How to avoid exposition – the Dirty White Candy way

4 cups granulated sugar, 1 cup light corn syrup, 1 cup water, 1/4 tsp salt, 3 egg whites beaten, 1 cup crushed amaretti biscuits, 1tsp vanilla

If you simply must explain a process or procedure in your story, make it into a bit of an adventure. Like this recipe…

I wanted to do a festive post. Many blogs I follow offer recipes for brain-stimulating confections, Holly Cupala and jmartinlibrary to name but two. With a handle like Dirty White Candy it surely was my duty to create a signature goody. Especially as no one can tell me what the real stuff was.

I imagined the photo that would accompany the post. Heaps of something yummy, mainly white, streaked with trademark ‘dirt’. Perhaps chocolate. Or coffee.

 I polled some friends. ‘Suggest a recipe that could be Dirty White Candy.’ Try divinity fudge with a twist, said one. How about bashed up biscuits instead of nuts? Perfect.

 Only, in order to take the sumptuous picture, I would have to make the darned stuff. And, as any of you fudgemeisters will know, this entails faffing with molten sugar and thermometers.

 I don’t have a sugar thermometer. I have never dabbled in such things. Years ago, chemistry A level put me off heating sugar vigorously. It’s a short step from caramel to tar-plating your pan. But I am an optimist. And I had set my heart on posting a festive recipe for dirty white candy.

 I am also not patient. I could have waited to buy a proper thermometer, but I wanted to do it right away. Besides, knowledgeable souls said a bowl of iced water might do. That’s all I needed to hear. After all, I have chemistry A level. Surely I could manage.

 I’m not saying I felt totally confident. I chose a pan I didn’t mind ruining. I read the instructions several times, even though they seemed simple. Put sugar, corn syrup, salt and water in a pan and heat until boiling. When it’s soft ball, dollop a spoonful into the beaten egg whites. Somehow, keep beating the egg whites with one hand and your volcanically hot sugar with the other. Steady the pan with your tail, if you have one.

 I started. The sugar melted and in seconds was bubbling violently. Cripes, it was a monster. I spooned gobbets into the iced water until one drop formed a tiny pearl. Hooray, soft ball. Or maybe beyond. (Wished I got that thermometer; black tar was possibly moments away). I whisked a bit into the egg white and it took on a glossy appearance, like meringue. So far, so good.

 Now I had to keep stirring everything, while testing for light crack, or something. Here my confidence got shaky, as did my multitasking. A spoon in each pan AND dropping stuff into water? That required three hands. And the testing instructions were alarmingly vague. It would leave streaks in the air when you pulled the spoon out, apparently. Even better, it would happen VERY FAST and if not turned out immediately would stick in the pan like a pot of set glue. As if the first stage hadn’t been fast enough. Eek.

 By now I had no idea what I was doing. Every time I dropped it into the water it looked the same. But wasn’t it supposed to change VERY FAST?

 Perhaps it had already.

 I lost my nerve, whipped it off the heat, whupped it into the egg whites, shook in the bashed biscuits, spread it on a tray and heaved a sigh of relief. Whoo, I made dirty white candy. No blackened disaster, and no glue.

 Except it didn’t set. It remained there like a big white splat. I had peaked too early.  

 ‘Um, what is it supposed to look like?’ said Dave.

 ‘Divinity fudge,’ I said.

 ‘And what does that look like?’

 ‘Actually, I’ve no idea.’

 (In England, we don’t have divinity fudge.)

 We prodded it. Ate spoonfuls (several in fact). We left it, in case it wanted time to think. It developed a light skin, like custard does, but that was as solid as it got.

 I’d come this far. Darn it, I wanted my signature candy. But in no way could I cut this up and display it on my prettiest plates, as cake gurus insist you must. Pretty plates wouldn’t hide the truth.

 I wondered about doing it all again. No; without a sugar thermometer there might be worse outcomes than a big white splat.

 Dave said: ‘Let’s smear it on ginger biscuits and make it look as though it’s worked, then you can take the picture.’ We did. It looked like sticky white stuff smeared on biscuits, (although it didn’t taste bad). I reckoned even if we didn’t have a clue what divinity fudge looked like, you guys would spot the subterfuge.

 We ate spoonfuls until our teeth felt like they were wearing socks. Considerable amounts remained. We squashed it into a bowl and stuck it in the fridge. Next morning it had not transformed. It reproached me every time I went to get the milk.

 In desperation I spooned dollops onto a baking sheet and shoved it in the oven at 200C. In 12 minutes they had swollen into golden cookies, light as clouds, and sticky within. Delicious.

 And so, after much ado, I can present to you, dirty white candy… the cookies! Happy holidays. Or as we say in the divinity fudgeless world, merry Christmas and a happy new year. It’s not what I set out to make, but hey that’s part of the fun.

 Stories are like that too. The best scenes or anecdotes, expositional or not, don’t turn out as anyone expects.

 How have you handled scenes that were in danger of being exposition?

And have you tried making my cookies 😉 ?

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  1. #1 by Jesaka Long on December 22, 2009 - 7:36 pm

    I love how you described your adventure–and showed, rather than told, your readers how to follow your advice. As for the cookies, I haven’t tried to make them. However, I’m in the U.S. and have tried to make divinity fudge–it’s with your cookies in the adventure range. But tasty. When sugar is involved, does it really have to look pretty as long as it tastes great?

  2. #2 by Jill Kemerer on December 23, 2009 - 5:11 pm

    You are a candy-making maverick! I do not own a candy thermometer, but the thought entices.

    Your use of the word “smear” made me smile, because yesterday I was driving and contemplating the heavy issues of life, like does “smear” sound best as “shmear” the way many people say it. I haven’t decided, but feel free to tackle this challenging subject next time you’re driving.

    Have a very Merry Christmas!!

    • #3 by Roz Morris on December 23, 2009 - 5:48 pm

      Shmear or smear… people have no idea how writers fret about the little details in life :-).

  3. #4 by Zelah on December 24, 2009 - 11:49 am

    Happy Christmas! 🙂

    I can empathise, I’ve tried making fudge (also without a thermometer) once in order to use up some left over cream. I had no idea what I was looking for in terms of the soft ball stage. I thought it was something you could roll into a soft ball once you’d dropped it into cold water!

    Obviously I was wrong. I poured it out three times and stuck it back in the pan after each non-setting attempt. The end result was more like a very soft toffee than a fudge. No crystalisation at all, just a heavy slab of somewhat pliable sweet stuff. Not to my taste but thankfully I have a Paul, who will eat anything edible if I suggest that perhaps it should be thrown away (and I have the sense to just throw away anything that REALLY should be thrown away without warning him first!)

    I mean to buy a sugar thermometer at some stage so I can do such things properly. As soon as I can locate one that doesn’t have reviews on Amazon saying that all the numbers come off when you use/wash it.

    I applaud your culinary experimentation though, I’m a big fan of that! The cookies look very tasty, you almost tempt me to try them but I’m off to bake ginger ones for Christmas so those will have to do.

    Have a great festive season!

  4. #5 by Jane Kennedy Sutton on December 28, 2009 - 11:25 pm

    I tend not to do any sort of baking or candy making these days because, well…I want to eat it. But back in my fudge making days, my favorite batches were those that I had to eat with a spoon!

  5. #6 by Cat Woodsc on December 29, 2009 - 3:03 pm


    Congrats on your dirty white candy adventure. I used to make divinity with my mom at Christmas and I promise you, nothing made me sweat more than trying to get it right. Too soon and it was mushy. Too late and it was dry and crumbly. Just right and the little white clouds of goodness melted in your mouth.

    Happy Holidays!

  6. #7 by holly cupala on December 31, 2009 - 8:20 pm

    Spectacular dirty white candy cookies!

  7. #8 by jmartinlibrary on January 5, 2010 - 8:39 pm

    “We ate spoonfuls until our teeth felt like they were wearing socks.”

    Been there. Done that. Often.

    Some of my best recipes were born after burnt, crusty failures. When life hands you goo, bake divinity!

    Thanks for the blog shoutout. You’re a tweetie.

  1. Chillaxing

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