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Kitchen Flops and Disasters

by Lauren | Celiac Teen on August 16, 2010

We’ve all been there. A cake that didn’t set. A bread that masqueraded brilliantly well as a rock. A sweet that was missing sugar. Maybe it was our mistake, maybe it was the recipe’s fault, but either way, they happen. They mark our memories, rearing their heads to teach us lessons and give us more places to go. Unfortunately, they scare people off of cooking and baking. That doesn’t have to be the case. After all, everyone who has ever baked or cooked a lot has had something go wrong. It’s part of the fun, part of the process. So, here are a few stories of the flops and disasters in my house. I hope to hear all about yours, either on your own site or in the comments!

The day was simple. I was using an old, delicious, comforting recipe with a new twist. It was a day’s worth of watching and babysitting it, but the last two versions had been oh-so worth it. But, something happened. These fruits had different properties from the blueberries. When I pulled the pie out of the fridge the next morning, something wasn’t right. I ever-so-gently touched the outside, as I had with the others, but this time my finger picked up the filling rather than leaving a fingerprint. Hmm… I took my photos anyways and hoped for the best. Maybe the bottom was set. Maybe when I sliced a piece, it could work.

I put the garnish on top and the pie nearly absorbed it. Oh gosh! I “cut” a piece. Well, I cut a piece of pie crust and some of the filling was lifted. The filling hadn’t set up. Strawberry kiwi chiffon pie? No. Hilarious foam? Oh yes. After my heart sunk for a moment, I laughed. Was it molecular gastronomy? Maybe, but it was an accident. I got a foam pie. Fluid, moving, not-so-bad-tasting-if-you-can-get-past-what-it-is foam. Now, writing this, I’m shaking my head with a smile on my face as I chuckle. Seriously, how many people have made a strawberry kiwi foam pie? I’m willing to bet that that number is slim to one (not none, because I’ve done it, obviously :) ). After sitting for maybe 20 seconds, the piece I took out was refilled-in, like magic. All that was missing was a piece of crust. I ate it. It wasn’t so bad, but I couldn’t convince anyone else to have a “piece”. It was weird. It was most definitely a flop.

After that one, I got to thinking. How many have gone wrong? An good amount. How many have gone right? Many many more. I’m lucky and always learning from those mistakes. Really looking back though, they all had a story. One too many adaptations. One thing that slipped my mind. One product to laugh about for years.

The first thing that always comes up, when we speak of flops in my family are the buckwheat pancakes. I do believe I’ve mentioned them before. They’re hard not to. It was one of the first gluten-free recipes I made and each of us cringes thinking back. Dry in a way a fresh pancake should never be. Strong, abrasive flavour that just wasn’t right. I followed that recipe to a T, but it just wasn’t good. They made it into the trash after only a bite or two. Sometimes it happens; don’t worry. Pick up the next cookbook or recipe and you might find something that makes all your dreams come true.

One day, my friend came over, and we made puff pastry and some muffins. I had seen a recipe for these really healthy lovely muffins in a health food magazine. It used oats and protein powder and bran cereal. When switching those to a gluten-free equivalent (and using hemp protein powder), we had green eggy muffins. They were incredibly odd. Displayed within this twisted muddy green was flecks of cereal. The taste was okay, but looking at those green muffins was simply off-putting. They didn’t pass the test.

Another day, I wanted to make some chocolate cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes with a special flavour. Nothing to do with the flavour, I missed something. They over-flowed, then what was left inside folded into itself and hid beneath the outer exterior, slumping in. I may have missed something else as well, but that one didn’t get any xanthan gum or binder. It had nothing to hold it together, so when you picked anything up, it was instantly crumbs. Moist cakey crumbs but crumbs nonetheless. They just didn’t hold together, not at all. It tasted wonderful but you can’t have cupcakes when lifting them out of the pan in one piece is an impossible task.

Way back when I joined twitter, I found myself reading about all sorts of foods that friends were making – as they made it. I knew that I wanted to whip something up, so I blended a few recipes and made a cheese bread. That loaf was okay warm. The moment it cooled, the touch of garlic jumped out at you with a depressing force, altering the flavours of the cheese and flours to create this dry block of ugh. It sat for a day or two, then I made it into bread crumbs. Even that couldn’t save this loaf. The bread crumbs sat in the cupboard until I grabbed them one day to throw them out. Some recipes just don’t make it.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, over the holidays, I made a date bread. I played with various variables, weighing everything in my head (from the flours to the starches). It looked wonderful when it came out. It even tasted brilliantly. When that guy cooled though, it was moist. Moist to a fault. So moist that is was no longer a bread. It was heading towards mush, at least in the middle.

There were the macarons. When I made those, I didn’t think they came out so bad. Sickly sweet, yes. Horrid? No… or at least I thought so until we went to Paris this summer. Having flawless macarons from world-famous (as well as far-from-famous) shops, I found a bite of heaven and I didn’t want to let it go. Those perfect shells and dreamy interiors are what people dream of, not the wreckage I made. I’m grateful though – having a reference point like that is something that is invaluable. One day I’ll get up the courage and try to make them again. There is a reason the blogging world went crazy for them. When done right, they can be pure heaven. When done wrong, no. (PS – when I switched to wordpress, some comments got lost. I still need to retrieve many of the thousands that disappeared, so don’t worry if I haven’t gotten to that post yet.)

Even before going gluten-free, I remember baking a cake with a close friend. On the few times a year we saw each other, whatever we did would always be around food. That time, we were making a layered cake, from yellow and chocolate cake mixes. When we pulled out the yellow cake, it was really oily. It didn’t make any sense. We followed the box (oh gosh. I think that was the only day in the many many times we baked that it was ever from a box), but both of us had added the oil. Luckily, those mixes are made to be somewhat indestructible, so it was only incredibly oily. Nothing fell or lost shape. So, we made our layer cake, covered with a little bit of icing and the 5 cent candy we had bought at the store.

Some flops, they’re just that. A little bit floppy. A little bit off target. Such as muffins which tasted more like pancakes. It was the oddest thing. We enjoyed them, but they weren’t awesome. They were off-kilter just enough. Others, are so far gone by the time they’re ready to eat that there is nothing we can do but laugh. So, enjoy your flops. They stop by for a reason. Don’t run away, just keep on going. It can only get better from there.

Tell me about your flops and disasters. Maybe they’re small, maybe they’re tall, maybe they’re everything in between. Laugh through the comments, smile through your post. These are all part of it. If I hadn’t baked and tried as many things as I have, I wouldn’t have so many of them, but I also wouldn’t have as many recipes. I wouldn’t have as many that my family raves about. I wouldn’t have as many that are better than I could have ever dreamed of. The flops make the good ones just that much more fantastic. They make me want to do it more and more and more. I hope you feel the same.

If you post about it, I’ll include the link here! We all have stories – I can’t wait to hear yours. Go check out theirs as well! (Some of these are older posts, which are fun to read to! Thanks for leaving them :) ).

Thinkin’ Outside the Cookie: Behind the Cookie Curtain
Daily Bites: Kitchen Disasters
Willow Bird Baking: Flops Happen: A Chronicle of my Kitchen Failures
Eat the Love: A Gluten-Free White Cake with Italian Meringue Buttercream Frosting: how mistakes can lead to wonderful things…
Jenn Cuisine: Flops
I Made Toast: Strawberry Shortcake
Baking in Oregon: Chocolate Disaster Cake
The Picky Gourmet: Food Fail
The Daily Dietribe: Hint O’Chocolate Banana Muffins
Without Adornment: My Kitchen Flops
The Honey Bakes: Failure is a memory


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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenn August 16, 2010 at 1:37 am

Good for you for not getting discouraged! I used to get really bummed out when something didn’t work. But I’m getting better about it, and do my best to use it as a learning experience. One of my biggest lessons that I learned (after trying to do without for a while) is needing gums in many of my baked goods. It’s been the difference between crumbly mess and tasty gluten free bagel goodness, between fluffy sandwich bread and flatbread that can pass more as crackers, and everything in between. I’ve made so many flops – soupy bread, rock hard bread, pie crust that slides off, puff-less puff pastry, and cracked sticky macaron messes. Thanks for a great post on remembering to keep your spirits up, laugh it off, and most importantly to keep on baking!

Theresa August 16, 2010 at 3:35 am

My first ever time baking by myself I put 1tbsp in the cookies instead of 1tsp! It was disgusting and still haunts me to this day… however, it didn’t stop me mixing up the tbsp and tsp with my first attempt at a sponge cake! :S
Most of my disasters come around when I’m feeling invincible, like the time that I threw together a few flours etc in an attempt at GF bread. It usually works, trust me, but this time it turned into a gloopy mess that was totally irredeemable.
I still keep cooking though! 😀

Celiacs in the House August 16, 2010 at 4:47 am

I don’t have the number of flops and disasters you have because I am not the culinary adventuress you are. I don’t cook on the wild side like you do. My worst flops are when I get sucked into the Internet and dinner goes up in flames. The teens say, “Mom, don’t blog and cook,” instead of don’t drink and drive. My worst kitchen flop was when I was making ice cream sandwiches from the “Ice Dream” cookbook last year and my reading glasses fell into the bottom of the oven when I was taking out the cookies. I started smelling burning plastic and found them in a molten blob on the bottom of the oven. I’m afraid my flops are linked to my age and not my daring. :) Keep on cooking, Lauren. You are an inspiration to the rest of us living gluten free.

Hallie @ Daily Bites August 16, 2010 at 5:47 am

Great stories! Here’s a link to my post on kitchen disasters:

Maria August 16, 2010 at 7:42 am

I’ve had my fair share of flops. Thanks for sharing yours. Glad we are all in this together..ha!

Kathleen August 16, 2010 at 9:38 am

My shortcake/dessert shells.
They were still delicious. Just ugly. So over-aerated and overfilled, they just collapsed all over the muffin tins afterward.

I also have a batch of brownies that would just not set. I’d used the recipe before and they were wonderful. It was from another GF blog. I can’t figure out where I went wrong but they would just not cook through even after double the time. We finally mashed them all up and put them back in the oven for even longer. Now we have a freezer bag full of brownie bits. I’m thinking Ice Cream or a Pie Crust.

Erik August 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm

I’ve had my share – the one that sticks out was a literal ‘flop’. I was baking a beautiful flourless chocolate cake for some family and pulled it from the oven to see if it was done. Apparently I had managed to get some spray oil on the outside of the pan – it slipped out of my hands, upside down, on the oven door. It wasn’t done yet, mind you, so the gooey mess just continued to cook away on the door while I decided what to do. Ultimately I scraped up everything that wasn’t in direct contact with the door and served it up in ugly heaps topped with chocolate ganache. Looks? Not too bad, all things considered – they thought it was supposed to be that way, and it did taste wonderful. The oven door, not so much fun. I was scraping burned cake batter for quite awhile.

I posted about this on my old wordpress site:

Callie B. August 16, 2010 at 3:02 pm

I think food failures help us keep a sense of humor in the kitchen. We have to learn to laugh through the tears. Here is my blog post:

Iris August 16, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Ahh Lauren, I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to know that you have flops too. :) I have a post coming soon on my work in progress with cake…and it’s not even the recipe that’s the problem…I’m using someone else’s recipe and it’s delicious. I just can’t frost it well and it looks like a gloppy mess!

Here’s an old post I wrote though on the many versions of muffins I had to go through before coming up with a recipe I liked:

Marc-André from August 16, 2010 at 6:46 pm

1 word: CAKE

My cakes are flops 99% of the time (I think I once made a decent Betty Crocker cake). I’ve changed my molds, my baking powder, the oven, the soda heck, I even changed province and failure is never far away. They never EVER rise. I’ve seen sheets of paper thicker than most of my cakes.

And it can get worst. One year, clever me had to make himself a birthday cake. Everything went alright till the point I noticed that I had been cooking the cake for 10-20 minutes but I had forgotten to put the eggs in. Shame, shame, shame.

The odd thing about all that is that I have heard my mom and grandmother curse pie crusts for decades because they can never get it right (of course, they make delicious cakes). I don’t think I ever made a pie crust that was less than perfect.

Go figure.

Christine August 16, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I posted about my kitchen flops here:

I know it’s not always the nicest thing, but I find it quite entertaining to read about other’s kitchen flops when they are looked back at with good humour. So thanks for posting about this and I’m looking forward to reading about everyone else’s misadventures!

Jeannie August 17, 2010 at 12:22 am

Beautiful post! I posted about mine too!

Thanks for doing this, Lauren!

Valérie August 17, 2010 at 6:34 am

This was fun to read! Disasters… oh, I’ve had more than I can count. The baked Alaska that melted in the oven, the brownies that overflowed from the pan, started burning and set off the smoke alarm, the steamed pudding whose crust never set, and batches upon batches of disastrous macarons. But yeah, I usually laugh them off and try again!

Julie @ Willow Bird Baking August 17, 2010 at 10:46 am

Love this post, Lauren — especially the foam pie :) Thanks for organizing this!

edomommie August 17, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Oh my! That pie looks more like melted ice cream than pie. Reminds me of the time when I was making a Tunnel of Fudge cake and used a wrong ingredient. It came out weird. Cooked in a bundt pan, there was a perfect ring of the most wonderful chewy brownie stuck around the top outside edge of the pan. The rest was like regular chocolate cake, but only a couple of inches high. Everyone wanted to know where the rest of the cake went. Well…it ended up all over the bottom of the oven. It had boil out the pan!

Gail August 17, 2010 at 2:00 pm

This is such a great post, Lauren. If it weren’t for our disasters, we wouldn’t learn, right? And if it weren’t for you, I would never have thought of this kind of post.
I still love your foam pie photo. It makes me smile because it’s sitting so beautifully in all its flop glory. Power to the flop!

Debbie August 17, 2010 at 5:53 pm

This is too funny and very refreshing to see the flops! I am very impressed with your blog. My boys will never let me forget the failed goldfish crackers and I still can’t figure out how I turned an entire pan of uncooked muffins upside in my hot oven! Disaster! I look forward to visiting again soon.

Hannah August 17, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Lauren, I love this post. I’ve had quite a few kitchen flops – I was making muffins once, and I added 3/4 cups of oil instead of 1/4. Ick! Oh! And one time I made granola and used salted butter, salted sunflower seeds and added salt. I had to spit it out!

Uncle Hannah August 17, 2010 at 11:18 pm

I hear you!

I can’t even remember the tons of flops I’ve had. I’ve been flopping since I was a pre-teen, at least. I remember making smoothies in different colors and then pouring them into cookie cutters and freezing them. That wasn’t that great of an idea…boring and kinda icky-tasting. Some ideas sound like fun but in the execution something is lost.

I often make substitutions because I bake gluten and dairy free and I’m often too impatient or don’t have all the right ingredients. I made some gluten-free sugar cookies that were decent texture-wise but my sister said they tasted like meat! (WTF)…

Anyway, thanks for sharing!

Janna M August 18, 2010 at 10:50 am

What a wonderful post! I’ve had so many flops but only a few that I’ve documented with photos. You’ve inspired me to write about them.

Shawn August 18, 2010 at 11:55 am

Haha! I love looking back on the flops and having a good chuckle. One of my first attempts at Asian food (a simple sweet and sour chicken recipe) turned into an oddly clear, generally bland-tasting goop. ( And then there was the one time that I tried to make a bunch of brownie-cakes for Christmas gifts and somehow managed to forget about them while they were in the oven. An hour and a half later, I happened to see a commercial for ice cream being served over a brownie. “OH NO! THE BROWNIES!” I screamed and ran to the kitchen. They’d become little more than rock-hard black bricks at that point. :/

That said, the flops are certainly part of the cooking process. It’s because of the flops that we can really appreciate the amazing meals! 😀

Jenny August 18, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I made this really great chicken + pesto pizza with big slices of tomato and mozzarella cheese on a freshly made whole wheat flour crust. Well, since my pan is close to ancient I decided to line it with foil as I was out of parchment paper.

Well, the pizza stuck to the foil and I had to scrap it all of with a spatula. I still tried to eat most of it (see: pour college student) but I would find scraps of foil in my pizza-mush during those attempts.

Oh, well! Lesson learned!

@laurenlankford August 20, 2010 at 7:32 am

hey lady. man this blog is fantastic. i’ll be sending it around to all my GF friends.

just wanted to stop by and thank you for being part of love bomb. <3

– lauren

Alta August 26, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I’ve had my fair share of flops, especially when it comes to gluten-free baking! I had a soupy “cream” pie I made for Mother’s Day! I mentioned my disgusting steak and kidney pie from Daring Bakers a few months back. And it took me two fails before I successfully pulled off croquembouche. I made brownies last night that were goo in the middle. Whoops. I made angel food cake with my daughter, and subbed coconut flour as one of the gluten-free flours, only to have an off-tasting, rubbery cake. Gross. It’s great that we keep trying, and accept that these failures are a part of learning! It’s just tough if we have a few days in a row of failures – then digging out of the “slump” seems more difficult!

Em August 28, 2010 at 2:48 am

Kiwi fruit has something in it that means it won’t set – in anything! When I was little I used to put fruit in jelly (er, jello?) and let it set, but kiwi would leave the jelly in a horrid mush. Poor kiwis. They should come with a disclaimer.

I’m browsing this post as my banana and walnut loaf burns in the oven – whilst still being raw in the middle. Go figure :/

Dee D. January 16, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Aww lauren, it happens to the best of us :/ I bet the chiffon pie still tasted great :) Oh just to let you know: Most tropical fruits(kiwi, maybe pineapple and maybe mango?) have bromelin an enzyme that counter acts the gelatins effects.

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