How to Fix Kitchen Flops

M-M-Cookies.jpg
M&M Cookies. Linda Larsen

Everyone has had a disaster in the kitchen at one time or another. Even the most experienced cook can be distracted and add too much salt, forget to set the timer, or omit a crucial ingredient. This advice will help you fix kitchen flops and disasters and, more importantly, prevent them from happening in the first place.

I thought it was time to write this article because of a kitchen disaster that happened to me!

I had promised friends some Pecan Pie Bars for their open house and was trying a new recipe (note to self: follow your own advice and don't try a new recipe at a crucial time!!). The recipe seemed perfect, went together well, smelled terrific, and came out of the oven looking delicious. I let the bars cool, then pulled out a platter and cut the bars to arrange them. And discovered that the bottom crust had disappeared during baking, and instead of a two crust bar, they consisted of a crunchy topping over pecan pie filling.

It was very difficult getting the bars out of the pan, and when I put them on the platter they stuck. And they pulled in half when I tried taking them off the platter. I was ready to chuck the whole thing when the solution came to me. I just turned the bars upside down so the crunchy top was the new bottom crust and sprinkled toasted pecans over the new top (former bottom).

They were a smash!

Many kitchen flops can be salvaged in one way or another. But if food is undercooked, smells strange, or it has been sitting out at room temperature too long, don't try to save it. Making a recipe over again is a small price to pay compared to food poisoning.

Take a look at my series of Step by Step Instructions, especially the one about measuring flour, to help avoid disaster in the kitchen in the first place.

 And browse through Food Science and Quick Tips to learn more about working in the kitchen.

 

How to Fix Kitchen Flops

Soup or Stew Too Salty

Make sure you never measure seasonings right over the pot or bowl. It's just too easy for your hand to slip, the cat to run under your legs, or someone to startle you. If it's already happened, we used to think that adding a raw cut up potato added to the soup would absorb much of the additional salt, but recent research has showed that this is not correct. Really the only way to diminish the salt is to add more of the other ingredients to the soup; in other words, add more of every ingredient except the salt. This is also the only way to fix recipes when you've added too much hot sauce, Tabasco, cayenne pepper, or chilies.

Hard Cooked Eggs Won't Peel

If the shell sticks to your hard cooked eggs, try putting the eggs in a bowl of very cold water. Then gently tap the eggs against the side of the bowl under the water. Water will seep in through the cracks and loosen the shell from the egg. The peel should come off more easily in a few minutes.

Broken Cakes or Cookies

When the cake breaks when you remove it from the pan or cookies are crumbling, turn your disaster into a trifle or parfait.

Just layer the pieces with sweetened whipped cream and some fresh fruit in a glass bowl or individual glasses and chill until serving time.

If your vegetables have been overcooked and are limp and olive green, just whiz them in the blender or food processor with a little bit of cream or butter. Pureed veggies are very trendy right now and no one will be the wiser. You can also add more cream and turn the veggies into a cream soup.

Cracked Cheesecake

If your cheesecake cracks on top, top it with a fruit topping, chocolate sauce, sour cream, or whipped cream. So that doesn't happen next time, put a pan full of water on the rack below your cheesecake while it's baking in the oven. Also run a knife around the crust to loosen it from the pan when you remove it from the oven. Sometimes cheesecakes will just crack and there's nothing you can do about it!

Go to the next page to get more tips!

Fixing kitchen flops isn't hard; you just have to know the tips to turn a disaster into a success!

Sauce Burned on Bottom

Remove the pan from the heat immediately! Don't stir. Place the bottom of the pan into a sink full of cold water to stop the cooking. Don't stir the sauce! Pour the top 3/4 of it into a new pan, leaving the burned part behind. Taste the sauce. It might still be okay, but if you detect any burned flavor, you'll have to throw it away and start over.

Lumpy Gravy

Pour the gravy through a sieve into another saucepan. Don't press the gravy through - just let it drip through the sieve.

Candy Won't Set

When you're making cooked candy and it just won't set, add a few tablespoons of cream, return it to the heat, bring it to a boil and cook to the correct temperature as specified in the recipe. Cooked candies are simply concentrated sugar solutions. Removing more liquid by boiling is the only way to fix this problem.

Bread Machine Problems

For lots of help troubleshooting bread making problems, visit: Bread Machine Basics.

Runny Frosting

When faced with runny frosting, your first thought is to add tons more confectioner's sugar. But if the frosting is really runny, you probably don't have enough sugar to fix it and if you do manage to make it thicker, it will be too sweet. Divide the frosting in half and add confectioner's sugar to half of it. You'll have a better chance of thickening it this way.

Pie Problems

For an excellent list of pie help, see my lesson Pie Crust 101 and Step by Step Hot Water Pastry.

Hardened Chocolate

If you are melting chocolate and it suddenly becomes hard and grainy (seizes), chances are liquid got into the chocolate. You can smooth it out by adding a teaspoon of plain cooking oil or solid shortening per ounce of chocolate and heating gently while stirring.

Cookie Problems

To fix broken, burned, soft, hard, or uneven cookies, see Top 10 Tips for Making the Best Cookies.

Separating Eggs

If you are separating eggs and a bit of yolk gets into the white, take a piece of egg shell to scoop out the yolk. This works much better than using a spoon or your fingers. When you are separating large numbers of eggs, crack each one over a small bowl, separate the yolk from the white, then pour the white into a larger bowl with the others. This will prevent contaminating the whole bowl with one broken yolk.

Cake Sticks to Pan

Make sure to grease the cake pan using shortening or butter that is UNSALTED. Salted butter will make the cake stick. Try returning the cake to the oven for 3-4 minutes until the pan is hot. Then place the hot pan on top of a wet kitchen towel for about a minute. Or you can spin the cake pan on a stove burner for a few seconds to heat the bottom. Next time, use cooking spray that contains flour; almost nothing will stick to that. Also see Cake Science, my explanation of how the ingredients in cakes work together.

GENERAL ADVICE

  • Read the recipe before you begin cooking.
  • Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand. Or see Equivalents and Substitutions.
  • Get in the habit of setting a timer five minutes less than the recipe suggests. And carry the timer with you if you leave the kitchen!
  • Read How to Read a Recipe to learn how to read a 'cooking' recipe and a 'baking' recipe.
  • Never measure any ingredient over the mixing bowl or saucepan.
  • Test your oven accuracy using an oven thermometer.