Flops Happen: A Chronicle of My Kitchen Failures

by Julie Ruble on August 16, 2010 · 65 comments

I tilted my head, hoping that it might help me understand why the chocolate cupcake batter sitting in front of me had the consistency of muddy water. Head tilting doesn’t seem to increase the comprehension of the dogs of the world (even if they really, really tilt) and sure enough, it didn’t work for me either. I just didn’t get it. I’d completed the whole recipe correctly — carefully measured, included all of the ingredients, mixed the appropriate amount of time. But still, the bowl in front of me was full of a batter that might have been dredged up from the bottom of the Mississippi.

With considerable misgivings, I poured some of the glop into each little cupcake paper. Maybe magic would happen in the oven?

Or maybe Mt. freaking Vesuvius would erupt in the oven, complete with a fiery, chocolate lava flow. Yeah.

The batter burned in sticky mounds all over the surface of the pan, the middle of the cupcakes inexplicably caved, and I was left with some sort of sculptural oddity that, while mildly fascinating, would probably get me kicked off of Work of Art.


The photograph’s not distorted. The cupcake is.

This kind of volcanic eruption of doom always seems to happen when the dessert is for a really special occasion, usually one replete with strangers tasting your food for the first time after hearing so much about your fancy blog. You know, when it matters.

In this case, I had only a few hours to pull up my bootstraps, find another recipe that conveniently didn’t use the ingredients I was now out of, and make it happen. “It” being a fabulous cupcake recipe I’ll post later this week.


Ferrero Rocher Cupcake Catastrophe.

When folks ask if I have kitchen flops, it’d be fun to look at them quizzically (maybe with a head tilt) and say something along the lines of, “You mean sometimes recipes don’t work for you? That’s odd.” But in the interest of keepin’ it real and fulfilling the mission of this blog (to inspire kitchen confidence in home cooks), I have to tell you — flops happen.

Often.


Thanksgiving pie — er, soup.

My Thanksgiving Coconut Cream Pie was Coconut Cream Soup. Same with the Thanksgiving Chocolate Pie. My pie pockets disintegrated. The meringue on my coconut cake was toasted in stripes that made it look like it had recently escaped from dessert prison. My pink poured fondant glopped up and made most of my kitchen surfaces look like they’d been finger-painted with Pepto Bismol. I forgot the leavener in my first batch of Ferrero Rocher Cupcakes and ended up with Ferrero Rocher Hockey Pucks. My chicken and dumplings cooked too long, and I kept adding stock to replenish the liquid — ever eaten a block of salt? My first Red Berry Pie was a blood-red, runny mess that vaguely resembled a crime scene. And my pumpkin ravioli — oh my goodness, did you read about my pumpkin ravioli?!


Pie crust or pie dust?

Maybe the possibility of failure seems like a deterrent to you. Why spend time, energy, and ingredients on something that might fail? In actuality, though, flops should encourage you, and here’s why: much of what I’ve learned in the kitchen, I’ve learned from flops. That’s why when lovely Lauren of Celiac Teen suggested we share our flops, I jumped on board the self-humiliation train.

When a recipe fails, especially when it matters, you have to be resourceful. My pie filling is ruined, but can I fill the crust with something else? My pie crust is ruined, but can the filling double as an ice cream topping? My cake is wobbly, but can I tear it up and make cake balls? My croissants are pale and ugly, but can I shred them and make a caramel croissant bread pudding? My macarons don’t have feet, but can I use them as a crunchy sundae topping? My cupcakes imploded, but can they double as doorstops? (okay, that one isn’t very helpful.)

This kind of thinking is what chefs do. The more you’re able to turn things around and put something fantastic on the table despite your difficulties, the more confident you’ll become that there really are no kitchen failures: just kitchen detours.


Coconut Cake Convict

Flops also force you to start over. The repetition of a recipe is always enlightening for me. When I have to remake a pie crust from scratch, I realize that I’m growing: I know the amount of flour by heart, I refrigerate my cubed butter reflexively, I’m a little more savvy about rolling out the dough. The more recipes you try, the more you learn — so it stands to reason that having to try the same recipe twice in one go can be an informative experience.


The runny pie massacre.

Finally, flops help you keep perspective. So much of our personal misery comes from seeking perfection in the wrong things. We want our houses to be perfectly clean, our kids perfectly behaved, our hair perfectly coiffed, our croquembouche perfectly . . . bouched. We need the perfect pair of jeans, the perfect car, the perfect body. The truth is, sometimes the fun is in the sloppy details. Cooking isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s supposed to be an experience, a process, and something to share. And sometimes sharing the flops is just as fun as sharing the fancy stuff.

Now, how about you? What are your favorite kitchen flops?

To see other bloggers’ favorite flops, check out the links on Lauren’s Kitchen Flops and Disasters post.

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{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen August 16, 2010 at 2:35 pm

These look so familiar… like something that has happened in my kitchen time and time again!

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Thanks for letting me know it happens to the best, Kristen ;) Flops are just part of the process!

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Angie Chamorro August 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Hi! I am visiting for the first time and I am enjoying your post. I my post yesterday was about a chocolate tart that has intimidated me for 2 years. I finally tried and although not perfect, it came out good. I was afraid of the flop. But no more.

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Angie, I love this story! A perfect example of why you shouldn’t fear the flop ;) And your tart came out just gorgeous!

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Wawa August 16, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I have made so many runny crime scene pies that I can’t even remember all of them – and yet every single one got eaten! Flops are so subjective – half the time I think something is a total failure because it’s not what I pictured, but my family will still rave over it or it ends up giving me some great new idea. Cooking has definitely taught me to be more flexible and forgiving to myself. Gotta love kitchen therapy.

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Totally agree, Wawa!

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Meg August 16, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I made it a goal of mine to make Tiramisu from scratch this summer. My first and only attempt thus far stopped when my lady fingers came out of the oven. I knew when I put them in the dough was too thin, but when they came out they were flat, crepe like fingers. Definitely not the LADY fingers I had hoped for. I have yet to try again due to lack of time, but am definitely planning to!

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Aw! Sometimes I feel like you just have to walk away for awhile before trying again!

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Lauren August 16, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Julie, I’ve had cupcakes that looked exactly like yours! Slumped, with that exact texture. I loved reading all about your flops – you described them beautifully :). Thank you so much for joining in!

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Thanks, Lauren! Such a fun topic.

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Towanda August 16, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Ooooh, I just experienced this yesterday. I attempted to make beignets and let’s just say I’m happy my girls are too young to know what they were supposed to look like, :-)

Thanks for showing me that even the best have mishaps.

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm

I love it, Towanda! It’s PERFECT when your audience doesn’t know exactly how a certain dish is supposed to turn out . . . ;)

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Gail Dosik August 16, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I think we’ve all had kitchen disasters of one sort or another. Glad we’re all in good company.

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

So true, Gail!

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Sue August 16, 2010 at 4:44 pm

My blog post would be way too long, and many involve macarons(no photo, straight to the garbage)! Thanks for sharing…now I’m certain that it happens to the BEST of us:)

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Oh, goodness, macarons are so floppable! ;)

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Kaitlin August 16, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Great post! I especially like the last paragraph.

Oh, and when I have cupcake flops like the one you posted, I just pretend that I did it on purpose and fill the little crater with frosting. No one has to know…..

I make so many mistakes in the kitchen. Just today I made a cake that sunk like CRAZY in the middle. But I think I can salvage it. Hopefully. If not, at least the scraps taste good!

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 9:24 pm

I love the cover-up possibilities! Cooking almost becomes more fun when you have to figure out how to make a “fail” look like a “win” — ALMOST. ;)

Thanks, Kaitlin! Good luck with your cake!

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Anna Johnston August 16, 2010 at 7:06 pm

My brother & I are both chefs, we did our training together, in fact – we both worked at the National Convention Centre here in Oz. He is a gifted desserts chef, he can whip up a creme brulee blindfolded, but I never did manage to get those bad boys come out just right ‘every time’ (I can still see the dozens of failures all lined up on the benches with my Exec. Chef glaring at me (insert shudder here :) Let me tell you ladies, its failing on a grand scale if you work in functions!!!!! But, I eventually did master those wretched little sukka’s :)
Failures really are part of the journey to becoming a great cook, its a fact & many a new recipe invented are a result of someone’s failures.
Enjoyed your post so much….
Cheers Anna

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm

So true, Anna, so true! I can only imagine how cringe-worthy it’d be if tons of people were counting on your dish!

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Julie M. August 16, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Thanks for sharing these! It’s hard to show your missteps. Lord knows we’ve all had them. Heck, the pie I’m going to put up later this week was actually supposed to be a tart, but when I put the fruit on top and it sank to the bottom of the pie and disappeared, I knew I had a problem. Enter in the “cream” pie.

Great post that reminds all that it’s about the journey as much as it’s about the results.

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Thanks, Julie! I love seeing how cooks can turn the troubles around!

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Angela August 16, 2010 at 8:01 pm

My flops tend to occur when I leave things to the last minute, you know, when I try to rush things… most memorable flops include DB challenge strudel and macaroons!

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Ha, Angela, I know exactly what you mean! A rush job almost ensures a billion obstacles for me!

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Betty @ scrambled hen fruit August 16, 2010 at 10:09 pm

It’s just a fact of life- if you cook, you will have flops! Everybody does. Most flops are probably still edible if not aesthetically pleasing. One batch of jam I made for gifts last year quickly became ice cream topping when I found that it hadn’t set properly! And cookies that I experimented with recently just puddled on the cookie sheet. (Hubby said they tasted good anyway though.) If I’m learning from my mistakes, I should be brilliant by now!

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Julie August 16, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Ha, so true, Betty!! And so funny!

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Connie August 16, 2010 at 11:23 pm

It’s only a flop if it doesn’t taste good. Looks are subjective ;-) As long as no one is harmed by undercooked ingredients, it’s all fair game.

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Julie August 17, 2010 at 12:08 am

I like that way of thinking, Connie ;)

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Katie August 17, 2010 at 1:39 am

haha!!
i love this.
thanks for making me feel better about myself! :P

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Julie August 17, 2010 at 1:40 am

haha, anytime, Katie :)

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Jules August 17, 2010 at 2:08 am

LOL, last night’s dinner was meant to be some kind of Mexican chicken-rice dish. Of course, I didn’t have a recipe, but I just thought, “Well, how hard can it be?”

This was before I remembered that cooking meat is different from cooking veggies (I’m veg, the boyfriend isn’t). Unfortunately, I didn’t remember that until the chicken was in the pan….

But the meal was still good, even if it looked like something that came out of the wrong end of a cat.

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Julie August 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm

HA, too funny, Jules!

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ovenhaven August 17, 2010 at 2:58 am

Now you’ve proven yourself to be a normal human behind this wonderful blog, Julie! For sure I thought you were some magical baking fairy of sorts :P I love how you’ve referred to them as kitchen detours instead. I shall stick to that the next time I flop :P

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Julie August 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Aw, thanks, love! No baking fairy here . . . sometimes I’m a baking troll, actually ;)

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Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella August 17, 2010 at 7:59 am

Oh great idea! I did one a while back and posted it and everyone was so lovely and understanding about it. I think we sometimes forget that flops happen to everyone! :D

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Julie August 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm

So true, Lorraine!

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Andrea @ Thin Thighs & Sweet Potato Fries August 17, 2010 at 9:00 am

I love the honesty of this post! I also love how you give tips on alternate ways to use your flops to make something else. This is a good point. I know I am the first person to send a cooking mishap straight to the trash. Mainly because I am embarrassed of it and want it out of my sight, but this is very good info.

P.S. Am I the only one who thinks your Ferrero Rochet “catastrophe” looks heavenly?! :)

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Julie August 17, 2010 at 12:09 pm

haha, thanks, Andrea! I’m just gonna go ahead and admit that I DID still eat THOSE flops ;) — I eat most of them!

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KeepItSweet August 17, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Sometimes I like baking flops… if something just doesn’t bake completely it gives me an excuse to keep it for myself and enjoy a slightly gooeyer dessert….

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Julie August 17, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Very true! I love how you find the silver lining :)

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CJ August 17, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I made cupcakes for my sister’s graduation party and the plain, vanilla ones turned out perfectly, and with the buttercream frosting they looked like something out of a magazine.

The chocolate ones? Tripled in size in the oven, but once cooled, they shriveled to half the size. They were the saddest thing ever, and the frosting only helped cover that up until people took a bite.

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Julie August 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Aww! Chocolate does weird things in recipes, alas!

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Maranda August 17, 2010 at 6:24 pm

What a fabulous post!!! It’s true…kitchen disasters happen! I don’t even know if I have any pictures of my flops anymore. I will definitely have to start keeping them to share in future kitchen failure posts. Thanks for sharing!

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Julie August 17, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Thanks, Maranda! They can be so fun to share :)

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Cristina August 17, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Hey Julie! You probably don’t remember me, but I’m Melina’s sister. We’ve met a few times, but I have been a fan of your blogs forever. I’m thinking of starting my own food blog while I learn to cook, but I don’t know where to get started. I’d love to hear your input and maybe we could meet for coffee one day. I work right near a Williams Sonoma too! Thought that might win you over. Hope to hear from you soon. Cristina

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Julie August 17, 2010 at 10:50 pm

OF COURSE I remember you, silly! I’d love to help you get started with cooking and blogging about it :) Maybe we could meet this Friday? Let me know how your schedule looks.

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Cristina August 18, 2010 at 7:26 am

Friday would work perfectly. I’m off all day and the only plans I really have are to go see Eat Pray Love with Melina. I live in Cornelius and I’m about 5 minutes from Birkdale Village, which is where I work. Let me know when and where you’d like to meet. : )

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Julie August 18, 2010 at 10:39 am

Awesome! Maybe we can plan on noonish? What’s in Birkdale? We can meet there!

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Cristina August 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I work at the Barnes and Noble there, so that would work, but there is also the Williams Sonoma and a lot of little clothing shops. Melina also wanted me to invite you to the movies with us that evening. We were planning on going around seven or so. By the way, my email is bright_star89@hotmail.com. It might be easier to chat that way as opposed to clogging up your comment board. : )

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gracelesswonder August 18, 2010 at 1:02 pm

I attempted to make this coconut cake, that called for mixing together cream of coconut and sweetened condensed milk, and pouring over the warm cake. The picture showed a layer cake, and I wanted something pretty for our first get together at our new home. It was way to moist, and came out of the pan in clumps and chunks! I tried to paste it together w/ whipped cream, or form it into a recognizable shape and cover it w/ coconut… not happening. So I cried a little (ok, maybe more than a little) then scooped the whole mess into a trifle bowl and sprinkled it w/ coconut. Looked like a hot mess – but it tasted damn good!

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Julie August 18, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Aw, I have totally been there! It DOES sound like it would taste amazing, though!!

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PJ Mullen August 19, 2010 at 6:08 am

My biggest flop is personally embarassing, as I somehow managed to save the meal – sort of. My now wife was bragging to our friends about my cooking skills and she arranged for me to make them a fancy dinner at my condo. Things were going great, I was doing prep work, they were drinking wine. I got so busy with butchering a tenderloin to stuff it with crawfish and shrimp that I forgot about the bacon rendering on the cooktop. Fire alarm goes off, I run my santoku nearly through my thumb and the girls spend the next thirty minutes waving towels at the fire detector, opening windows and the front door to clear the smoke. After repairing my finger (and my bruised ego) I managed to over cook my stuffed tenderloin. At least the creme brulee turned out ok.

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Julie August 19, 2010 at 1:04 pm

HAHA, aw, PJ, I bet you actually totally made their night. And don’t worry, they can see your blog and KNOW it was just a fluke ;)

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Monica H August 20, 2010 at 2:58 am

I like this post because not all recipes work and even if it is a good recipe, mistake happen. Flops happen :-)

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Julie August 20, 2010 at 9:52 am

Thanks, Monica!

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Emma August 21, 2010 at 9:54 pm

The great advantage of living alone for a while is that you get to spend lots of time experimenting with cooking without anyone else having to suffer. Or even know.

And thanks to that I can pass on the advice that no matter how bored you are of tomato based curries, it is not a good idea to try and base one off gravy.

Just… no. I almost exclusively batch-cook – if something doesn’t taste great, I have to force myself to eat it all week anyway because it’s not like there’re any fresh ingredients until I can go shopping again the following Sunday. It has to be pretty extreme before I can justify just throwing the rest out. But gravy curry? So, so bad.

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Julie August 21, 2010 at 9:59 pm

HAHA, oh no, Emma! So sad and hilarious at the same time — like so many flops ;)

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Annie August 23, 2010 at 9:08 am

I love this post. Mistakes happen – and they can be hilarious! And kudos to you for posting all of your baking disasters – many bloggers never would admit to failure!

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Julie August 23, 2010 at 9:22 am

Thanks, Annie :) Sometimes it’s fun to show the ugly stuff! ha!

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Gordana May 26, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I love this post!!! OMG I messed up like a hundred icing roses and two banana loaves yesterday. So nice to know you feel my pain haha!

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