On the Art of Failure

Watermelon Knife

Every now and then, I fail. Flavors don’t mix. The texture isn’t quite right. The consistency is uneven. Something goes wrong during the cooking. It happens. All I can do is learn from it and try not to repeat the mistakes.

This time, I attempted to recreate a Midwestern delicacy known as scotcharoos in fudge format. I can’t put my finger on exactly what went wrong, but it wasn’t just one thing. Scotcharoos call for chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, peanut butter, and Rice Krispies. I love all those flavors and textures, I’ve made fudge from all three flavors, and I love Rice Krispy treats. What could go wrong?

The first clue I had that this recipe wasn’t going to go as planned happened after I made butterscotch fudge. I’ve made butterscotch fudge before and loved it. I love butterscotch. Butterscotch pudding, butterscotch candy, butterscotch ice cream topping. It’s all good. However, it’s been a number of years since I’ve made it, and I think the manufacturer ramped up the artificial flavors and colors. The resulting fudge tasted horribly unnatural, and the color was a disgusting pinkish brown.

Still, I soldiered on.

The next clue was the failed attempt to add texture to the peanut butter fudge. Since Rice Krispy treats don’t sog up, I figured the cereal might stay crunchy in fudge for at least a couple of days.

No dice.

I made the peanut butter fudge, dumped in two cups of Rice Krispies at the point where I usually add nuts or other mix-ins, and stirred. As soon as I poured the peanut butter fudge on top of the butterscotch fudge, I could see the puffed rice deflating. The crispy rice cereal sogged up faster than the time you had to let the dog out to potty right after you poured milk in your Cheerios.

Now I had a pan full of nasty butterscotch fudge on the bottom covered with peanut butter fudge infused with soggy, chewy unidentified bits. Naturally, the next thing to add was melted chocolate. I mean, I had to see this thing through.

Every recipe I see that involves melting chocolate says “Oh, just throw it in the microwave for a few second and it will be fine!” Not. I cannot melt chocolate in the microwave. My best bet is to melt it in a stainless bowl over boiling water. It takes only slightly more time, but it always comes out fine.

Unfortunately, I was in a hurry, and I did not listen to my inner voice screaming at me at the top of its lungs. I melted it in the microwave. And darn it, I spread that lumpy mess of scorched chocolate on top of that pan full of disaster. I needed closure.

The next problem came when I attempted to cut into this concoction of doom. Couldn’t do it. My usual fudge-cutting knife wasn’t big enough to handle the job. I had to get out the watermelon knife.

This rusty old dime-store knife closely resembles a weapon of war. In another life, it may have lived in the belt of Alexander the Great. Coincidence that I bought it years ago in Alexandria, Louisiana, when I was managing a bookstore there? I think not! Then again, maybe it belonged to Alexander a Lesser Cousin, Thrice Removed.

Until I got a job that paid enough to buy a couple of good knives, it was the only semi-sharp knife I had. I call it the watermelon knife, because it’s big enough to cut through the widest of watermelons, but despite its dangerous good looks, it doesn’t really hold an edge long enough to do much else. So watermelon duty is it’s primary job these days. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Even with the watermelon knife, though, this rectangle of ruin was almost too tough to cut. I ended up with huge pieces way too large to eat in one bite. I tried a bit of the final product. Yuck. No way I could serve this misfortunate mishap to anyone. It would absolutely ruin my reputation.

So what were my lessons learned? A couple:

  • If the first layer is nasty, don’t continue.
  • Don’t add Rice Krispies to fudge, unless you like UCOs (unidentified chewy objects)
  • Never melt chocolate in the microwave. Ever.
  • Scotcharoos are perfect as-is. Don’t mess with perfection.

4 thoughts on “On the Art of Failure

  1. mel

    February 5, 2015 at 10:20pm

    At least nothing caught fire so it wasn’t a complete disaster

    • margaret

      February 5, 2015 at 10:53pm

      Can’t argue with that!

  2. Melinda

    February 6, 2015 at 7:23am

    I’m not sure if I like the “rectangle of ruin” or “concoction of doom” better. Both could describe a lot of what I cook. (My brownies are almost always rectangles of ruin).
    I’ m sorry the fudge was a wash. I make the mistake of not listening to my inner voice more often then I would like to admit.

    • margaret

      February 6, 2015 at 9:05am

      I ignore my inner voice a lot, but sometimes it’s right, and then it gloats.

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