Turning Kitchen Catastrophes into Culinary Triumphs

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Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and nowhere is that more true than in the kitchen.  After watching last night's dramatic North West episode of Great British Menu and having a small culinary disaster of our own at Great British Chefs, Doreen  decided to look at how kitchen failures can be turned around ..... 

Blog post by Doreen of Tasty Fever

Maybe the oven was acting up again. Maybe you didn’t get your timing right. Maybe you ran out of a key ingredient. Maybe the dish turned out wonderful, but the guest you made it for didn’t like it. 

My forays in the kitchen are nowhere near Great British Menu material, but after watching last night’s dramatic episode, and seeing a number of instances in competitive cooking shows like Great British Menu where things are overcooked, undercooked, burnt, collapsed or otherwise ruined or unappreciated, it made me think of the instances I’ve had with cooking and baking where things just went wrong.    

A couple years back, I was seeing someone, and in order to try to impress him, as many people smitten silly with someone have done before me, I wanted to make him something to eat. 

I decided upon baking a chocolate dessert I had made before with great success--little molten chocolate cakes baked in muffin tins that ooze rich chocolate when cut open. It’s a fantastic dessert that’s relatively simple to make, and I thought I’d have no problem throwing it together.

No problem at all.

So, despite it being 10:30 at night, I was determined to make these little cakes, confident they’d turn out excellent. Well, for whatever reason, things didn’t turn out well, and the cakes turned out incredibly dry--a far cry from the moist, gooey middle they were supposed to have. 

Needless to say, I was devastated, particularly as I had worked as a baker in a café before, so not only was this failure a blow to my ego, it challenged my concept of myself as a baker. I felt like I’d lost a talent I was quite proud of, and it was all the more embarrassing to fumble in front of someone I really wanted to show off in front of.

Actually, there are many things one can do with dry chocolate cake to turn it into a fantastic dessert. From this thread on Chowhound answering someone with a similar problem, I could have turned the dry little fiascos into chocolate trifles drenched in custard or cream, made chocolate bread pudding or used it as part of an ice cream dessert.

Anne Willan, the British-born founder of the cookery school La Varenne in California, wrote a book full of wonderful suggestions on what to do with a dull roast chicken, how to reinvent a failed chocolate mousse and an array of other remedies for kitchen disasters. Willan’s book, A Cook’s Book of Quick Fixes & Kitchen Tips: How to turn adversity into opportunity (published by Quadrille), is a handy reference for home cooks to find inspiration when things don’t go quite as planned.

I’m looking to make these chocolate profiteroles by Geoffrey Smeddle soon, and should the choux pastry puffs happen to fall, Willan’s excellent tip will come in handy:

"If the sweet puffs have fallen and cannot be filled, sandwich filling between two puffs, adding raspberries or other fruit if you like. Place the puffs on plates. Make a caramel: heat 200g sugar with 125ml water until dissolved, stirring occasionally. Bring to the boil and boil without stirring to a deep golden caramel. Take the pan from the heat and plunge the base in a pan of warm water to stop cooking. At once trail warm caramel over the puffs in a lattice. The caramel will set to be crisp as it cools".

This tip sounds delicious, as do a number of other fixes in Willan’s book. I’m looking to pick up a copy from Abebooks before I subject any other love interest to my cooking or baking.

One of our staff members at Great British Chefs, (who shall remain nameless) had a disappointing result when trying to bake a cake this morning.  

Actually we blame our oven as it's not the most forgiving when it comes to baking in general!  It tastes absolutely great, but wouldn't get a top score on Great British  Menu.  Perhaps we can give it a delicious frosting of icing.  Or fill the centre with fruit & cream?  Maybe this is a case for cutting it into pieces and turning it into a trifle or another pudding?

Do you have any kitchen disaster stories you’d like to share? How about some handy tips you’ve discovered to fix kitchen failures? Any suggestions on what we should do with a sunken but otherwise wonderful apple and honey cake? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page!


The list is endless - it normally stems from being too ambitious, too rushed or not reading the detail of the recipe! There are times when I have been tempted to order in but happily it has never come to that. I will always remember serving my elderly grandparents al dente carrots that almost finished them, a new years eve tuna dish that guests thought had a lovely smokey flavour (AKA burnt) and a duck dish that for some reason made me violently sick. Ah the memories.....
9 May 2012

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