Not all of my experiments in the kitchen are a success. Once in a while, or, as recently as yesterday, it just ends in a sticky, sweet mess.
It all started when I saw an old recipe shared on Facebook. It was a photocopy of what looked like an old newspaper. The post said that it was a recipe from World War 2.
Perfect! I thought. That was a time when people came up with recipes to save money, and what better food to save money with than potatoes? I had to try the recipe.
It didn’t matter at the time that I have never heard of potato candy, much less tried it. When I began, I had no idea what to expect.
Of course, I thought that such a recipe would make a great blog post, so naturally I took pictures as I went. It’s a good thing I did. Now I have photographic evidence of my failure.
Like any recipe, the first place I started was with the first ingredient. I decided to assume that the potatoes in the recipe were probably russets, and I guessed at the size potato accordingly.
Of course, I didn’t actually have russet potatoes on hand. Surely red potatoes would work out just as well…
Now that I have worked with the recipe, I think that red potatoes might work. But I got very wrong the bit about how large a “medium” potato should be.
A medium potato today is different from medium potatoes then, back when many people grew their own. A little detail that I didn’t think of until it was too late.
I selected four red potatoes, each one I guessed to be equivalent to half of a medium russet. My potatoes totaled exactly one pound. Based on the other quantities (specifically the sugar), I only needed somewhere between 1/4 to 1/2 of a pound.
Oh well, now I know better.
I cannot be completely sure, but I think I may have caused another problem while I cooked the potatoes.
I was busy with something else while the potatoes cooked. Instead of draining them right after I took the pot off of the burner, I let the cooked potatoes sit in their cooked water for a few minutes.
I really have no idea how long they sat in the water. It could have been fifteen minutes or more. I just finished my other task first. When I returned to the kitchen, it looked like the potatoes might have soaked up some more water.
Next, it was time to mash the potatoes. I don’t think my mashing style caused a problem, but there is no way to know for sure unless I make the recipe again.
I put the potatoes in a small bowl and used my stick blender to mash the cooked potatoes. That’s how I always do it. Quick, simple, and easy.
The few potato chunks that remained when I was done did not mash while I worked in the other ingredients. At least I know that the potatoes should be mashed to a completely smooth consistency.
That was done in about a minute. Then I started adding the other ingredients.
Lots of sugar
I’m pretty sure there was nothing wrong with my use of regular unsalted butter and my homemade vanilla extract. As far as I can tell, butter and vanilla have remained the same.
Unless modern tablespoon and teaspoon measurements are different from back then. I don’t know, but I don’t think so.
I also have no idea if modern confectioners sugar is different from what the recipe creator used. I’m just pretty sure the biggest problem was with the potatoes.
At least I thought ahead a little. I wanted to know exactly how much sugar made a “stiff dough,” so I weighed it as I went. Two ounces at a time. At one point, I had to move the mixture to a larger bowl.
It wasn’t until I had mixed two pounds of confectioners sugar into my sticky dough that I knew there was a problem. I started questioning my understanding of a stiff dough.
My first thought was to see what a stiff dough should look like, so I searched YouTube. For some reason I searched “potato cookies” instead of “potato candy”. Naturally, none of the results gave me what I wanted, so I went back to stirring.
Lots of time
By the time I mixed in three pounds, I had been working for several hours. And yet, the dough was still quite sticky.
I searched Google for articles on “potato cookies”. Somehow, Google figured out what I wanted and gave me a potato cookie recipe with the same ingredients.
However, it said one potato, not “2-3,” while calling for 2 pounds of confectioners sugar. The recipe even had a picture of one potato – one normal, modern-day medium russet potato.
That’s how I discovered that it was my potato judgment that messed things up. Well, I already had put that much work into it. I wasn’t about to give up. Yet.
I still wanted to know what a stiff dough should look like, so I read the comments. Most of the comments called the result “potato candy” even though the recipe said “potato cookies”. There’s another correction for me.
Finally, in one of the comments of one of the recipes, I found the description that a stiff dough is supposed to resemble a slightly damp cookie dough. I thought I was close to that, so I kept going.
Four pounds of confectioners sugar. That’s how much I added to the cooked potatoes. At that point, I had less than a tablespoon of sugar left. The dough seemed kind of stiff, so I decided it was done. On to the next step.
The moment I gave up
Wax paper? Check. Powdered with sugar? I didn’t have much left, but yes, check. Roll out the dough? That didn’t work out so well.
I quickly found that if there was even the smallest spot without sugar that the dough would stick to the rolling pin. Once one spot stuck, the rolling pin would also stick to everything else.
I ran out of the little bit of confectioners sugar that I had left as I tried to roll that mess out. Finally I had a single square. It was only a small amount of my mess, but I had one.
I choose peanut butter without sugar. The potato mixture had more than enough sweetness. That square used a lot of peanut butter, but spreading the peanut butter worked out pretty well.
Then I tried to roll up those two layers “as a jelly roll” like the old recipe said. Nope. The potato stuff would not separate from the wax paper.
So there I was, 4 or 5 hours into this mess. I’m out of confectioners sugar. The sticky mess would not cooperate. And I’m tired.
I gave up.
For me, giving up is never the end of the story. I hate to throw away ingredients, no matter how much or how little I paid for them. If there is any way to salvage an experiment gone wrong, I will.
Luckily, one of the comments I read while looking for the stiff dough definition gave me a solution. The commentator said that her grandmother never bothered with rolling out the dough. Instead, they kept the dough in a bag in the freezer and ate it with a spoon on special occasions.
I labeled a gallon freezer bag. Then I scraped the remainder of the mess in the bowl into the bag. Lastly, I squeezed the sticky potato/peanut butter goo in as well.
I don’t know if I’ll ever eat much of it before it gets freezer burnt. I certainly won’t try the recipe again until the bag is gone. If I do, I’ll try it out with a much smaller amount of potatoes.
It isn’t an experience I want to repeat. But it is one of those things that will make me chuckle for quite some time into the future.