April fools in the kitchen: our 10th annual salute to test kitchen blunders, bloopers and disasters

Baking mistakes: we all make them. Even the (well)-seasoned bakers in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen endure their share of mishaps, from burned cookies to collapsed cakes to “soup” pies (you’ve made one of those, right?).

The thing is, when you make a mistake at home, it ranges anywhere from mildly irritating to disastrous. But when we make them here at King Arthur, it can be cause for celebration. Because failure means we’ve learned what NOT to do with any particular recipe — and we can pass that knowledge along to you.

It all simmers down to this: We make every baking mistake possible, so you don’t have to.

#AprilFools! King Arthur Flour reveals their test kitchen baking fails and fiascos. Click To Tweet

Join us now as we share some of our favorite “Uh-oh” moments from the past year.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Yeast dough no-no’s

Yeast dough often has a mind of its own, doesn’t it? In this case, we were testing a baking pan using a recipe for very wet dough that we suspected would exceed the pan’s capacity.

Spectacular success! We proved it: that particular recipe won’t fit in this particular pan.

Speaking of robust growth —

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

This is your dough. This is your dough during bulk fermentation. Grow, dough, grow!

Luckily, it was in a very very very large plastic tub.April Fools via @kingarthurflour

We often label our experiments using a felt pen on parchment. A “permanent” marker. Turns out that yeast dough, when it rises and spreads onto its ink label, will in fact pick up the ink and imprint itself.

Cool! There’s no mistaking that this loaf had “0 rise.”April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Now, here’s a REAL disaster. Bad words were said, I admit. After spending five days growing a new sourdough starter from scratch, I was giving it one last feed/rise inside my turned-off oven, where the starter can stay relatively warm, free from drafts, and protected.

Protected from everything but my forgetfulness. I was baking cookies, and turned the oven to 350°F to preheat, forgetting about my 5-day-old starter.

The result? Well, as you can see, it wasn’t a happy, bubbly sourdough starter! Think wad of crusty, baked-on sludge.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Collateral damage: I had a Thermapen digital thermometer in the oven as well, monitoring ambient temperature as the starter grew.

Thermapen + 350°F = thermal death knell.

While a 350°F oven can kill a thermometer, it takes a lot more heat to wreck a pizza.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Like the 1200°F temperature in our Baking School’s brick oven. We managed to burn pizza — easily, thoroughly, and almost irreparably — by sticking it into the oven and forgetting about it for a few minutes.

Hey, we did manage to salvage the middle.   April Fools via @kingarthurflour

But the crust? Well, if “charcoal” speaks to you, you’d have loved this onion and olive pie.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Year of the Bundt boo-boos

2017 is our Year of the Bundt, and a lot moving and shaking on the cake-baking front took place in our test kitchens over the past nine months. One of our main issues — just as it is with you, from all reports — is Bundt cake sticking in the pan.

Some cakes stuck just a little — oh, so close to a perfect Bundt!

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Some cakes stuck a lot.April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Some cakes came out great — if you don’t care about any crust. So creamy! So tender!

So… naked.April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Some cakes not only stuck, but crumbled.April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Some didn’t stick — hallelujah — but broke.

Ah, success was just one fault line away for this Chocolate Fudge Bundt Cake!April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Finally, some cakes failed on multiple levels. This experiment added chocolate chips to an early version of our Classic Vanilla Bundt Cake, in order to make chocolate chip Bundt cake.

Physics fact: gravity has its way with chocolate chips in cake batter, just as it does with Newton’s apple.

Baking fact: Adding chocolate chips to thin cake batter will yield the Bundt cake equivalent of a bad hair day: bedraggled on top.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Cake catastrophes

Our focus wasn’t 100% on Bundt cakes this year, though. We managed to mess up all manner of other cakes as well.

Like this Old-Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting. First try at making it gluten-free? Delicious! And super crumbly!

So long as you don’t mind serving it with an ice cream scoop (and you didn’t have an Instagram post in mind), this cake is a hit.April Fools via @kingarthurflour

And then there was that fleeting symbiotic relationship between chocolate cake and marshmallow frosting.

You know, you can’t just leave these cakes alone by themselves. One minute they’re fine, the next they’re self-destructing.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

And it’s Chef Susan for the save! Kind of.April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Nothing could save this Chocolate Lava Cake but a spatula, which we used to scrape up the leaking lava and re-apply it to the crumbled cake.

It wasn’t a pretty picture; Martha Stewart would have been aghast. But hey, beauty is only crust-deep; chocolate is chocolate whatever it looks like, and these cakes are GOOD.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Dessert disasters

The thing about desserts is, they almost all include sugar. And no matter what shape it takes, sugar is simply addictive; even major malfeasance in the dessert department yields something edible.

If not neat. Or pretty. The fragile crust encasing the berry pie above didn’t survive having even one slice removed. So we dumped the pie onto a baking sheet, arrayed a bunch of spoons next to it, and left it with a sign: “Dig in.”

Everybody did.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Um, peace sign gone awry? This started out as Butter-Pecan Kringle. But oh, my! Didn’t I leave 4 eggs out of the second layer of pastry. “Well, maybe I can scrape it off, add the eggs, and smooth it back on…”

Uh, no.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

There’s a reason you pay strict attention while making pastry cream, as I was doing for this Berry Blitz Torte. Combining egg yolks with simmering cream is a two-step process. Now, if you skip the first step and dash right to the second, you can easily produce the result above: scrambled-egg pastry cream, instead of the ultra-smooth, thick cream you get by FOLLOWING THE DIRECTIONS.

I spooned the “cream” onto the bottom cake layer anyway. “Maybe no one will notice.” Right.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Speaking of skipping steps… Yeah, yeah, the Dark Chocolate Eclairs recipe says to let the filling and glaze cool and thicken before using — otherwise they’ll be too thin. Whatever.

As you can see, “whatever” turned out to be one heck of a sticky chocolate mess.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

That’s the way the cookie crumbles

Or spreads, in the case of my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe when I inadvertently add an extra 1/2 cup sugar. (Another reason cookies spread? See this quick tip.)

Been there, done that, right? Cookie puddles are something most of us have experienced.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Sometimes our baking tests focus on tools, rather than recipes. This was a patterned rolling pin test.

Aw, cute! Too bad we couldn’t A) separate the super-soft cookie dough into individual cookies before baking; or B), break the cookies apart into individual bunnies and birds afterwards.

Again, great flavor, but the presentation is… um, lacking.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Breakfast baking busts

Muffins, quick breads, coffeecake — we love our sweet treats at breakfast, don’t we? And we test kitchen bakers test a full breakfast buffet of recipes each year.

One thing you always want to nail with any recipe is how long to bake. For quick breads and muffins, sticking a toothpick into the center is a pretty good way to test doneness.

But with our Famous Department Store Blueberry Muffins, which are absolutely loaded with berries, it’s typical to repeatedly stick your toothpick into a berry — which tells you absolutely nothing about whether or not the muffin surrounding it is fully baked.

Poke, poke, poke, dig, dig… OK, I give up, gimme a spoon; I’m going to get to the bottom of this muffin.

Which I did. Verdict? Not done. Also no longer presentable.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Now, I know I was testing streusel vs. no streusel on this coffeecake. But why I felt obliged to dig three separate “test pits” in the cake, I have no clue.

No worries; though I did compromise the cake’s fresh-baked appearance somewhat, this didn’t prevent our ever-eager taste-testers from making quick work of it once it made it to the “bite and write” counter.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

So, I decided to create a recipe for double-layer filled scones, and I needed to test various fillings, and most of them worked out just fine but my first attempt at cinnamon filling included maybe just a bit too much butter.

Ya think?!

As a matter of fact, I never did quite nail from-scratch cinnamon filling for my Double Decker Filled Scones. Instead, when I want a cinnamon version, I rely on our Baker’s Cinnamon Filling — the guaranteed path to leak-free scones, or cinnamon buns, or cinnamon swirl bread.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Oh… my… goodness! WHAT is up with these banana mini muffins? I still haven’t figured out what caused the cinnamon chips I added to turn into little individual lava-spewing volcanoes.

And there’s nothing I love more than laboriously cleaning baked-on sugar off a mini muffin pan (she says, dripping sarcasm).

But cleanup is part of every baker’s life.

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Whether it’s wiping chocolate off your hands …April Fools via @kingarthurflour

… or deciding the best approach to 5 pounds of white whole wheat flour on the rug.

Note to self: Do NOT carry your flour canister by its snap-on lid unless said lid is indeed fully snapped on!

So, what have we learned this year in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen, after all of our crumbled, collapsed, misshapen, burned, exploded, and otherwise compromised baked goods?

April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Chocolate chip cookies rule! Even when you mess them up.

(What, you were expecting something profound?)

OK, you saw all of our baking snafus — how about sharing some of your own? Reveal your “April fools moments” in comments, below. I’ll never forget the reader who told us about the time she was tossing pizza dough in the air and forgot her overhead fan was on…

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. Lacemaker427

    PJ,
    Your photo of a melted Thermapen was deeply disturbing to me, and not just because of the co$t. I think everyone can claim a similar oops. Now, I take the oven control knobs off (bake & temperature), and everyone in my house now knows not to start the oven without checking. My poor sister melted the set of 3 silicone spatulas due to this type of error, but she wasn’t out any $$$ because they ha been a gift from me! She stashed unwashed dishes in the cold oven planning to wash them later — but later turned into “Melt Day!” Aargh!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      That’s an excellent tactic — it certainly prevents exactly what I did. Thanks for sharing — PJH@KAF

  2. Cyndi

    A bit late for April 1, but enjoyed reading all these mishaps. Sometimes I think it only happens to me but no, plenty to go around. My disaster was a beautiful Martha Stewart pecan pie for thanksgiving dinner at my nephews house. Everyone loves this pie. I’m always trying to perfect the technique and read to pre-heat the oven to 500′ and place the pie in the oven and turn it down right away to 450′ for 15 min then down to 350′ for 30-45 min. The high heat is supposed to “set” the custard. Well, I set it to 450′ and promptly jumped in the shower and kept wondering why I was smelling the pie so soon when I got out. Still didn’t check it thinking I HAD turned it down to 350′ and baked the whole time at 450′. It was charred on top and went empty handed to the dinner. But my husband and I ate the whole pie over the next couple days–just took out forks and spoons and ate it out of the pan. It actually wasn’t too bad. Ha!

    Reply
  3. Diane Perris

    I spent all day a few years ago following a recipe for “flourless chocolate cake” to serve for a dinner party where I was responsible for the dessert. I’m not sure what exactly I did wrong but it came out dry and hard as a brick. So I hacked it into slices, served it with coffee, and called it “biscotti”. Everyone raved about it and had a good laugh a while later when I fessed up.
    Remember, stressed is just “dessert” spelled backwards.

    Reply
  4. Elena

    One time I was making my favorite chia seed scones, but after I ate one when they cooled off, I realized I completely forgot to add the sugar.

    Reply

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