For example, my father-in-law loves black licorice and similar anise-flavored sweets. I can't stand the stuff, but we try to find him some new candy treat for Christmas every year. A couple years ago, I came across this recipe in Family Circle Cookies and Candies Cookbook (1978) and decided to make him a special treat:
No-- not the strawberry-flavored ones! The "Green Gum Drops" with anise. (I used black food coloring, though, so they'd look more like licorice.)
The recipe is not kidding when it says "cloud-soft." The first year when I made these, they were so soft it was impossible to cut them into any shapes. I had to scoop teaspoons of the goo out of the pan and roll them HEAVILY in sugar (and then add layers of extra sugar between the candies as I packed them) to keep the drops from pooling back into a single, huge candy blob. (This left me questioning the "very easy to make" claim.)
That was the year that they turned out WELL.
For some reason, I tried again the next year, thinking they might turn out better now that I'd tried the recipe once before. Maybe powdered fruit pectin has changed since the '70s. Maybe I'm not following the directions as well as I think I am. Maybe the weather or some other factor is a problem. Maybe the recipe is missing some crucial step or ingredient. I'm not sure what the cause was, but the gumdrops never moved beyond the thick, sticky soup stage. No amount of rolling in sugar would turn the pan full of smelly, purplish goo into candy bites, so I ended up having one fewer gift than I had planned and a massively annoying dishwashing job. (On the plus side, it was pretty easy to get the sludge down the garbage disposal, but not much fun trying to wash out all the sticky, clinging film left in the dish).
This is why I try to be an eternal pessimist. It's better to be pleasantly surprised when things do work out than disappointed when they don't. Lesson learned.
While the gum drops were a clear fail last year, this next recipe's status is more subjective. It's from my beloved 1973 Betty Crocker's Cookbook:
Most holiday seasons, I make two batches of cookies to share. One is always cutout sugar cookies from a family recipe. They're fun to make and the family loves them, but to be honest, I feel pretty indifferent to them. They taste of Crisco and sugar to me-- not objectionable, but not particularly worthy of all the sugar and fat calories.
That's part of the reason I usually make a second batch of cookies-- the ones I think of as the fails. They only fail in the sense that hardly anybody else eats them because everyone wants the cutouts. The fail batch is the one I actually like, and this is one of my favorite choices.
I always make strawberries, peas, and oranges, taking the time to tint three shades of dough. I like the chance to play with my food-- rolling the strawberries in red sugar, making tiny balls of green dough for individual peas, and using whole cloves for orange navels. The cookies are buttery-rich and delicately almond flavored, small enough to leave room for other holiday delicacies, and almost entirely ignored by everyone else. Perfect failures.