"We make mistakes so you don't have to."

That's our long-time mantra in the King Arthur Baking test kitchen. And when you're testing literally hundreds of recipes a year, well, mistakes are bound to happen. And happen, and happen ... The nice thing is, we simply call every flat cake, burned cookie, and misshapen dinner roll a "test result" and add it to our "testing data."

So those everything bagels that turned out so tough they'd qualify as dangerous weapons? The savory doughnut holes with caramelized onion and blue cheese filling whose kindest tasting comment was "EWWWWWWWW"? 

Good data! Back to the drawing board.

Still, even though we know "stuff" happens, it's never cause for celebration when that chocolate cream layer cake you've labored over for hours suddenly decides it's too hot in the kitchen and collapses into a puddle of mushy mousse. Words fly, stomachs tense — and then, inevitably, we laugh: at the silliness of the scene and the absurdity of stressing over something as benign as baking.

But most of all we laugh because we love our work. Baking is always a pleasure: the good, the bad, AND the ugly.

So here we are, sharing for the 13th year our roundup of test kitchen blunders. If it's been a while since your last smile, you're in luck: we dare you to witness all of these mess-ups without breaking into a grin!

Burnt offerings

How easy is it to forget something in the oven? Very. Easy. We know you've all done it; so have we, many times. Check out some of our most "charring" memories.

Burned Persian flatbread
Everything about this Nan-e Barbari was perfect, until "someone" forgot to set her timer and, well, golden brown morphed to inky black. 
Cupcakes with burned marshmallow topping in a pan on the counter.
We would have loved having s'more of these cupcakes, but that was before their topping went from fluffy marshmallow to incinerated charcoal.
Loaf of bread burned on top in front of black cast iron loaf pan.
So when you bake bread in a black cast iron pan it's the bottom that tends to burn, right? Hmmm ... Good trick, that!
Burned pie crust scraps on a baking sheet.
No, these aren't fancifully shaped chocolate cookies. They're pie crust scraps sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and baked to "golden" (im)perfection!
Burned crullers on a baking sheet.
And then there was the cruller experiment. Never multitask when you're deep-frying! This picture made the rounds as "the dog poop doughnuts." Sorry, I know, you'll never be able to unsee this ...

Our bowl runneth over

With all of the sourdough baking going on over the past year, we're sure many of you experienced starter that just didn't respect its boundaries. Well, it's not just starter that can't contain its enthusiasm, given enough time (and its owner's forgetfulness).

KitchenAid mixer with yeast dough overflowing the bowl and running across the table.
Ellen, the friendly lady you'll often speak to when registering for one of our baking school classes, shared this dough explosion with us. You can see it, right? Finish kneading, tilt up the mixer head, the phone rings, and 3 hours later — whoooops ....
Whole wheat yeast dough overflowing its bowl and cascading onto the counter.
Chef Susan, our test kitchen veteran and peerless Instagram stories queen, notes that Just Bread dough is relentless in its pursuit of freedom: neither bowl, plastic, nor lid stops it.

Smash ... cake 

Ah, that moment when you take your bread or cake out of the oven and turn the pan upside down onto a rack, expecting immediate release of your hot loaf — and nothing happens. You fret, you tap, you shake (you say words your children shouldn't hear), and then, finally, success!

Or not. 

Chocolate and vanilla marbled Bundt cake, half stuck in the pan, half crumbled on the counter.
Who among us has never experienced this scenario? It's no trifling matter! Oh wait, maybe it IS a trifling matter... Coffeecake trifle, here we come!
Vanilla Bundt cake in two ragged halves on a cooling rack.
"OK, this may look like the dog's breakfast but I've got this lovely lemon glaze, so why not?" A perfect illustration of those words we've all uttered at one time or another: "It'll still taste good."
Loaf of bread on a cooling rack with one big chunk of corner torn off.
I mean, really? You couldn't wait to show me your beautiful holey interior, Mr. Sourdough?
Blueberry muffins on a cooling rack, some smashed and falling apart.
When the recipe calls for 2 cups of blueberries in those muffins and you say, "Hey, if 2 cups are good, 3 cups are better!" NOT.
Kitchen floor with broken crockery, spilled silverware, and KitchenAid mixer attachments.
Apparently it's not only cakes and muffins that go bump in the night. With many of us King Arthur test bakers baking at home this past year, there was plenty of opportunity to make a mess — as Chef Susan, her new dream kitchen in progress, will attest.
Kitchen counter with ingredients, Felix the cat sitting on the counter having knocked a bottle of vinegar onto the floor, where it smashed.
"Oh, Felix ..." (or words to that effect) were no doubt uttered when fellow blogger Kye discovered Felix the cat had decided to test the shatter strength of a bottle of balsamic vinegar. As Kye noted at the time, "Thank goodness it wasn't the vanilla!"

Hey, shape up!

If there's one thing you can usually count on with baking, whatever your batter or dough looks like going into the oven, it will undergo a significant change before it comes out. Bread rises; cookies spread; cake domes. Sometimes uncontrollably.

Carrot loaf cake with the carrots left out: big dip in the center.
A colleague requesting anonymity confessed that she forgot to add the carrots to this carrot cake. The cake clearly wasn't pleased.
Four layers of cake in round cake pans, one blown way up tall compared to the others.
If you're a Sesame Street fan, you can probably hear Kermit singing "One of these cakes is not like the others; one of these cakes just doesn't belong ..." Our visual merchandiser, Brook, calls this her "over-zealous cake monster with its nice level-headed buddies."
Banana muffins with sliced bananas bake don top, slid off to the sides.
Banana slices, an extemporaneous addition to our Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins recipe, started out on top. But after 10 minutes in the oven they decided to exit the summit — producing this goggle-eyed monster effect.
Fuchsia-colored cake batter  baked in cake-type ice cream cones, but severely overflowing the cones.
The fantasy: cake batter baked in ice cream cones for a whimsical hand-held treat. The reality: cake batter baked in, over, and out of ice cream cones. Facepalm.
Misshapen boiled bagels on a cooling rack.
Julia, one of our newer customer service team members, says of her first bagel experience, "I think I did a number of things wrong ..." While we'd never call making bagels with the assistance of a 2-year-old child wrong, you can definitely get some rather unusual results!

Paleo by comparison

Developing special-diet recipes is a huge part of what our test bakers do. Oftentimes, especially at first, the results aren't quite as special as we'd envisioned ...

Broken up soft and chewy gluten-free pretzels on a baking sheet.
Jonathan, doing double duty at our baking school and on our Baker's Hotline, is the master of understatement: "Sometimes pretzels don't cooperate. Especially when they're gluten-free." Ain't that the truth.
Three photos: loaf of paleo bread, unsliced; slice of paleo bread; paleo fried dough, all a crumbly mess.
Annabelle and Morgan from our social media and digital engagement teams tasked themselves with trying out our paleo flour on a few non-paleo recipes. Annabelle said of her sandwich loaf (left; slice at lower right), "Oh my good gravy ... 10/10 would not recommend." As for Morgan's fried dough (upper right), she concluded, "I think that maybe the dough would have benefited from an egg to help hold it together." Ouch.

Spread out ...

Oh, please don't! It's amazing how cookies can start out as perfect spheres of dough and end up looking like the Caspian Sea. What's up with that, anyway? See "One reason cookies spread" for an answer, but in the meantime — misery loves company, so enjoy these "spreads."

Chocolate chip cookies spread into a solid puddle of cookie on baking sheet.
I confess to being responsible for these chocolate chip cookies — er, cookie. "Honestly, I followed the recipe exactly!" But unfortunately, it wasn't a King Arthur recipe. Lesson learned. 
chocolate mint cookies puddled on a baking sheet.
"I LOVE chocolate and mint, so I used a chocolate cookie base and thought, I’ll add junior mints (instead of the peanut butter chips called for) – BRILLIANT, right?" Apparently not. (The baker who submitted this shot pled the 5th.)
Oatmeal cookies baked into a giant puddle on a baking sheet.
Michelle, one of the long-time veterans at our flagship store in Norwich, Vermont, says she tried to fit her sister's oatmeal cookie recipe onto a single pan. As Michelle concluded, "Not a good idea! I laughed so hard ..."

And that's what we all do, isn't it? You can fuss and fume when baking disasters strike, or you can simply smile, scrape the mess out of the pan, and enjoy. After this Year of the Pandemic, when it often felt like there was barely room for hope, let alone laughter, it's a relief to chuckle over silly things like April Fools' Day.

So, let me conclude with this: What do you do when one of the King Arthur test bakers is celebrating a birthday and you need a cake to share virtually, via Zoom? Chocolate Mousse Cake with Raspberries? Classic Birthday Cake?

Devil Dog with a candle stuck in the top to celebrate a birthday.
Devilishly good! And that's a wrap.

Haven't had your fill of baking fails yet? Check out our 2019 April Fools' post, Still foolish after all these years.

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About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was an award-winning Maine journalist (favorite topics: sports and food) before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. Hired to write the newly launched Baker’s Catalogue, PJ became the small but growing company’s sixth employee.PJ wa...
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