Humility, Thy Name Is Baker, HomeBaker
Oh No! %*& $*&%$ It! DISASTER!
After the swearing and the moaning subsides, the “what am I going to do now” stage begins. Baking is as much about perseverance as skill. Catastrophes and disappointments come with the territory, especially if, like me, you experiment and try to do too much in too little time.
Honestly, I don’t know how baking websites and shows do it. Everything they do seems perfect. It’s as if they never had failures! But maybe that’s their magic, not letting us see all the dumped batches in the waste can. There must've been a few along the way, right?
I don’t mind sharing both my failures and re-inventions though. I feel so victorious when I can turn disaster into delectable! I’m no Alton Brown, but hopefully my amateur experiences are helpful for those of us just trying to get those two dozen cookies safely to the bake sale (well, when we used to have those that is)!
Oops, Oh Well!
When something rather, uh, unexpected happens in the kitchen, I try to go straight through denial (the "oh, no that didn't really happen" stage) to acknowledgement and acceptance. It's the best way to get to a solution as quickly as possible. If you stay too long bemoaning the mess on the floor and what should have happened, it will take double that time to figure out an answer. Just accept the tragedy and move on. Yeah, sometimes much easier said than done, I know.
I started early learning about baking calamities. My sweet mom is neither a baker nor a cook, but she tried. However, most every birthday was celebrated with an “earthquake cake”. A heavily frosted concoction designed to try and hide the large crack resembling the San Andreas fault down the middle. I tried to find a picture of one in my old family photos, but they have all mysteriously disappeared…mmm… Anyway, I went with this one (left) from King Arthur Flour Kitchens. Mom did the toothpick thing too. You get the idea.
My personal experience in baking busts started with the Friday night chocolate chip cookies for dad. I've mentioned this a few times in blogs, but you know, those early experiences stick to you like homemade marshmallow fluff (oh, don't get me started there). So many batches ended up looking like the one on the right, a big flat mess! My dad never complained though, just broke off a piece and ate it.
Since then, I’ve learned the advantages of chilling the dough, using real butter and having an oven thermometer. Discovering mise en place, a fancy French phrase for "getting all your ingredients together FIRST and reading the recipe through at least twice BEFORE you start the mixing", has also helped a great deal. Here's a nice, easy to understand blog on mise en place for us bakers. Even with all this hard earned knowledge, however, I still scratch my head at times and wonder, “now how did this happen, and more importantly, how do I fix it?"
The rescues have gone fairly well for the most part. I've been able to re-tool many of my “oopsies” into ohs and ahs. For instance, a dry cake (or cupcakes) can become moist cake pops and a chocolate cardboard-like cookie can be chopped and revamped into fudgy-peanut butter-Oreo-chocolate brittle! Necessity is truly the mother of delicious re-invention. And basically, I’ve found that if you dip anything in chocolate (triple sweet marshmallow drops-see left), you got a hit! Chocolate dip is really my go-to save. Here are some more great rehabs from an experienced baker downunder!
Transportation: The True Bain of Baking
There are also baking disasters that have nothing to do with, well, actually baking.
I'm talking transportation and presentation. Even when the baking comes out right and you think you’re home-free, you can still have the episode of the "flying rainbow frosted cupcakes" in the backseat or the heaped cookie tray that mischievously slides off the cart coming out of the elevator…well you get it…transport can be a b*%$#…bleh!! I’ve learned to better secure goodies in plastic containers then place those in boxes on the floor of the car (or seatbelts if you have to put them on the seat) and only do the attractive presentations (such as stacking cookies in a uniquely pleasant pile) at the final destination. I still fret, however, until the treats are safely placed. Then I back away quickly and get the heck out of there, especially if it's a hot day and the goodies are outside. I don't want to be around when the icing completely slides off the cake (hey, I warned them!).
If All Else Fails, Just Laugh: After All, It's Only Sugar!
Being a home baker definitely takes a sense of humor. For some good natured smiles at someone else’s expense, however, check out these blogs here and here from the King Arthur Flour Kitchens (the chocolate cake and flat cookie pix are from their site too). Hey, if those experts can have bad baking days, I feel sooooooo much better.
Have you had any great baking calamities you don't mind sharing? Feel Free! We’re all in this batter bowl together!