I was very proud of myself this past Saturday night. I was able to make hot fudge sundaes for my family from the recipe handed down for at least a generation. It might have been longer than that, but the note at the top of the recipe suggested that it came to my father via a family friend who may have been cooking that syrup for decades before. All I know is that my father's capacity for peanut brittle and hot fudge sauce was unparalleled among my friends and their parents. On any given Sunday evening we might get three or four additional kids from the neighborhood showing up coincidentally just about the time my dad was going to dish up the ice cream. With hot fudge.
His hot fudge.
As years passed, I tried to imagine following this culinary path. I watched as friends and other family members attempted to scale those dessert heights. In one particularly catastrophic try, the dishes into which the aborted fudge was poured had to be thrown away because they merged with the glass and could not be removed. Mostly what we saw was a grainy chocolatey soup that proved to be edible but not in any truly satisfying sense. Even dad missed from time to time.
That's why I was nervous going in. But I have now had many years of success with peanut brittle, and when I found the recipe among the rest of the family prescriptions for this and that, I figured that it might be time to hop on the hot fudge horse and take it for a ride.
I should mention here that this was one of those experiences that seemed to be doomed from the outset. I am not making this up. The "directions" I read included such helpful suggestions as "a dab of butter," add "a dash of salt," a "capful of vanilla," and the totally obscure "splash of milk." I called my mother for clarification on that last one, since it seemed like it might be an important point, since the milk seemed to be the only way to at least partially dissolve the cocoa powder and sugar. Mom's assertion that it was just that, a "splash," which she describe further by just a toss of the wrist.
It occurred to me then that this might have been one of those situations where I wasn't truly meant to make good on the arcane homespun wisdom. But I pressed on, and when I added a splash, I could see that there might be an additional splash or maybe even two necessary. I won't lie to you: Once I had three splashes going on, I feared that I might have overstepped my bounds. Then there was the temperature, which I recognized from my time over the peanut brittle kettle. Softball stage meant I was aiming for chewy, not crystalline. Once I arrived at that point, I quickly dished up three bowls of ice cream and hoped.
It wasn't just luck. There was the tiniest bit of science involved, and a lifetime of anticipation leading up to that moment. My wife and son made yummy sounds, and I thoroughly enjoyed not just the cooking experience but the consumption as well. I gave a little pause to the thought that I might have been doing this for us all years earlier. But I don't suppose that would have had the same magic.