Monday, January 16, 2017

Even the Best Recipes Fail Sometimes...

Jan here, hanging my head in shame. This perfect recipe was a failure, and it was all my fault.

It all started last fall when my soon-to-be daughter-in-law...

Less than four weeks until the wedding!
...moved into the apartment the happy couple will be sharing after the wedding next month.

Around here, when someone moves it's all hands on deck! My dear friend, Vonda, wasn't able to help that day, but she made this to-die-for coffee cake for the workers.

It was fabulous, so (of course) I asked for the recipe. Would you believe she got it from the Pioneer Woman website? Of course she did. All of those recipes are fabulous. :)

(By the way, the link takes you to the Pioneer Woman's home page. I did that on purpose so you can browse if you've never been there before. If you want to go straight to the non-fail version of the Best Coffee Cake. Ever., follow this link: recipe)

So fast forward to last Wednesday. The day of errors.

First of all, the weather was bad and getting worse. Cold to the bone and getting colder, spits of snow, ice on the roads...and our Bible study group was supposed to meet at our home.

Which meant I got to bake a dessert! Woo-hoo! I had been waiting for an excuse to try this recipe!

So let's take a break from the sad story, and I'll give you the recipe:

The Best Coffee Cake. Ever. 
from the Pioneer Woman website, adjusted a bit by Jan

ingredients for the cake:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3 egg whites, beaten until stiff

(Topping ingredients are below.)

So there's the cake. Easy, right?

I measured my dry ingredients into a mixing bowl (not the one that comes with your mixer.)

I separated my eggs. Sadly, this is a permanent separation. The egg yolks were added to the dog's food for a yummy, nutritious treat.

My butter was softened and waiting in my mixing bowl. I added the 2 cups of sugar and beat them together until they were fluffy.

Okay. So far so good.

Because this is a cake, the next step is to beat the flour mixture and the milk into the butter/sugar mixture, alternating about 1/3 of each and beating after each addition.

But I had forgotten to check the milk. The fridge was empty. It was gone.  Someone (Benjamin) had taken the last of it with him to work that morning.

So I figured I would substitute. After all, my pantry is well stocked, right?

It wasn't until later - much later - that I remembered that you should dilute evaporated milk according to the directions on the can. I put it in as-is.

Remember, as I'm making this I'm expecting company in a few hours, and I still have to vacuum the living room!

The next thing was to fold in the egg whites. But, alas, I hadn't beaten them to form stiff peaks yet! So the rest of the batter (with the baking powder doing what baking powder does) sat in the mixing bowl while I got out my trusty rotary beater and beat the egg whites.

You may read a magazine while you wait.

FINALLY, I was able to fold in those egg whites.

Except that I missed a little phrase in the Pioneer Woman's recipe: "The batter will seem a little stiff when you start folding, but before long the consistency will be just perfect." I stopped folding too soon.

Let's soldier on.

In the Pioneer Woman's recipe, she says you should bake this in a cake pan with high sides...or something like that. So I quickly got out my new 10.5"x15" baking dish and greased it up. I spread my too-stiff batter on the bottom and turned to the next step in the recipe.

The Topping

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped

Sounds like heaven, right?

Except that during my Christmas baking spree(s), I happened to use up all of the brown sugar.

No problem, right? I know that I can substitute 1 cup of white sugar mixed with 1 Tablespoon molasses for the brown sugar.

Oh, and I had pecans in the pantry! (Not remembering that they were from Christmas 2015, not 2016.)

Sigh. Can I blame the coming storm? The dark wintry skies? The fact that my mind was on my next Work in Progress, trying to figure out a wrinkle in the plot line?

The topping looked good when I got it all mixed up.

I spread it on top of the cake batter and stuck it in the oven. 40-45 minutes @ 350°.

I vacuumed, dusted and decluttered for 45 minutes, then checked the cake. It smelled delicious! And the batter was no longer jiggly in the pan.

Out of the oven, it looked wonderful. It needed to cool for a while, so I went on with my preparations - a quick going-over of the bathroom was next.

Meanwhile, middle son Benjamin came home from work with the announcement: "It's really slick out there."

I looked out at the falling snow, and called an audible. I conferred with my husband (still putting in a full-day's work), and we decided to cancel our Bible study. I made the necessary phone calls, then went back to the cake.

I had told Benjamin he could try it.
It didn't look anything like Vonda's cake had looked back in October. And didn't look anything like the Pioneer Woman's cake.

And then there was the underlying odor of...what could that be? Oh. Rancid pecans. No wonder Benjamin scraped them off. :(

We had soup for supper, and I spent the evening cross-stitching. And trying to forget the coffee cake fail sitting on the kitchen counter.

But now that a few days have gone by, I think I know where I failed.

1) I didn't make sure I had all the ingredients ahead of time, because I knew I had them...but I was wrong.

2) I should have used a 9"x13" pan. That's the size Vonda had used, and I knew it would work.

3) I didn't use the evaporated milk correctly, which made the cake batter stiff. Way too stiff.

4) I should have tasted - or at least smelled - the pecans before adding them to the cake.

5) I was in too much of a hurry. I didn't read the recipe completely before starting it, and when I ran into the first snag, I didn't have time to regroup and do something else.

So please try this recipe - it really is wonderful - just don't do it the way I did!

Okay, time to 'fess up - what was your last recipe fail???

Jan Drexler loves her family, her home, cooking and just about anything made by hand. But she loves her Lord most of all.

Stop by Jan's website to learn more about her books:


  1. You know the best lesson of all this? Is that MOST TIMES we sub things in and it works perfectly...... So the occasional fail is fine and good because what cook doesn't want to experiment here and there????

    The pecans are funny.... I keep plastic jars of nuts and baklava mix in the freezer because we have gray moths.... Every time I think I've gotten rid of them, one appears. I found a little family grouping in a box of corn meal mix.... SIGH..... So I hear you about keeping nuts safe!

    You guys got smacked with snow. We're still snowless. We've only had a dozen inches or so all year, and that's way down, but partially it's the wind direction, so we're not getting lake effect here.... but off Lake Erie (Buffalo and points south) and off Ontario (Tug Hill Plateau, north of Syracuse) they've had blizzard like conditions on multiple days... so they've gotten gobsmacked and we're still able to get into the woods and cut wood...

    And by we I mean Dave and Seth. :)

    I'm so glad you shared your kitchen fail!!!! Laughing and totally understanding!

  2. And what an adorable couple.... ONE MONTH!!!!

    1. They are adorable. And Katie is so organized! She got the musicians together to run through the wedding music yesterday afternoon. No last minute prep for her!

      I do love this coffee cake. I have another chance to make it this Wednesday, but I'm planning to go to the store first. :)

  3. Jan, this sounds like a Missy post!! LOL I can see me doing all those things (probably have already). :)

    Thanks for sharing the recipe, though. I need to try this soon! I hope your weather has improved some. I'm sorry you had to cancel Bible study.

    1. This coffee cake is delicious! (When you follow the directions.) :)

      Our weather changed the next day. Sunshine and climbing temperatures are the forecast for this week. We're ready for our January thaw before the next round of winter. :)

  4. Bwahahahahaha!!!! Am I evil for loving this because it makes me feel so much better about my epic fails?????? And I think of you guys here at the cafe as the elite of the kitchenestas. :-) But fate stepped in and the weather canceled your bible study so you didn't poison anyone. Divine intervention there.

    So, I've had so many epic fails I don't know where to start. Oh, one was from a recipe here. Mac and Cheese made in the crock pot. It had velveeta cheese in it, I think? Anyway, it called for evaporated milk only I put in sweetened condensed milk. Grossssss!!! It was horridly, putridly awful and has scared me off making cream sauced macaroni and cheese forever.

    Love that picture and that your soon t be daughter-in-law is so organized. Enjoy all the thrills of this last month leading up to the wedding. But, seriously -- in your climate, a winter wedding????? I guess you can through snowballs instead of rice at the couple.

    1. "Kitchenistas" *snicker* Not quite! We just like to have fun in the kitchen. :)

      And yes, a winter wedding. When he popped the question last summer, they knew they couldn't wait longer than six months.

      Katie's family lives on the east side of the state, where their weather is more severe and with a lot more snow ("The Long Winter," anyone?).

      So even in July, they had their alternate plan B in case her family can't make the trip. The happy couple and the parents of the groom (us!) will pile into my son's Subaru (4-wheel drive) and go across town to our pastor's house. All we need is a pastor and a couple witnesses, right?

      And then we'll have the reception when the weather calms down.

      But, as the happy couple say, "We're going to get married that day, no matter what!"

  5. So Jan this is what was on the counter yesterday! I was trying to figure out why everyone was so hesitant. ;) Yes we have a plan B! As a home grown South Dakota girl I know there always has to be a plan B. There will be a wedding that day no matter what or we will have 3 sad dogs and wasted hotel reservations and believe me I'm looking forward to 2 days away from Bond and Sparrow hehe love them, but they are a handful at times! After the 14th I would be ok with a large snow storm as long as it means being stuck at home and not work! So far 26 days out the weather is holding a little on the cold side but snow free. We will see what old man winter has in store that day.

    1. Whatever the weather, we're SO looking forward to February 11th!

      And yes, the leftover coffee cake was on the counter...but Benjamin ended up finishing it off last night. #alwayshungry #skinnyguy :)

    2. Well he has some room for it! Are you sure he isn't still growing up?

  6. It always makes me feel better when I learn that even really good cooks sometimes have epic fails! Early in our marriage my hubby used to boast that I made great pies ... every bit as good as his mother's (and that was a huge compliment). I think baking must be a little like piano playing, or strong muscles ... use it or lose it. During the years I owned my own business, I had little time for meal prep or baking and the rest of my family often fended for themselves or took over the task. I hadn't made a pie in a decade, but one Christmas I decided it was time to bake hubby's favourite Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. It had never failed me, and to this day I'm not sure what I did wrong, but we ended up spooning it into bowls to eat with spoons! The crust was crumbly and the filling didn't set. It tasted okay but looked horrible and I was embarrassed to serve it as our holiday dessert.

  7. Yes! I've had the same thing happen. Pies, bread, cakes...use it or lose it!

  8. Ha ha! Just this weekend I decided to try an angel food cake from scratch again. This involves besting 12 egg whites with flavor and cream of tartar, gradually beating in the sugar until the eggs are high and almost stiff, and folding in sifted cake flour. BUT my 3-year-old helper was with me and I accidentally put in the flour first...Knowing those egg whites would never get stiff, I quickly added 2 tsp baking powder and another cup of flour and baked it anyway. It was a little weird, but the family ate it and way. Melted chocolate frosting is yummy!

  9. Jan, this reminds me of the first cake I ever made from scratch. Flat as a pancake and tough as shoe leather. My loving family tried valiently to eat it.