Thursday, July 23, 2015

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

This is the week of the Johnson County Fair. Fair season for me though started last Thursday. All the County Fair items were due in by Saturday July 18th at 11am. For me, that meant I started on my food items on Thursday. Some years I've started earlier. This year I changed my strategy some.

There are 12 different baking Classes at the fair. Each Class is subdivided into items - for example the Cookie Class is subdivided into brownies, drop cookies, chocolate chip cookies, etc. Each item will place a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner. All the 1st place winners then compete for Class Champion. The 12 Class Champions then compete for a Reserve Grand Champion and a Grand Champion.

In years past, I have brought upwards of 20 baked goods to the Fair. Crazy, huh? This year I decided to try and bring one good item for each Class, the item that I thought would be capable of being Class Champion. OK, there were a couple Classes where I just couldn't decide on one item but I was close... I ended up entering a total of 12 items across 9 different Classes.

One of the Classes that ended up with 2 items was Candy. I had a Apple Cider Caramel recipe that had been sitting in my recipe box for over a year and I was dying to try it out so that was going to be my Caramel item in the Candy Class.

The State Fair next month has a Maple Syrup Contest - basically, you cook or bake something with maple syrup in it. I am entered in this and I thought I'd practice my State Fair recipe at the County Fair. My plan was to enter Maple Walnut Fudge so I decided I would do a practice run and enter it as my Other Candy item in the Candy Class.

Thursday rolls around and it's like 90 degrees with 90% humidity.

The Apple Cider Caramels use boiled cider. I usually order my boiled cider from King Arthur Flour. I wasn't organized enough this year to order it ahead of time so I had to make my own.

Making your own boiled cider is simple; just a bit time consuming. Take a half gallon of fresh apple cider and boil it down to 1 cup.

I make my boiled cider. I think it heats my kitchen up another 10 degrees...

The caramels have to sit in the pan they are poured in for 12-18 hours at room temperature after they are made. I only have one square pan and I need it for both the caramels and the fudge...

So, plan is to make the fudge first, lift it out of the pan as soon as it sets up, then make the caramels.

I make the fudge according to directions, cool it to 110 degrees, add walnuts, then start stirring... and stirring... and stirring. Fudge is tricky because you have to stir it until it starts to candy but if you're too slow in pouring it into your pan it will set up right in your saucepan. I could feel the fudge start to thicken so I poured it. If fudge is going to candy it will do so in a matter of minutes.

Ten minutes later... fudge is still "oozy." Crap. You can re-melt fudge and try to get it to candy again as long as there is nothing already mixed in. I already had walnuts in it so re-melting was not an option. Think, think... what to do?

The whole mess was actually the consistency of caramel. With this type of candy you cook it to a certain temperature to get fudge; cook it a little hotter and you get caramel and even hotter, you get toffee. It's all about how you heat your sugar. I figured I cooked it too long and made caramel instead of fudge. That's just fine except that I already had an item for my Caramel entry and you can't enter two things under the same item number.

What to do? I could remake it. Each batch contains, among other things, a cup of maple syrup. Maple syrup is expensive. I'm cheap. And I'm hot... and I don't have a lot of time -
- Side note: my younger daughter is at a dance intensive in Carmel, at least hour away from my house. She is dancing from 9 am to 4 pm everyday. That means we leave the house at 7:30 am and I return at 10 am. I'm "free" until 3 pm when I have to leave and pick her up, then fight rush hour traffic on the Interstate to get back home.

Anyhoos, I had 5 hours of food prep time on Thursday and I'd spent half of it already making boiled cider and cooking fudge that wouldn't candy. I threw the whole disaster into the refrigerator and thought some more.

Got it! If it was turning into maple walnut caramel instead of fudge, I can still enter it in the Other Candy category as long as I don't call it a caramel. I decided to use it as a caramel filling in a piece of candy like you get in a chocolate box and call them Maple Walnut Drops.

I melted a bag of white candy melts. I then started scooping the oozy mess into balls and threw them in the freezer to get hard so I had some chance in Hades of handling them. You have to turn in 6 candies for each entry. I made about 10 balls, covered them in white candy melts, then decided I was done with this project. Ten gives me enough for me to pick six that look similar and "good."

I left the rest of the oozing mess out on the counter on a sheet pan and moved on to making the caramels. I'll clean that whole mess up later.

Short while later... I look at the oozy mess on the sheet pan and the edges are lightening in color... it's losing it's shiny surface sheen... and it's solidifying into fudge...about 3 hours late.

I made the caramels, poured them in the square pan then left for Carmel.

After dinner I made my cakes. I am entering the Chocolate Espresso Stout Cake that I entered in the State Fair last year. Plan was to make the cakes on Thursday then ice them on Friday. Cakes were made without incident.

Now back to the failed fudge. My new creation looked pretty good...

Were the centers solid or caramel? I bit into one. Solid.

OK then. Maple Walnut Drops it is. My entry into the Other Candy category.

I didn't have the heart to throw out the rest of the now hardened mess so I cut it into pieces and brought it to my co-workers at work on Saturday. Surprisingly, they ate it all... but I'm convinced people at the hospital will eat anything.

Sunday I went to the Fair after work to see how I had done.

Winning the Candy Class with this creation was a total surprise. I don't think I could re-create it if I had to! Needless to say, I am also making a different item for the Maple Syrup Contest at the State Fair.
Tune in tomorrow if you want to hear how my Friday went.

No comments:

Post a Comment