We do a lot of baking here at King Arthur and trust me, not all of it is successful. Stuff happens: pie crust crumbles, sourdough flatlines, frosting breaks, yeast bread falls, and banana bread is annoyingly raw in the middle. Just because we bake for a living doesn't mean we're perfect.
So that said — Welcome to the King Arthur Baking Company’s 14th annual roundup of baking fails: some silly, some spectacular, and all ready to elicit your response of “Hey, that happened to me too!”
Let’s keep this clean
Cleanup: It’s the bane of every baker. None of us wants to dirty even one extra bowl or spoon, yet there inevitably comes a time when you look at what you’ve done and say — WOW (and a torrent of other words not suitable for a family audience). Here are my favorite cleanup disasters of the year.
There are two ingredients you never want to mess with: cornstarch and cocoa. As we say in the test kitchen, they “poof” as you work with them. Example of poof: Dump (rather than carefully spoon) cornstarch into a bowl. POOF!
My dogs love to help me in the kitchen. “Unpacking a box from King Arthur? You just go check your cookies, we’ve got this.” POOF!
Heavy cream being whipped into butter doesn’t POOF. It SPLATS. (What you’re not seeing is my face dripping buttermilk.)
Oh, and then there’s old reliable in the mess department: sourdough starter. Turn your back on it for a mere 8 or 10 hours, and off it goes, doing its own thing.
Yeast bread: shape up!
Baking with yeast is like taking a walk with a toddler: You never know quite where you’re going to end up, and you often have some tumbles along the way. Let’s take a look.
“Carefully turn the risen dough out of the brotform; you don’t want to deflate it,” says the recipe. But despite copious flouring of the brotform, all it takes is one … little … stuck spot. And down it goes, like a punctured balloon.
Wrinkled crust, pockmarked sides, ragged bottom — now that is one picture-perfect loaf. If the picture is a horror film.
Me: “I’m terrible at slashing dough … I think I’ll just skip it.” An hour later, the baked bread: “No slash? Awwright, thanks for letting me do my own thing!”
From Digital Engagement Specialist and Baking School Instructor Jonathan Frishtick: “I baked this at home. I honestly don’t remember what it was supposed to be. I must have blocked it out of my brain.”
Jonathan also offers, “Sometimes pretzels don’t cooperate. Especially when they’re gluten-free. “
Baking can be like working on a computer: You go through the same motions every day and then one day you get a WAY different result. What the … ?!
Maybe you bake the same cookie recipe over and over and one memorable day you get a cookie blob. Those scones you make twice a month? Scone cake. What the … ?!
The precise balance of butter, sugar, and flour in these apricot scones was — um, maybe not exactly precise?
I thought I'd try making chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips. Do you know it's a scientific fact that the only thing holding chocolate chip cookies together is the chocolate chips? Yup.
Lee Clark, our Test Kitchen Coordinator, shares this: “And this is why recipes must have EXPLICIT baking directions. These were 40 ginger-spice cookies. My exact message to the person baking these was, ‘They’re on a sheet pan in the freezer. You can bake some. 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes.’ ” Ohhhh, got it, bake some — not all.
I decided to test ice cream scones (subbing melted ice cream for the heavy cream called for in the recipe). I decided to make them in my air fryer. Well, what did I expect?! Ice cream MELTS.
Speaking of melting, I’m thinking this particular cheese wasn’t a great choice for a baked (not grilled) cheese sandwich. We call this one The Velveeta Vesuvius.
Now, take cake …
It rises (or sinks); it’s tender (or rubbery); it’s evenly browned (or black along the edges) — that's cake for you. And me. And everyone else who's ever celebrated a birthday, anniversary, graduation, or shower with homemade cake. Bottom line: It's never as simple as it looks.
How many of you have had a few choice words to say about turning a Bundt cake out of its pan? (Thousands of hands raised … )
And that’s the way the cookie — er, cake — crumbles. Maybe a little bit more liquid next time.
Editorial Coordinator Tatiana Bautista says, “My sister's fiancé put me on cake duty for her birthday and requested I illustrate her favorite BTS member on the cake. (He provided the illustration.) I thought I'd be able to make a stencil out of it, but when that didn't work, I thought I could trace it with melted chocolate on top of wax paper ... my piping tip was WAY too thick and I basically gave this guy sunglasses.”
A burning desire
Ah, that hauntingly evocative aroma of burning [fill in the blank]. Be it apple pie filling that's dripped onto the bottom of the oven, the caramel-to-be you forgot about on the stovetop, or the cookies you baked on a thin black cookie sheet (you know better, right?), burning and baking go together like computers and crashes.
Says Blog Editor Rossi Anastopoulo, “I was candying some pecans and completely forgot about them. I’m lucky I didn’t set off the smoke alarm.”
Rossi again: “This is what happens when you don’t use a trusted recipe (aka not a King Arthur one!). This was supposed to be a yeasted ring cake, and I knew it wasn’t going to turn out well based on the dough. But I baked it anyway, and it resulted in this inedible mess.”
Associate Social Editor Annabelle Nicholson on her Christmas cookies: “I said, ‘Just a couple more minutes on this tray.’ Probably 20 minutes later my 13-year-old sister asks, ‘Are you still baking gingerbread?’ Why yes, yes I am. And I think it's done. My mom took them home to string up for the birds.”
And back to Jonathan at the Baking School: “This is supposed to be za’atar focaccia. But I forgot these students’ baked goods in the oven. Totally inedible.” See above: maybe the birds?
Since it’s April and spring flowers are, well … springing up, let’s finish with this lovely loaf of bread sporting the beautiful pastels of a spring garden in bloom.
This rye loaf was left cooling in its Dutch oven and then forgotten for a while. A good long while. Long enough to grow its own “garden.”
And that's it for this year, fellow bakers. As you experience the occasional stumble in your baking, here are two things to remember:
- In times of baking stress, feel free to call our Baker's Hotline for reassurance, sympathy, and help.
- Post your "whoops" moments to Facebook, Instagram, or your favorite social media outlet. It's OK to laugh at yourself. And since misery loves company, you'll have lots of friends laughing with you!
Cover photo by "Cheesecake Baker Anonymous." The crust separated from the filling and then the whole thing fell apart. What more can I say beyond this: Happy April Fools!