Now, I got Candy Making for Dummies around the same time as the thermometer because I had visions of myself as this candy lady covered in powdered sugar and happily making all manner of confectionery to feed the sweet tooths (teeth?) of the world. Then the December 2008 issue of Martha Stewart Living came out with recipes for old-time candies and so I got that too, hoping to be like the supreme home-style authority after whom I have named my alter ego. But still, nothing happened.
Another excuse I had was I didn't have the right pan. Until recently, the only saucepan I had that was large enough for the job was one with a black interior, and when I melted sugar before, I could never gauge the colour of the syrup because of that. But now I have a new stainless steel saucepan, and so coupled with my new-found knowledge of the tricky clip, I thought it was about time I actually made some candy. Just in time for Christmas too.
But first, I had to test the thermometer for accuracy. I put some freshly boiled water from the kettle into a jug, put in the gadget and waited for it to register 100 degrees Celsius. The mercury never rose above 80! (More on this after the jump.)
The instructions on the packaging say to make adjustments after testing the thermometer, but 20 degrees off was way too much and there was little point in using it. Fortunately, fudge is fairly forgiving since the sugar isn't heated to a very high temperature, as for hard sweets and toffees where the exact temperature is crucial. I would go by timing, colour and texture, and use the cold water test.
I decided to try Martha Stewart's penuche (pronounced per-noo-chee) fudge only because I already had almost all the ingredients at home (her recipe, also available on her website, includes walnuts; I didn't have any so left them out). And how could anyone go wrong with Martha, right?
Hrmmph... The ingredients looked good together in the pot but they started to fight each other once the mixture boiled and I turned down the heat to allow the mixture to simmer.
I decided to clip on the thermometer anyway for... no good reason, really. Just one of those things the desperately hopeful do.
I had read elsewhere that once sugar has boiled, it shouldn't be stirred. In this recipe, you're asked to stir frequently as the mixture simmers. The butter had started to curdle but after stirring vigorously, it smoothed out.
At its highest, the thermometer only registered 90 degrees. I figured since it was 20 degrees off, that would make the actual temperature 110 degrees, close enough to the soft-ball stage of 115 required in the recipe. So I tried the cold-water test but all I got - and I tried this three times over 10 minutes - was an oily film on top of the water.
On a happier note, I tested the thermometer again, this time in water boiling on the stove, and the reading is slightly more dependable - it's only 5 degrees off.
Next time, marshmallows.