Baking mistakes: we all make them. Even the (well)-seasoned bakers in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen endure their share of mishaps, from burned cookies to collapsed cakes to "soup" pies (you've made one of those, right?).
The thing is, when you make a mistake at home, it ranges anywhere from mildly irritating to disastrous. But when we make them here at King Arthur, it can be cause for celebration. Because failure means we've learned what NOT to do with any particular recipe — and we can pass that knowledge along to you.
It all simmers down to this: We make every baking mistake possible, so you don't have to.
Join us now as we share some of our favorite "Uh-oh" moments from the past year.
Yeast dough no-no's
Yeast dough often has a mind of its own, doesn't it? In this case, we were testing a baking pan using a recipe for very wet dough that we suspected would exceed the pan's capacity.
Spectacular success! We proved it: that particular recipe won't fit in this particular pan.
Speaking of robust growth —
This is your dough. This is your dough during bulk fermentation. Grow, dough, grow!
Luckily, it was in a very very very large plastic tub.
We often label our experiments using a felt pen on parchment. A "permanent" marker. Turns out that yeast dough, when it rises and spreads onto its ink label, will in fact pick up the ink and imprint itself.
Cool! There's no mistaking that this loaf had "0 rise."
Now, here's a REAL disaster. Bad words were said, I admit. After spending five days growing a new sourdough starter from scratch, I was giving it one last feed/rise inside my turned-off oven, where the starter can stay relatively warm, free from drafts, and protected.
Protected from everything but my forgetfulness. I was baking cookies, and turned the oven to 350°F to preheat, forgetting about my 5-day-old starter.
The result? Well, as you can see, it wasn't a happy, bubbly sourdough starter! Think wad of crusty, baked-on sludge.
Collateral damage: I had a Thermapen digital thermometer in the oven as well, monitoring ambient temperature as the starter grew.
Thermapen + 350°F = thermal death knell.
While a 350°F oven can kill a thermometer, it takes a lot more heat to wreck a pizza.
Like the 1200°F temperature in our Baking School’s brick oven. We managed to burn pizza — easily, thoroughly, and almost irreparably — by sticking it into the oven and forgetting about it for a few minutes.
Hey, we did manage to salvage the middle.
But the crust? Well, if "charcoal" speaks to you, you'd have loved this onion and olive pie.
Year of the Bundt boo-boos
2017 is our Year of the Bundt, and a lot moving and shaking on the cake-baking front took place in our test kitchens over the past nine months. One of our main issues — just as it is with you, from all reports — is Bundt cake sticking in the pan.
Some cakes stuck just a little — oh, so close to a perfect Bundt!
Some cakes stuck a lot.
Some cakes came out great — if you don't care about any crust. So creamy! So tender!
Some cakes not only stuck, but crumbled.
Some didn't stick — hallelujah — but broke.
Ah, success was just one fault line away for this Chocolate Fudge Bundt Cake!
Finally, some cakes failed on multiple levels. This experiment added chocolate chips to an early version of our Classic Vanilla Bundt Cake, in order to make chocolate chip Bundt cake.
Physics fact: gravity has its way with chocolate chips in cake batter, just as it does with Newton's apple.
Baking fact: Adding chocolate chips to thin cake batter will yield the Bundt cake equivalent of a bad hair day: bedraggled on top.
Our focus wasn't 100% on Bundt cakes this year, though. We managed to mess up all manner of other cakes as well.
So long as you don't mind serving it with an ice cream scoop (and you didn't have an Instagram post in mind), this cake is a hit.
And then there was that fleeting symbiotic relationship between chocolate cake and marshmallow frosting.
You know, you can't just leave these cakes alone by themselves. One minute they're fine, the next they're self-destructing.
And it's Chef Susan for the save! Kind of.
Nothing could save this Chocolate Lava Cake but a spatula, which we used to scrape up the leaking lava and re-apply it to the crumbled cake.
It wasn't a pretty picture; Martha Stewart would have been aghast. But hey, beauty is only crust-deep; chocolate is chocolate whatever it looks like, and these cakes are GOOD.
The thing about desserts is, they almost all include sugar. And no matter what shape it takes, sugar is simply delicious; even major malfeasance in the dessert department yields something edible.
If not neat. Or pretty. The fragile crust encasing the berry pie above didn't survive having even one slice removed. So we dumped the pie onto a baking sheet, arrayed a bunch of spoons next to it, and left it with a sign: "Dig in."
Um, peace sign gone awry? This started out as Butter-Pecan Kringle. But oh, my! Didn't I leave 4 eggs out of the second layer of pastry. "Well, maybe I can scrape it off, add the eggs, and smooth it back on..."
There's a reason you pay strict attention while making pastry cream, as I was doing for this Berry Blitz Torte. Combining egg yolks with simmering cream is a two-step process. Now, if you skip the first step and dash right to the second, you can easily produce the result above: scrambled-egg pastry cream, instead of the ultra-smooth, thick cream you get by FOLLOWING THE DIRECTIONS.
I spooned the "cream" onto the bottom cake layer anyway. "Maybe no one will notice." Right.
Speaking of skipping steps... Yeah, yeah, the Dark Chocolate Eclairs recipe says to let the filling and glaze cool and thicken before using — otherwise they'll be too thin. Whatever.
As you can see, "whatever" turned out to be one heck of a sticky chocolate mess.
That's the way the cookie crumbles
Or spreads, in the case of my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe when I inadvertently add an extra 1/2 cup sugar. (Another reason cookies spread? See this quick tip.)
Been there, done that, right? Cookie puddles are something most of us have experienced.
Sometimes our baking tests focus on tools, rather than recipes. This was a patterned rolling pin test.
Aw, cute! Too bad we couldn't A) separate the super-soft cookie dough into individual cookies before baking; or B), break the cookies apart into individual bunnies and birds afterwards.
Again, great flavor, but the presentation is... um, lacking.
Breakfast baking busts
Muffins, quick breads, coffeecake — we love our sweet treats at breakfast, don't we? And we test kitchen bakers test a full breakfast buffet of recipes each year.
One thing you always want to nail with any recipe is how long to bake. For quick breads and muffins, sticking a toothpick into the center is a pretty good way to test doneness.
But with our Famous Department Store Blueberry Muffins, which are absolutely loaded with berries, it's typical to repeatedly stick your toothpick into a berry — which tells you absolutely nothing about whether or not the muffin surrounding it is fully baked.
Poke, poke, poke, dig, dig... OK, I give up, gimme a spoon; I'm going to get to the bottom of this muffin.
Which I did. Verdict? Not done. Also no longer presentable.
Now, I know I was testing streusel vs. no streusel on this coffeecake. But why I felt obliged to dig three separate "test pits" in the cake, I have no clue.
No worries; though I did compromise the cake's fresh-baked appearance somewhat, this didn't prevent our ever-eager taste-testers from making quick work of it once it made it to the "bite and write" counter.
So, I decided to create a recipe for double-layer filled scones, and I needed to test various fillings, and most of them worked out just fine but my first attempt at cinnamon filling included maybe just a bit too much butter.
As a matter of fact, I never did quite nail from-scratch cinnamon filling for my Double Decker Filled Scones. Instead, when I want a cinnamon version, I rely on our Baker's Cinnamon Filling — the guaranteed path to leak-free scones, or cinnamon buns, or cinnamon swirl bread.
Oh... my... goodness! WHAT is up with these banana mini muffins? I still haven't figured out what caused the cinnamon chips I added to turn into little individual lava-spewing volcanoes.
And there's nothing I love more than laboriously cleaning baked-on sugar off a mini muffin pan (she says, dripping sarcasm).
But cleanup is part of every baker's life.
Whether it's wiping chocolate off your hands ...
... or deciding the best approach to 5 pounds of white whole wheat flour on the rug.
Note to self: Do NOT carry your flour canister by its snap-on lid unless said lid is indeed fully snapped on!
So, what have we learned this year in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen, after all of our crumbled, collapsed, misshapen, burned, exploded, and otherwise compromised baked goods?
Chocolate chip cookies rule! Even when you mess them up.
(What, you were expecting something profound?)
OK, you saw all of our baking snafus — how about sharing some of your own? Reveal your "April fools moments" in comments, below. I'll never forget the reader who told us about the time she was tossing pizza dough in the air and forgot her overhead fan was on...