Salvaging a Dessert Disaster


Above: The (successfully) remade cookie bars. See how I managed to salvage my disaster of a dessert. 

This is a story of kitchen hubris (mine) and dessert redemption (also mine). Maybe you’ve been there too. This is my cautionary tale:

I found two cans of sweetened condensed milk deep in my pantry recently. I had bought them a while ago “in case I needed them,” but obviously never had. I decided to use them up rather than throw them away. They were old. They didn’t even have expiration dates. But the cans weren’t bulging or anything, so I thought they were probably still good.

(Beep. Beep. Hazard ahead!)

The only recipe I know that uses SCM is Magic Cookie Bars. It’s easy: chocolate chips, nuts, coconut, raisins, pretzel pieces, butterscotch chips, whatever, on a graham-cracker-and-butter base in a 9-by-11 pan, bound by the sweetened condensed milk poured over it and then baked and cut into bars.

As a bachelor, my husband used to make Magic Cookie Bars whenever he needed to contribute to an office potluck. I thought I’d surprise him by putting one of those old cans to good use and making a batch.

So I set up the graham-cracker base, scattered a cup each of chocolate chips, chopped peanuts, coconut and raisins, then opened one of the cans of SCM.

(Alarm bells. Warning!)

Oh my.

It was the color of crankcase oil and the consistency of petroleum jelly. It didn’t smell sweetened; it had a faint cheese odor instead.

But I’d never baked with SCM before, so maybe it always looked like this, I told myself.

(Klaxon horns. Danger!)

I spooned it onto the cookie bars and put the pan into the oven. Maybe the heat of the oven would transform it into something more appetizing.

A half-hour later, out of the oven it came. Or should I say, “Out of the oven — ‘IT’ came.”


The pan looked exactly the same. This was not good. (see photo above)

My husband came into the kitchen to see his cookie bars. They were a surprise, all right. Gallantly, he said, “I’m sure they will be OK.”

After dinner, we dug in. They weren’t.

Glumly, we chewed through our portions. Everything else in the bars tasted OK. The sweetened condensed milk was obviously past its prime, but not really BAD. Just not really GOOD.

I put the pan in the fridge, chagrined and humbled by my bad decision.

Throwing the bars out would be a shame, though I was leaning that way. (I had already tossed the other can of SCM.)

If only I could save them. But how?

In bed that night, thinking about my defeat, it dawned on me that most of the ingredients were solid: nuts, coconut, raisins. Even the chocolate chips came out of the oven unchanged.

More to the point, they were all pretty waterproof.

What if I could wash them? Dissolve that Bad Sweetened Condensed Milk off them? I’d lose the graham-cracker base, but that was OK. The whole pan would be a loss otherwise.

The next morning, I filled a large bowl with water and sat it in the sink. I broke off parts of the Bad Cookie Bars and dunked them into the bowl. Then I squooshed them and mooshed them around in the water, breaking them up with my fingers, until everything was dissolved off.

I drained and rinsed what was left, and spread it in a pan to dry. I had raisins. Coconut. Peanuts. And chocolate chips — intact, though they had softened a bit. More important, they hadn’t dissolved.

(Trumpet fanfare. Rescue at hand!)

I let the ingredients dry for a few hours before heading to the store for fresh SCM and more graham crackers. (And FYI, fresh sweetened condensed milk looks like vanilla pudding.)

Then I remade those bars using the laundered ingredients, plus another cup of coconut. They baked up pretty the second time around and tasted just fine. Whew.

(Angelic choir. Victory!)

(c) copyright Laura Groch 2013


2 thoughts on “Salvaging a Dessert Disaster

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.