(April) fools in the King Arthur test kitchen

So, what, you think it’s smooth sailing every day here in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen? Like, every cake turns out of the pan without shedding a crumb—let alone a chunk the size of Minnesota? That whole wheat bread rises like a charm? That melted chocolate NEVER seizes up, and ALWAYS dries shiny?

Trust me; we have disasters just like you. And if you never ever EVER have a kitchen disaster, give me a call—we’ll keep your name on file for the next time one of us King Arthur test kitchen habitués finally gives up the ghost and disappears (along with the smoke generated by an overflowing cherry pie in the oven).

In honor of April Fools’ Day, I’ve rustled together photos of some of our latest projects. Yes, we’re happy to be fools in the kitchen, if it means saving YOU from making these same mistakes!

Andrea, this buttercream looks like it might be too much for the bowl. I think it’s, like, getting pretty fluffy. Andrea, you’d better come look at this. Uh, Andrea, do you want me to turn this mixer off, or are you conducting an experiment in the physics of fat and sugar…?
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WHOA, ANDREA!!!!

Part of my job is to test recipes coming in “over the transom,” e.g., recipes from other companies we partner with in one way or another. Sometimes the recipes aren’t too good about specifying pan size. Or sometimes they DO specify pan size, and I think to myself, “Hmmmm, I really don’t think that’s going to work…” But in the interest of a fair test, I use the questionable pan anyway.

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And end up with the Chocolate Cheesecake That Ate Manhattan.

I wonder if this pan is big enough to boil sugar syrup. It’s my favorite pan; it’s the only non-stick one we have. I’d sure love to use it for this gooey syrup, because whatever pan I use, it’s going to be a bear to clean up….

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Yup. It was a bear to clean up, all right.

Sue and Monte spend a lot of their time developing new mixes. Part of the process is to constantly test what’s already available out in the marketplace; we want to make SURE King Arthur mixes are always the best. This competitor loaf was… well, let’s call it enthusiastic. img_1476.JPG
Don’t think it would make the best PB &J in the world, but it was fun to watch its antics in the oven.

Ah yes, one of my favorite labor-saving practices. Late for a meeting, trying to save time by squeezing too many cookies onto the pan…

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…and there you have it: molasses sheet cookies.

Theme of the day: packing and shipping cookies. You know, to kids in college, your mom, that kind of thing. Brilliant idea: empty Pringles cans! Brilliant idea: a tablespoon cookie scoop, to make the PERFECT size cookie to fit in said Pringles cans!

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Brilliant idea: didn’t work! Cookies 1/16” too wide!

I’m tired of blah cinnamon bread with just some skimpy little swirl of cinnamon. How about a really lusty bread, a cinnamon-lovers’ dream, with a really thick layer of brown sugar and cinnamon and vanilla. Sounds great!

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Looks awful! Somebody please get this poor loaf some support garments…

Not content to give up on my sugar and cinnamon and vanilla quest, I thought I’d give it a try in toaster pastries. Never mind that thin, bland layer of filling you get in store-bought pastries; let’s make a really over-the-top tart stuffed with brown sugar and cinnamon and yeah, a little cornstarch to keep it from bubbling out…

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Awwwwww…… rats. I can truthfully say, though, this was one delicious disaster!

Happy April 1. Have you been a “fool” in the kitchen? Post a comment and share.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Ken Tepe

    I am new to baking bread, and this may be a classical “newby” question. I am mixing and usually kneading using a stand mixer (and I recently ordered a Kitchenaid 575 watt to get more power), but I find that every time I use it the dough wraps itself around the paddle or dough hook and just goes round and round. I scrape it down and add more flour (although I’m following the recipe exactly), and the dough is less sticky but still wraps around the dough hook and often doesn’t even contact the added flour on the sides of the bowl. I finally drag it out of the bowl and do the best I can to knead it by hand, but I think this is the reason my breads come out too dense. Please advise!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Hi, Ken. The dough wrapping around the hook is exactly what is supposed to happen. Adding more flour is what is making your dough too dense. Depending on the style of bread being made, the more loose the dough is (floppy, slack, there are a lot of adjectives to describe this) the lighter the bread and the faster it will rise. Too much flour takes water away from the yeast, and without enough water it can’t grow as it should. Don’t mistake more mixing for better results 🙂

      I suggest you try a no-knead bread once, just to get the feel for wetter dough. The gluten in the dough will develop without any kneading at all. Water, flour and yeast will take care of themselves with just a little mixing and some time. I hope this helps, but if you have any other questions, just give the hotline a call. Susan

  2. Mike Cassidy

    Carla LaPierre reminded me of an incident in the dim past, around 1950. I was in first grade, living in Norfolk VA. My mother decided to make a peach pie, and we were all looking forward to it. Dessert- time came, and as we began to eat, the pie got hotter and hotter. Turns out, the little tin of cinnamon contained cayenne pepper instead.
    This was in the days before lawsuits over this sort of thing, so my college education wasn’t assured. We just got our money back, or maybe a new can of cinnamon.

    – mjc, Oakland, CA

    Reply
  3. Alton Ryder

    Years ago we bought two piglets each spring; if we had stale bread, it went to the pigs.
    I tried making bagels with wheat berries, and the bagels were inedible, so I took the bagels to the pigs.
    The pigs wouldn’t eat them – a devastating appraisal.

    Hmmm… Bet you didn’t try that again, Alton. The director of our Baking Education Center, Susan Miller, tells us about the time she and a friend were living “in the wild,” and cooked buckwheat groats to eat. She said the groundhogs that lived around their camp (and even ate wood) would NOT touch those buckwheat groats. Guess they’re right up there with wheatberry bagels… 🙂 PJH

    Reply
  4. Jim

    This is a very late post, and though I’ve had my share of disasters… one my mother shared is the best, and i’ve never felt bad for a disaster. Just married and company over and a fresh cherry pie in the oven. When she was ready to serve, she realized she’s used Queen Ann Cherries…not pitted!

    Reply
  5. Heather

    I know this is an old post, but I just wanted to say THANK YOU! I had a full day of cooking / baking disasters on Sunday, and it gives me hope that experienced cooks also have their share. My biggest continued failure is sourdough bread. I just can’t get it right – store bought or homemade starter, I end up with a brick. I’m going to try the King Arthur starter, once I get my nerve up to try again!

    Reply
  6. Nicole

    Ah, yes cooking disasters, heres one…We were new to the neighborhood and it was Thanksgiving, we were cooking the turkey in the lovely old wall oven when a fire broke out inside, we had to call the fire department out and worse, we had to finish the turkey in the microwave. It was a little rubbery, but we ate it lol. We didn’t have too many friends on our street after that.

    Reply
  7. Joel

    You can add me to the “Lemon Meringue Soup” list. 🙂 I’ve also generated the same variety of pie disaster with a failed attempt at chocolate pie. I have to say that the Cayenne Apple Cake sounds interesting, with a little work you might make that into a truly tasty desert.

    Reply

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