(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…?

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.

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….

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…

…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!

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!

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…

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

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!


  1. Michelle

    Thank you so much for sharing these photos and stories of your mistakes. It makes those of us who strive to make things at home that look as nice as all of the photos in the catalogs and magazines feel a little better (and a little less incompetent)!

  2. PJ Hamel, post author

    Well, you’ll be seeing a recipe for the toaster pastries next week – soon as I finish figuring out that darned filling!

  3. Kat DeFonce

    Thank God I’m not the only one who makes breads that look like they are on steroids!!! I weekly make bread and baked goods for friends, as well as myself, and it is the standard joke here because of “accidents”. (I do feel better now though.) I must admit though that my mouth watered looking at the toaster pastries and the chocolate cheesecake!

  4. Jenna

    One night we were feeding dinner to some guests. Somehow I burned the meat in the pan & smoke started billowing & the fire alarm started blaring. I thought that I would help move the smoke away from the detector by fanning the air with a box of Special K. The box was not sealed and we had Special K flying EVERYWHERE! The kids were delighted. I was mortified.

  5. PJ Hamel

    Well, Kat, the chocolate cheesecake is on our recipe site: Divine Chocolate Velvet Cheesecake. And the toaster pastries will appear here next Wednesday…

    Jenna, that’s hilarious. Great mental picture – right up there with one of our readers from last December, who told about the time she and her kids decided to toss pizza dough in the air like the pros do, only they forgot the ceiling fan was on… well, you can imagine. All we can do is laugh, right?

  6. Jennifer

    I use to make bread on a weekly schedule due to my son’s food allergy. I generally only have time for one recipe which if I make in the bread machine it’s 2 loaves and if I knead it by hand it’s only one. THe last time I made it I forgot. So I had this bread that nearly engulfed the oven rack above it. Then there was the time I made tradional Irish soda bread camping. I asked one of the guys to turn the dutch oven because I had to do something (the kids I think need me). He forgot until I was coming back. The bottom of the bread was burnt, but the top came out well.

  7. Nancy

    Years ago, I was experimenting with bread baking – always had a problem with getting the bread to rise. I was so upset one day that I
    decided that my bread baking days were at an end and threw the whole
    kit and kaboodle in the trash. The next morning, much to my surprise, the
    bread had risen over night; so much so that the bread was making
    its way out of the cabinet onto the kitchen floor.

  8. elianna

    Wow! The first picture looks something like the chiffon cake we made for easter. Looked done-then as soon as it was inverted there was gooey batter ALL OVER! Thanks for showing us…it’s encouraging!

  9. Sue Dawson

    My worst fiasco (or at least the hardest to clean up) did not involve baking, although I have had plenty of those. It was accidentally spilling a can of pickled beets between the refrigerator and the counter beside it. What a giant pain in the …!

  10. Ana Bessellieu

    I looked at those pictures and laughed and laughed – some of them look like they were taken in MY kitchen – especially the ‘sheet’ cookies….

  11. Lee

    I had made a beautiful lemon meringue pie for a special dinner with friends. Nice thick yellow custard and a high fluffy meringue. When I cut it, I had lemon merinque soup! The custard had completely destabilized. We ate it out of soup bowls. I now know to boil the custard a bit longer to kill off that pesky enzyme but I’ve never heard the end of it. Its heartening to know that the pros have disasters too. Love your recipes.

  12. Claudia

    Wow! I thought I was the only one who had a lemon meringue pie become soup after putting it into the fridge, thinking it was perfect. Thanks for making me feel part of the circle. LOL!

  13. Sandie

    Once I made a French bread that didn’t quite rise enough, and so when it came out of the oven it was pretty much a solid rock. I threw it in the trash, but behind my back, my husband retrieved it. For the next few weeks, I found that thing everywhere. In my purse, under my pillow, it was great fun for him, and incredibly embarrassing for me.

  14. PJ Hamel, post author

    You guys, you’re all cracking me up… It’s not exactly misery loves company – more like the camaraderie of chagrin! Sandie, your husband is EVIL! I love it.

  15. Sue Hoffman

    What fun to read of everyone’s kitchen adventures. I had a number of those as a new bride but that was 53 year ago. I live in an area that has a l-o-n-g winter so this year I decided to perfect my bread baking skills. With the help of King Arthur (I have literally read The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion from cover to cover this winter) I have made major strides. I have learned that patience and gentle handling of the dough are what I lacked in the past. I set the dough to rise in my microwave oven with a 2 cup measuring cup of very hot water – gives warmth and moisture so makes a very good rising environment. I am a very devoted fan of King Arthur products! And your hot line is great.

  16. Linda

    Mine wasn’t my own (though I’ve had a few!). My mom years ago made a pound cake, put it in the oven, and asked me to watch it and remove it when done. I did a cursory check and discovered the cake pouring over the sides of the pan like a volcano erupting. My mother had her regular flour and self-rising flour in identical containers and had accidentally used the self-rising in the recipe. I was scooping burning cake batter off the bottom of the oven when she got home. To say the least, the cake was ruined and the oven required some major cleaning before the next baking project!

  17. Linda

    One of the latest ones I remember was a batch of brownies that appeared done but when I cut them the next morning the middle was too raw for sharing. I cut all the done parts up into portions and took those to work. The middle I put in a convection oven to bake again. I forgot about the twice-baked brownies. When I remembered them, they were hard as bricks but tasted fine–not burned. I put the pieces in the food processor and ground them into brownie crumbs and used them for an additive in other recipes like brownies and cake. The mistake turned into a great add-in–but I wouldn’t want to do it again and hope for such luck!!

  18. Carla Lapierre

    OH my!! HowI laoghed! and remembered… My mother made the most wonderful Applesauce Cake (now my sister & I do), but one time she mixed up the spices… She THOUGHT the cinnamon was a little off color, but she was a bit hurried. Well that was the hottest Apple Sauce cake on earth! She had used cayenne instead.

  19. Sarah

    Numerous kitchen disasters here, but the most recent was not my own- my brother-in-law decided to bake some oatmeal cookies. He is one of those fast-moving guys, and threw in the ‘cinnamon’ without looking too hard.
    The kitchen was soon filled with a rather nauseating scent, and we found out that he’d used CUMIN instead! The 2 spices have the same beginning and ending letter, and that was good enough for him. Those Mexican-flavored cookies were horrid, but he ate them all!

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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!

  23. 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!

  24. 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

  25. 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

  26. 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!

    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

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