Dede Wilson

co-founder of

What Went Wrong?

We’ve all been there; we set sights on a yummy sounding dessert, gather our ingredients, whip it up, and are left disappointed. It happens to me too. Assuming we have followed a recipe faithfully and still do not end up with results that we enjoy, then maybe our palate is just that much different from that of the person who wrote the recipe. Or maybe the recipe was poorly written or edited in the first place! That happens too.

But here I am talking about when a dish goes wrong. It is my opinion that the great majority of the time, it is because you “think” you followed the recipe. Let me explain… deviations from the recipe might be the cause. It could be one seemingly tiny change that you made consciously or unconsciously. Or it could be a string of things that you changed. I know I have pointed this out several times in various parts of the website and my books, but it really cannot be overly emphasized and these deviations can even sneak up on you.

In the image above the cookies on the left are rich, creamy and truffle-like. The crumbly dry cookies on the right are the same – except that a chocolate with a very different cacao content was substituted for the recommended chocolate. One tiny change with disastrous results.

Here is a more detailed story of a baked good gone awry. Let’s say you are making a cake. Let’s look at some of the places in the recipe where something might go wrong.

* It starts with the choice of the recipe and shopping for ingredients. Depending on what part of the world the recipe hails from, there could be issues right off the bat. Did you know that an Australian tablespoon is equal to 20 ml while an American tablespoon is equal to 15 ml? If this measurement is for a leavener, we have a huge issue. Maybe the recipe calls for “icing sugar”. Do you know what that is and shop for the right item?

* Now you are home and ready to bake. You preheat the oven to the temperature called for. Problem is, you have never actually double-checked. If you had an oven thermometer and placed it in your oven, you might find that your oven is running about 25-degrees too hot, but right now, you are trusting that 350 degrees F is 350 degrees F. The recipe calls for two 8-inch round pans. You have two 9-inch pans and decide to use those.

* You cream the butter and sugar and begin to add the eggs. The recipe didn’t specify what size egg. You use what you have. Turns out it isn’t the same size as what the recipe developer used, but we will never know because they and/or the editor of the recipe never took the care to be specific.

* On to the dry ingredients. Recipe calls for flour, baking powder and salt. You place your dry measuring cup on the counter. You spoon the flour into the cup, tap it a bit to level it off, add more to bring it to the top and begin to add it to the batter. Unbeknownst to you, that cup of flour is about 20% heavier than the intended cup of flour because the recipe writer used a different method to measure volume. Or perhaps you did measure the flour with the dip-and-sweep method that gave you the correct cup….well, that would only work if your dry measurer was accurately made and really measured 1-cup. Most of us trust our equipment, but if that dry measuring set was bought in a dollar store, or it is old and dented, your cup of flour could be way off.

* The milk in the recipe should be “whole”, but you never have that around and decide to use the 2%.

* The batter is scraped into your pans and baked until done. The edges over bake, the center is peaked and cracked. The texture is dry and unappealing. You think, “I CANT BAKE!” Or maybe your first thought is “hmm, this cake is dry; must be a bad recipe”.

In my experience, everyone can bake, so take it easy on yourself. It could be a bad recipe, however, in more instances than not I find that we make human errors such as those detailed above. My intent was to show you how at multiple times during the recipe you might make an error. (And believe me, there are even more points in the recipe where things could go awry). Even just ONE of these errors would negatively affect the recipe outcome.

OK, please don’t panic. It is true that baking requires attention to detail. It is a science in its accuracy, but I also think of baking as an art. If you are a painter, you learn the rules. You learn that if you combine red and blue that you get purple. Once you know that, you can create subtle shades of purple that bring beauty and uniqueness to your work. So it is with baking. There is room for creativity if we stick to some basic principles, such as accurate measuring and only substitute ingredients when we know they will work. Try to think critically about your process if you get a bad result. Did you use the farmer’s market eggs that weren’t “sized”? Did you double the amount of chocolate, thinking, “more is better”?

Then again, certain substitutions can work – once you know how light brown sugar tastes in a dish, you might decide to try dark brown and end up creating an heirloom cookie. Where you once used raisins in a dish, gives way to the idea of using dates; for a cake that sports a dark chocolate glaze, you might decide to make a milk chocolate glaze to rave results.

I strive to bring you information in an easy to use, enjoyable manner. I feel strongly about us having fun in the kitchen and being able to truly enjoy – and even be proud – of our results. As always, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to email me…now head to the kitchen and bake!