travails of a Novice Caramel Maker” and should have recognized then the slippery slope I climbed.

The following year, I fought the sugar urge but fell when Oreo Truffles were posted. I believe I have Deb in MI to thank for that curse. I could not prepare those nuggets of heaven fast enough. Each batch had to be better than the last, with the thrills rising exponentially as stores advertised “Buy One Get One Free” Oreo offers. My obsession grew along with my waistband.

During the Holiday Hell of 2004 I became addicted to making Gayle in MO’s chocolate fudge. Gayle is one of those people who have a natural affinity for making candy. I feel certain that if the Hubble camera zoom-lensed into her Missouri kitchen, we would find Gayle at the stove whipping up tins of fudge, standing on one foot with her hand tied behind her back.

But I am here to admit—in public—that unlike the 4,386 other posters who made her fudge recipe, I had no easy time of it. Not the first time, nor the second, nor the third time. The more I failed, the more I was determined to repeat the recipe until I succeeded. It is possible that my glucose level during that period left the realm of integer numbers and sailed right into the Imaginary range. The fourth attempt brought success and cathartic release. I was safe for another year.

Last year we diverted from chocolate and prepared the village idiot’s version of candied walnuts—the one that does not involve a candy thermometer. Sweet Baby Jesus, that was a good year.

Unfortunately, that brings us to the Here and Now. Yesterday I attempted to make Dic’s “Never-Fail Caramels”. Eighty-year old Dic is possibly one of the sweetest persons on this earth and originally hails from Missouri, where apparently the DNA for candy originated. This summer he generously shared with me his secret recipe for never-fail caramels and I am here to unequivocally state that I am the exception to his rule.

I started a batch at 3:30 yesterday afternoon and finished them at 9:10 pm. Five and a half hours of my life, gone forever. It is a bitter story, ending in sadness and non-caramels, so the faint of heart would do best to click the little X at the upper right of your screen and leave now. Those still reading should remember that you have been warned.

Anyone schooled in successful candy making might have recognized that a recipe which specifies QUARTS of ingredients could prove difficult. I, on the other hand, thought that was the reason behind the “never-fail” part of the title. The instructions were also strange: divide the ingredients into thirds and cook 1/3 to hard ball stage (248 degrees), then add the next third to hard-ball and so on until all is cooked. Odd, but let me repeat again: I thought that was part of the “never-fail” bit.

I was wrong.

Much like a CSI investigation, I will provide a time-line of the crime scene. At 3:30 I pulled out my large 12 quart Calphalon and started Phase 1 by adding the first 1/3 portion of ingredients.

At 4:50, the candy thermometer STILL read 221° and I realized that humidity might be the issue. So I ran around the house, shutting all the windows and cranking up the A/C. Observant readers may remember that less than a week ago, I gave AGM in Cape Cod A/C advice with regard to humidity and caramels. Did I listen to my own advice? Heck no.

At this point, I added a second identical candy thermometer to the pot and—glancing from one to the other—noticed they were 5 degrees different. Mentally slapping my forehead, I realized I had not verified the accuracy of either thermometer. (This is where, in the split screen of my life, Gayle is telling the host of FoodTV, “Thermometer? I don’t use a candy thermometer.”)

I pulled out my Polder and dangled the probe into the bubbling C12H22O11 where it registered yet a THIRD temperature. Frustrated and taking it out on the pot, I stirred the bottom (even though the Joy of Cooking said not to stir) and blackened bits of sugar swirled up to the surface. With sickened heart, I realized Phase 1 was lost.

Undeterred, I grabbed a smaller stockpot and added the second batch of ingredients to start the process over again. While the sugars melted, I slipped all three thermometers into a pot of water, brought it to a rolling boil and monitored it for 10 minutes. At sea level, thermometers should read 212 degrees F. in boiling water. But we’re talking me here. Two read 210° and one read 216°.

Now, with the caramel bubbling on the front burner and the thermometers boiling away on the back burner, the Truly Observant reader will connect the dots and notice the steam rising up from the back burner. In cleverer circles, this is known as “humidity.” Standing in my now air-conditioned kitchen, I was blatantly adding humidity a mere 8” from where the sugar was struggling to caramelize.

If I may redirect for a moment: there are certain biblical references that correlate the number 666 to Satan. And even though I have no rabbinical or theological training, I feel certain that 221° should be reserved for that relationship. Batch Number One sat at 221° for an HOUR before I finally caved and added Batch #2 to the mix. I believe a swear word accompanied that addition. Within 45 minutes, the sugar tripled in volume at 226° as I realized with sickened heart that the third batch would never fit in this smaller pot. Transferring everything back to the Calphalon, I watched the temperature sink back to 221° where it stayed for yet another hour. “221° = Satan” I’m telling you. I’ll bet if you look out there, there’s a “Damian’s Devilish Caramels” somewhere.

Desperate at this point, I read through the Joy of Cooking and found salvation when THEIR caramel recipes said to boil until 238°. Rays of hope bubbled in my heart, realizing this would knock 10 degrees from my countdown.

I should have stopped there. But I kept reading and found a recipe that used “sirup.” Its instruction said recipes that use “sirup” must be boiled to 248° and since my friggin’ recipe used a QUART of “sirup” I needed to stay the longer course.

My friends, I am no longer ashamed to admit that I set my Polder for 241° and when that buzzer went off at 8:50 pm, so did I. I was FINISHED with making caramels. Done. Finito. La fin. I added the vanilla and the nuts and whirled it with a mixer to blend. I dumped it out into a buttered12x16” pan at 9:10 PM, cleaned the kitchen and went to bed.

This morning I tested it and it is delicious, but it is not—and never will be—caramel candy. So when life gives you lemons, just say “what the hell” and make sixteen jars of chewy pecan caramel sauce.

Jesus saves. Buddha recycles.

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