April fools in the kitchen: still foolish after all these years

I’ve been baking at King Arthur Flour for nearly 30 years, and over that time I’ve seen our test kitchen morph from a single oven and about 8 square feet of counter space to multiples of everything, from ovens to mixers to bakers.

We’ve gone from those big, boxy Apple Macintosh computers (I mean, they made iMacs look sleekly modern) to whisper-thin, practically pocket-able laptops. Biggest of all, we’ve jumped the gulf from no internet (that’s right, young’uns, there was no web in 1990) to — well, to our current love affair with all things virtual.

But during all those years, one thing has remained constant: we King Arthur Flour bakers make mistakes — just like most of you do. The difference is, we call them test results: “Oh, we meant for that cake to sink 3″ in the middle so we could assess the hydration of the batter.” Uh-huh.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

And every time the cakes collapse, the biscuits burn, and the popovers poop out, we say — well, never mind what we say. It’s probably similar to what you say.

April fools? Make that fails. Take a peek into the King Arthur Flour test kitchen at our yearly roundup of baking blunders and kitchen disasters. Click To Tweet

Still, there’s always a bright side when baking goes wrong. Soggy pies and crumbled cookies ultimately provoke good-natured ribbing and, in the end, chagrin-inspired smiles.

So in the spirit of sharing the pure joy of baking, I present our 12th annual April Fools’ extravaganza of baking fails. Proving our test kitchen mantra once again: “We make the mistakes so you don’t have to.”

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Let’s start with ganache that goes smash.

Slippery bowl + inattention = WOW: ganache not only on the floor, but into the cutlery drawer, down the side of the cabinet, and splattered all over my clothes and shoes. It’s amazing the messy reach of just 1/3 cup of warm ganache!2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

And then there’s the egg that didn’t quite hit the frying pan. Fellow King Arthur employee-owner Jonathan says, in his typical dry fashion, “This was certainly an unplanned situation.”

Burned into memory

Have you ever put something into the oven and then, in the midst of your usual multitasking, smelled the oh-so-familiar acrid aroma of burning food? Of course you have. And of course we have, too.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Natasha, events and marketing coordinator at our flagship campus in Vermont, writes, “This is a pizza grill fail photo. It’s not the clearest, we were laughing too hard. We were making pizza for a girls’ night, and an impromptu dance party caused us to severely burn it. The outside wasn’t as burnt, and still tasted pretty good – ha!”

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

This wood-fired pizza, on the other hand, was good from the inside out: out about halfway, at any rate, at which point it quickly turned to charcoal.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

“Make sure the filling in your fruit pie is bubbling for at least 5 minutes before taking it out of the oven” — which is why you use parchment. In fact, I was able to peel the burned sugar mess off the parchment and use the paper again.

Does make me wonder, though, if there was any juice at all left in that apple pie.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Speaking of pie, we all love those baked pastry scraps, right? Sprinkle with cinnamon, put in the oven for 10 minutes. Or, in this case, an hour. And no, I promise, those aren’t toasted worms!  2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

These cinnamon rolls didn’t rise. I decided to bake them anyway. I’m sure my subconscious was telling me, “They’re no good, forget about ’em” — because I did. For about 2 hours.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

My fellow blogger and recipe maven Kye is one of the most careful bakers I know. But sometimes even she falls prey to that deadly combination: multitasking, memory loss, and maple meringues.

Calamitous collapses

What goes up … sometimes comes down. Or occasionally never goes up at all. Ah, the vagaries of rising!

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

You carefully pull popovers out of the oven, admiring their absolutely perfect pop. One problem: they’re clinging like barnacles to the pan. A gentle tug with your fingertips yields cement-like resistance. Sweeping a thin knife around the edge of each one is likewise ineffective.

So what do you do? Grip and rip! What the heck, they still taste good.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Here’s some salt-rising bread that didn’t get the memo. “Salt-rising” — what part of rising don’t you understand? Says Laurie, a shift leader on our customer support team, “It smelled like a stinky locker room, too!”

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

This yeast loaf obediently did its thing in the oven, rising to great heights. And then, once it was turned out of its pan, it quietly settled into a more “comfortable” position. But all wasn’t lost: the crows out in the yard loved it.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Oh, that rambunctious sourdough starter!

Martina, a member of our Bakers’ Hotline team, says, “This is a photo of my from scratch sourdough starter that had a mind of its own on day 4. I had started the feeding and after just 2 hours it was nearing the top of the jar which normally holds this amount of starter no problem. I was concerned about the 6-8 hours more it had to go while I was gone for the afternoon so I placed it in the bowl.

“I was thankful that I did because the starter as you can see continued to grow and overflow the jar. After a cleaning and another feeding the starter stayed in the jar for every feeding!”

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Jef, a business analyst on our flour sales team, says, “This flatbread was supposed to be a sourdough boule, but I accidentally mixed it with 100% hydration. I decided to just go with it to see what would happen. Flatbread happened. I ended up hollowing it out and making a sandwich.”

Love it, Jef — looks like you’ve discovered a new formula for “hearty pita.”

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

And then there was that chiffon cake that… well, what do you think was the issue here? It rose waaay up … and then fell totally flat. Egg whites can only take you so far; I’m guessing someone neglected to add the flour. Key ingredient, that!2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

This is what happens when you make a filled Bundt cake but forget the baking powder. I don’t know which was denser, me or the cake.

It’s what’s inside that counts

How do you know when your cake is done? What about quick bread? You stick a toothpick into the center, it comes out fairly clean and Bob’s your uncle, right?

Um, not always.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

“Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.” Never more so than with underbaked banana bread.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Novel new approach: quick bread that automatically offloads its center so it’s easier to test for doneness. Yup: no wet crumbs inside. Perfect!

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

Julie, a member of our marketing team, writes, “This was my brother’s (requested) birthday carrot cake. The cake tester came out clean, twice, but after the cake cooled, and I was frosting it the next day — I discovered the center was not baked at all, complete mush. So I scooped out the center … Ta da! Crater cake or maybe a doughnut cake. It looked TERRIBLE! I know I added way too many extras (raisins, walnuts, pineapple, coconut) and not enough flour to support it, and it should have baked longer … Grrr, what a mess … But what was baked tasted great, according to my bro!”

Hey, so long as there’s still enough left to stick a few candles in, right?

And in the end…

The cake you bake is equal to the mess you make. (My apologies to The Beatles.) Everything we bake in the test kitchen eventually makes its way to the employee kitchen where — success or failure — it disappears in record time.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

I mean really, how can you ever go wrong with chocolate? I can only imagine the Friday afternoon feeding frenzy that left a perfectly good cake pan cake with whipped ganache looking like this.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

There’s the round peg in the square hole. And then there’s the square pizza in the round pan. Why was this perfectly nice round pizza cut into squares? Only the perpetrator knows…

Bonus bungles: a dozen all-star disasters

Since this post marks a dozen years of shared kitchen faux-pas, it feels like a good time to go back through the best (worst?) from our pitfall-filled past.

So without further ado, here are my favorite fails.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour 2008-2009: How to (not) plan ahead

Sometimes the horn of plenty becomes the horn of too much.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour 2010: Sticky situations

Fellow blogger and Sift food editor Susan Reid tries to resurrect a baked pancake (left). But, like the busted brotform loaf on the right, sometimes redemption just isn’t in the cards!

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour 2011: Drip and rip

How crisp do you like your waffles? Just a little bit crisp? More tender than crisp? How about liquid? And as for these chocolate mini muffins: remember, beauty is only crust deep.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

2012: That sinking feeling

You take the loaf out of the pan and set it on the cooling rack. Perfect! And then it starts to settle…

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour
2013: Sometimes even parchment can’t save you

I recall making this apple tart at our Baking School. I recall the hot pan slipping out of my hand. OF COURSE it landed upside down.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour2014: Meltdown

Did I mention how hot it can get in the test kitchen? There you are, iPhone in hand trying to take a picture and — wait! Stop!

And now you know why professional food photographers substitute shaving cream for whipped cream and mashed potatoes for ice cream.2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

2015:  Bread gone wrong. Way wrong.

In 2015 we asked for reader submissions. Boy, did you come through! Starting at the upper left and traveling clockwise, here’s what’s happening:

Jenn: I guess it rose a little too much before going in the oven. LOL, at least I had the foresight to put it on a pan (I usually don’t)!

Katherine: We just knew we didn’t use enough flour, yet somehow we just tried to roll with it anyhow. This is supposed to be cinnamon swirl bread. Clearly, an epic fail!

Paula: I don’t even remember what happened, but it’s likely that I used the microwave as my “proof box” with hot water in the bowl… Lucy!

MJ: This is why we call it the test kitchen!

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour
2016: Slow burn

These apple-cinnamon streusel muffins spent 3 hours in a 350°F oven. ‘Nuf said.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour
2017: Slip sliding away

We all gazed, howling, as these chocolate cake layers ever so gradually slid sideways. It was like watching a slo-mo earthquake.

2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour
2018: ‘Tis a mystery

This “creation” appeared on the counter in the test kitchen one day. No one ever ‘fessed up to being the author of whatever recipe spawned it. My first thought is steamed pudding gone wrong, but that’s probably the nicest thing you can say about its appearance.2019 April Fools via @kingarthurflour

I have to finish up with this cake from 2010, which I remember so well. Tender cake, warm ganache, peanut butter — what was I thinking? I skewered, I propped, I shored up and, in the end, gravity had its way.

I’m a casual cake baker, more “If it tastes good, who cares?” than “Oooohhh, isn’t that BEAUTIFUL!” This cake is pure ugly duckling. But like the duckling who turns into a swan, Peanut Butter-Fudge Buckeye Cake, despite the enormous fail of this version, is about as delicious a cake as you could ever put on the dessert table.

Be sure to share your funniest baking fails in comments, below. I think my favorite story of all time is from the customer who wrote to tell about tossing pizza dough in the air and forgetting about the ceiling fan twirling overhead. I’ll bet she’s still finding bits of ossified dough around the kitchen!

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. Ruth Swasey

    In about year three of marriage I decided to attempt a lemon meringue pie as dessert for company that night. I had my recipe at hand, all the ingredients, ready to bake! I knew what the filling was supposed to look like so I forged ahead. Not bothering to read the full recipe ahead of time I thought the filling was yellow from the lemon juice. I added the prescribed amount, not yellow enough, more lemon juice and so on until I finally decided that was enough and it would be a colorless pie. I did finally add the egg yolks and got the proper yellow. I baked it, it was lovely to behold however the proof was in the eating! SOUR with a capital S. We ate what we could of it and all had a big chuckle. I still make that pie, 40 years later, from the same recipe and everyone always loves it.

    Reply
  2. Julie in NH

    Fresh out of college in my first apartment in Boston, I decided to bake an apple pie, carefully following the recipe. After it was in the oven for a while and starting to smell good, I checked it out and it seemed to be growing higher and wider. Checked again in a few minutes and it was even bigger. Another check and the crust was bubbling up and flowing over the sides! I was beginning to think that it would fill up the oven and force the door open like I saw in a 3 Stooges episode!

    But I persisted and trimmed off the excess and let it finish baking. Tasted good, but the crust was more than a little cake-like. What was the problem? I had inadvertently purchased self-rising flour – something I had never heard of before. Not mistake I’ve ever repeated in the last 45 years.

    Reply
  3. Cheryl

    This article makes me feel so much better!! But you just have to take a deep breath and then laugh! Thanks for posting.

    Reply
  4. Karen Bartholoma

    I love this!!! As a fledgling baker, at the ripe old age of 70, I feel very lucky. These messes are worse than mine were. Thank you, then you. What a great laugh!!!!

    Reply
  5. Judith M Loebel

    One of my first forays into bread was back in the 70’s, when no one had heard of artisan or craft flours. So when I decided to bake rye bread off I went to the Health Food Store, where I was.told I could get whatever I needed. I asked for — well, I THINK I asked for— caraway seedz FOR rye. What I GOT were rye kernals. I happily mixed and stirred and proofed and baked— and as long as you ate AROUND the little boulders of rye SEEDS— it tasted fine!!!

    Reply
  6. Gram Jan

    Made a flourless cake, with limited directions, to serve at our friends’ gathering. But it fell into pieces when I turned it out of the pan. I’m yelling a little and my husband came out to see what happened. As I tried to put the pieces together, husband tried to be helpful and supportive, suggesting that frosting would hold it all together. Well, that wasn’t the case, but I took it to our gathering and served it anyway with whipped cream. Not a good looking cake, but it tasted great! At least I could laugh at it all the next day!

    Reply
  7. KEN DODD

    Back in 1976 my sister gave me the famous amos cookie recipie insted of 2 cubes of butter she wrote 2 C NEEDLESS TO SAY THE SMOKE ALARM SAID THEY WERE DONE WHAT A MESS

    Reply
  8. Miss Tori

    I was making a cake for a church pot luck that I wanted to decorate to match the Cowboy theme. I used a chocolate cake recipe similar to what you can find on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa powder can. I’m at an elevation of 4790′. Using a 9×13 aluminum can pan, filled half way, the batter overflowed the pan. I cleaned up as much as I could, but kept baking, wanting to try to salvage it, while smoke poured from my oven. I had to remove the batteries from my blaring smoke detectors! Finally, once the cake was finished, and I leveled it, I tasted a bit of the scraps, and it was horrible! Tasted very smoky! And not in a good way! I had to toss out that cake and bake another one the next day. My house smelled like smoke for a week, despite keeping windows and door open to air it out. I have since found a chocolate cake recipe that works well at my elevation.

    Reply

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