A blog I read lately, the topic of which is caramel (I know, I know), suggested that (s)he who attempts candy without a thermometer is either very talented, very brave or very foolish.
I like to think of myself as brave.
Here's the thing: On deciding last week that my lifelong fantasy was to make my very own toffees, I did go out and survey my candy thermometer options. They ranged in price from $10 to $56. Presupposing that Williams Sonoma was trying to rip me off, I opted for the cheapie one from U-Deal. And then, while making my candy for the first time - I mean, in the midst of - the thermometer revealed itself to be an inaccurate dud. (Ha! Get that pun??) It didn't actually rise above 150 degrees - and caramel sets at 248 degrees. Maybe not my smartest save. But now I'm too cheap - and too stubborn - to go back for a better one.
To make matters more absurd, my very first candy-making experience - wherein I discovered the thermometer's inadequacy - turned out textbook perfect. So maybe I got a little chuffed.
Not sure how many of you follow Twitter, but Bel and I have created a new hashtag: #pilgrimcandymaker. Its etymology: I have this glib habit of justifying my questionable culinary practices by proclaiming that "the pilgrims wouldn't have used ____ (insert practical cooking instrument here)". So Bel decided we needed a category to contain the relevant tweets and there you go.
Tonight I tweeted my latest (second) exciting caramel-making venture. I forewent the thermometer, having not forked out for the $$ (though presumably functional) one, the one I own being a hunk of stupid. It was all going well. I thought I'd managed to recreate the last experience till, having let the paste cool for 2 hours, I went to carve it up. Um, it was not entirely solid. I find it difficult to express what state it was in - but I don't think I've ever seen anything else in the world that approximates it. Viscous would describe it. Stretchy like bubblegum? Semi-solid?
Point is, I would have lost a bake-off.
Julia Child, in her memoir, suggests that it's pointless - nay, contemptuous - to decry your work as failure. And trust me, the woman knows of what she speaks. M and I watched an ancient episode of The French Chef in which she positively murdered a tarte tatin. And, God love her, Ms. Child then had the balls to suggest powdered sugar would redeem it. Note to reader: It did not, though her attitude was awesome.
In all truth, when I sampled my toffee-gobs, they were small morsels of mushy heaven. OMG I could have scarfed the entire pan in one go, if only I hadn't wasted 30 minutes corralling them into wax paper wrappers. And, moreover, next week I have another great chance to get it right. (That's how long it takes to eat a pan of these if I'm prudent and not overly generous with the kid.) I don't know how they will adapt to refrigeration. They may become real candies (though probably not). That's why the wrappers are so useful.
I'm likely to forgo the thermometer again - at least until I've given myself an opportunity to figure it out "Mayflower style". After all, pilgrims didn't have candy thermometers. It was elbow grease with those ladies. I guess I'm going all Protestant on your asses. Minus the God-fear and head-gear. A girl does have to draw the line somewhere...
* Opening line of "The Pilgrim Hymn" - my old school song...