Kitchen disasters redux (and my favorite brownie recipe)

Back in December, I posted a blog detailing some of our King Arthur Flour test kitchen disasters, and invited you to share your own favorite disaster. Herewith is proof that we ALL have disasters–and luckily, most of us can laugh about them afterwards!

From “Brooksiefan,” in Baltimore, MD:

“It was one of those ideas that didn’t work out. It was a hot day. The kids wanted to make pizza. We started talking about the movies and pizza guys in the movies, like Kevin Kline in ‘I 
Love You to Death,’ and we decided if Kevin Kline could toss pizza 
dough we could toss pizza dough. So we gave that a try, forgetting 
that the ceiling fan was on. And then we forgot that pulling the cord doesn’t turn off the fan, it reverses it. You really need to hit the 
switch on the other side of the kitchen to turn it off. After 
cleaning for awhile we decided that the best way to remove pizza dough from the housing of a ceiling fan was to let the dough dry out 
for a couple of days and then turn the fan on and that actually worked. We gave up any ambition we once had of tossing pizza dough, 
and we (and the rest of the neighborhood) laugh about it now.”

From Julia Cole, in Belleville IL: “I loved ‘kitchen disasters’ and it made me feel
 much better to know that you pros mess up now and then too. I started
 baking in high school and had a hungry pack of my younger brother’s 
friends as testers. They put away a lot cakes and cookies. My most 
memorable disaster was not baking–but boiling. I put eggs on and 
forgot the TIMER! I went to read a book and came back to the kitchen 
when I smelled the lovely aroma of burning eggshell. I was just in time
 to see an egg explode and hit the ceiling! All the water had evaporated
 out of my pot and the egg remains were charred to the bottom.

“I’m not 
too proud to admit that I repeated this same disaster with rubber baby 
bottle nipples when my first child was an infant. My reasons for
 neglecting the pot (presumably I was sterilizing the nipples) were 
better with a baby to watch, but the smell of burned rubber is actually
 worse than the smell of burned egg!

“I’ve had many minor disasters, with results not quite what I hoped for. More than once I’ve taken the baked not-so-goodies out of my husband’s 
hands and chucked them in the garbage to start again. I think learning
 to make biscuits is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Those great
 Southern homemakers made them seem so easy–and I’ve baked a lot of hockey pucks. But practice helps … my results are quite edible now.”

Debbie Loeb nominated this “disaster” story (which turned into a yeast bread triumph) from her friend Barbara Crafton: “The humidity didn’t break enough even to think of baking bread until at least five in the afternoon yesterday, and it was not what a person would call a welcome thought, even then. But we were fresh out of bread for toasting in the morning, so it was time.

“I got out the two old measuring cups I always use, and lifted the heavy stand mixer down from the pantry shelf. I checked the expiration date on two packets of yeast and sprinkled their contents over a cup of warm water in the little bowl I always use for softening yeast, setting it aside. I reconstituted some dry milk and boiled a little water, mixing them together with some honey and a bit of salt. I began to add flour to the liquid ingredients. I always enjoy that part: I allow the different kinds of flour to call to me, so that each batch of bread I make is as different from its predecessor as each day is different from each yesterday. Martha Stewart would have just died, but she wasn’t there.

“Whole wheat and rolled oats. No corn meal this time, and no wheat germ. Even a bit of white flour: I try not to be a prig about whole grains, and a little white lightens what can be a very hefty loaf of bread. Around and around went the heavy dough in the metal bowl, lifted and turned and folded in upon itself by the dough hooks. The kneading went on and on, longer than usual, and it became apparent that something was not right: the dough wasn’t its usual wonderful elastic self. It wasn’t stretching and springing back, as it always does.

“Hmmmn….the humidity? Too much whole wheat flour and not enough oats? Did I miss a liquid? I stared at the sullen lump of brown dough, turned to look for more oats, and my eye fell on the softened yeast, still foamy and all but breathing in its special bowl. Oh, no! No wonder the dough was so stolid; it was unleavened. I had inadvertently made a batch of whole wheat matzoh.

“Ah, well. Better late than never, I told myself, and dumped the lovely yeast onto the dough. It quickly formed a pool in the center, making the whole thing look a bit like a volcano. This was ominous, but I turned on the mixer anyway. After some initial splashing, the yeast was incorporated, so that now the dough resembled mud. I added more flour and oats to take up the moisture. Hoping for the best, I covered it with a clean towel and set it to rise.

“All was well in the end. For all it had been through, the dough rose magnificently to the occasion, once in a greased bowl and then again in four loaf pans. So there will be bread for the breakfast toast, bread to take as a hostess gift, bread to freeze for later.

“We’ll make mistakes. The goal is to think through the new situation they present: is there another way that will factor in the new truth which my mistake has brought into being? Can I change gears? Do I have the guts to make a volcano out of a lump of dough and see it through, in the hope that there is still a loaf of bread in there somewhere?

“I did yesterday. Today is a new day, pregnant with a new litter of mistakes. Let’s see where some of them will lead.”

And a late entry from Margaret Cox, via email: “I have learned that when a recipe calls for a certain pan size, you should use it. The feeling in the pit of your stomach that tells you, when the timer goes off, this is going to be burned on the outside and running in the middle–well, it’s a waste of heat, food and time!

“One of my disasters was at Thanksgiving when I was visiting my mother with my husband. I wanted to bake him cinnamon rolls for breakfast and my mom insisted that I use the toaster oven. BIG mistake! They were charbroiled on top and just about inedible in the middle. I threw two away because they were raw and crowded out by the other rolls that actually cooked–yuck! Where’s the oatmeal?”

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...