My friend Laura in Washington makes a fantastic peanut-butter fudge, which just happens to be one of my husband’s favorite treats. So when she promised she’d make him a batch for Christmas, he acted as if he’d just won the lottery.
“Did you go to the post office today?” he asked me nearly every day in December. “Did my fudge come yet?“
Finally, the object of his desire arrived. “Mmmmm! I can smell peanut butter right through the box,” he said, holding the still-sealed package up to his nose and inhaling deeply.
“You look like one of those drug-sniffing police dogs,” I said. “Why don’t you just open the box and eat some fudge?”
“I want to savor the moment,” he said.
Within five days, the whole pound of fudge had disappeared. I managed to get only one piece, and I had to sneak it out of the box while my husband was asleep. Still, he found out about it.
“There were 25 pieces of fudge when I went to bed,” he said, narrowing his eyes at me. “Now there are only 24!”
“You actually counted the pieces?”
“I told you I wanted to savor it,” he said.
When the fudge was gone, he stared at the empty box and whined. “I should have made it last longer! Now I won’t be able to have any more until she sends me some next Christmas! Why didn’t I ration it? Why did I have to be such a glutton?”
He carried on until I couldn’t take it any longer.
“Look,” I said, “why don’t I get the recipe from Laura and try to make a batch of fudge for you?” At that point, I was willing to pay for a plane ticket for Laura to fly here and stay with us for a couple weeks and do nothing but make fudge...anything to stop his whining.
“She won’t give you her secret recipe!” he said. “Why would she want to share her masterpiece with anyone else?”
Fortunately, Laura graciously e-mailed the recipe to me. I immediately studied it, wondering if I, a novice fudge-maker, could handle it. It looked pretty simple...until I read the “cook until 243 degrees or softball stage” part. I had no idea what a softball stage was. I guessed it meant the fudge formed big, squishy ball in the pot. But just to be safe, I thought it might be a good idea to buy a candy thermometer so I could cook the fudge to exactly the required 243 degrees.
I then set out to buy the ingredients. The basics were easy to find – sugar, evaporated milk, peanut butter, margarine and vanilla. But then came the marshmallow creme.
If the recipe had called for marshmallow fluff, I’d have been back home making fudge in 20 minutes. But three hours later, I still was walking up and down grocery aisles in search of the elusive creme. The story was pretty much the same everywhere I went.
“We had marshmallow creme before Christmas, but we sold out of it,” the 134th store clerk informed me. “It’s really popular during the holidays.”
I’d wasted so much gas by then, making the fudge probably would have been cheaper if I’d have flown Laura to New Hampshire to do it.
Finally, at Walmart in Hooksett, I spotted a huge display, a virtual tower of marshmallow creme, at the end of the baking aisle. I honestly thought I was hallucinating because by then, I hadn’t eaten for about four hours.
When I picked up a jar and discovered it wasn’t a mirage, I had to stop myself from doing the “happy marshmallow dance” in the middle of the aisle.
“What took you so long?” my husband asked when I got home. “I thought you got lost! I’m going through fudge withdrawal!”
“I couldn’t find the dumb marshmallow creme. I must have driven 90 miles until I finally found some in Hooksett.”
“Well, I hope you stocked up on it then,” he said.
I didn’t want to tell him I’d bought only one jar.
After dinner that evening, I set to work on the fudge. I laid out all of the ingredients, measured them, and then unwrapped the new candy thermometer I’d bought. I was ready.
The beginning of the procedure went pretty smoothly. The margarine melted and the sugar dissolved nicely into the evaporated milk. As the temperature increased in the pot, the mixture began to bubble. I stirred faster. The mixture bubbled harder. I shoved the thermometer into the pot. It read 235 degrees. I removed the thermometer because it was in my way when I tried to stir.
A couple minutes later, I tried the thermometer again. It read 240. I panicked. That was close enough for me. I removed the pot from the stove and quickly added the marshmallow creme and peanut butter.
Trying to stir two ultra-sticky ingredients into an even stickier substance required the biceps of Hercules. By the time everything was blended together, I felt as if I’d just worked out at the gym. Finally, I poured my masterpiece into the greased pan. I’d noticed that Laura had put a nice swirled pattern all over the top of her fudge, so I grabbed a butter knife and tried to make swirls with it. It was like dipping the knife into gravy.
Two hours later, the fudge still was the consistency of cake icing. My husband, who’d been impatiently awaiting his treat, critically eyed the results of my efforts.
He stuck his finger into the fudge and then licked it.
“Can’t even taste the peanut butter,” he said. “It just tastes like cooked sugar.”
I felt my sore hands clenching into fists. “Then you’re not going to eat it?”
“Not unless you bake a cake to go with it...so I can use it for frosting. No offense, but I think Laura would be embarrassed if you told people this was her recipe.”
Tomorrow, I’m going to buy Laura a plane ticket.