Sugar, smoke and scrubbing

Now that I have plunged into the world of hobby baking, I am getting requests for my sweet treats.

I believe this means I don’t suck at baking.

Fulfilling the requests is an honor. One of the most frequent requests I get is for my family’s ‘never fail peanut butter fudge.’ Even though I failed at my first attempt, my second try was much more successful.

For my third attempt I thought I would spice things up. I would make two batches:

  1. Stick to the recipe
  2. Add chocolate chips

Side note: Failure is not an option

Before I reveal one of the most perilous nights of my life (which I only have limited photographic evidence), I want to be completely honest here: one of my biggest fears and insecurities is failure. I don’t want to fail at anything. If I’m not good at something right away (photography, video games, Monopoly, yoga), I don’t play. I’d rather give up than risk failing.

As part of my journey into hobby hunting, I have come to realize I am not going to succeed right away in these adventures. I mean, I failed at ‘never fail peanut butter fudge,’ but schooled it the second time. My attempts will not always be a homerun. I have accepted that.

Double the recipe, double trouble

To make the peanut butter fudge two different ways, I thought I would double the recipe. Upon combining the milk/sugar mixture, I would add the semi-sweet chocolate chips in one of the bowls. No problem. I had even started formulating my latest blog in my head: “New twist on a family recipe.”

As the milk/sugar mixture heated up on the stove, I prepped all the other ingredients – splitting evenly between two mixing bowls.

I kept my eye on the stove and the candy thermometer as it slowly rose to the “softball stage.”

Sugar and smoke

Before I knew it, the milk/sugar mixture was starting to rise and kept going. It was a volcano of white goo. I blew on the erupting mixture only to have it fall back on my stove. It wasn’t reducing!

Instead, it was creating a cloud of smoke around my stove and metamorphosing into a black, sticky ooze that started to slide down the front of my oven, expanding onto my counter and landing on my floor (and ultimately between two of my toes).

As quickly as humanly possible, I poured the mixture into the two awaiting bowls and threw the pot into the sink. As I was doing that, I realized I had burned my hand and a blister was beginning to form on my middle finger. This seems to be the perfect metaphor for what was happening around me.

Middle finger blister = f-you fudge

When I turned around, I noticed smoke filling my apartment. I raced to a window and threw it open. I also grabbed a flat piece of cardboard from the recycling pile and my phone.

While frantically swinging one arm around to reduce the smoke, I called my mother with my free hand.

Panic sets in

“I need help,” I cried into the phone. I breathlessly explained what had just transpired through tears. “What if the fire department comes?! The smoke is so thick, I’m afraid my smoke alarm is about to go off!” And, “It smells like burnt marshmallows in here!”

The thing is: my mother didn’t know what to do either. This had never happened to her. I mean, it’s ‘never fail peanut butter fudge.’

Side note: I rarely panic

Again – in full transparency: my typical mindset in a moment of panic is not to cry. I spent nearly two decades in daily television news. I know how to handle breaking situations (shootings, tornadoes, police chases) with little to no preparation or warning. Calmness sets in and I just see the path forward clearly as if the answer has been there all along.

But this wasn’t news. This was baking. Real-life baking. And on this day, new thoughts hit me: I’m nearly 40, I’m (recently) single and I can’t figure out this basic life function. I’m a failure. There is was: failure.

Scrub, scrub, cry, scrub

Once again, my sister-in-law came to my rescue. She told me to use vinegar and baking soda to clean up the black, thick slime that was once sugar. Of course I don’t have vinegar, so in the middle of my breakdown I had to put shoes on (with that blister between two toes) and walk to the nearest store.

Then, it didn’t work. The foaming fizz was fun to watch, but the sugar was so baked on, the chemical reaction between the vinegar and soda was nothing more than a moment of entertainment.

When I finally realized I needed to document this crazy. Original sugar crime scene, then covered in baking soda.

Looking around the mess that was my apartment, I sat down on the sugar-stained floor and cried. Then, I got up and scrubbed the stove. And scrubbed. And scrubbed.

Recipe card in the trash with the sugar-stained paper towels.

I even had to throw away the recipe card.

Next: get a razor to scrape it up. A razor? Who has a razor? I have a cheese knife. But when the smoke cleared, the glob of sludge mostly remained. I resigned to getting a stove-top razor when stores opened the next day.

Cheese knife to the rescue!


Luckily, the fire department didn’t have to come. My apartment smelled like a s’more experiment went wrong for a couple of days, but with the razor and some patience I was able to get (most) of the sugar off the stovetop.

And, I was actually able to salvage some peanut butter fudge. No chocolate chips were injured in this ordeal; it was the traditional fudge.

Somehow in the middle of disaster, I remembered to pour the fudge.

Minus the blisters I had to show off to illustrate my dedication to my friends, no one would have been the wiser. It was a hit again!

Moral of the story: I got through it. It wasn’t pretty, but no one died. And frankly, the salvaged fudge was pretty good. I’m already getting requests for more. Only the next time, I will use a bigger pot.


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