Cooking with Diane

I love creating new recipes, but experiments always carry a certain risk of failure. And sometimes my failures are *ahem* …notable. (Don’t worry, it’s still safe to eat at our place — I don’t experiment when I’ve invited company to dinner.)

Recently, I’ve been wrangling with brownies. I’ve used Hubby’s mum’s recipe for years, but one day Hubby said, “You know, these are great; but they’d be even better if they weren’t quite so sweet.”

“Easy,” said I in a burst of delusional optimism. “I’ll just reduce the sugar a bit.”

So I did. And instead of brownies, I got dense cake. It was tasty; but the texture was meh. Over the next several weeks I churned out more variations, but none of them achieved the fabulously chewy texture of the original recipe.

By then we were (much to our own surprise) sick of eating brownies, so I shelved the project. But a few months ago I was researching ways to make my homemade ice cream softer, and I discovered maltodextrin. It’s used in myriad foods, but particularly in beer and ice cream to provide a good mouthfeel without adding a lot of sweetness.

Inspiration struck: Texture. Without sweetness. Aha! The brownie project was revived.

Our local winemaking store carried maltodextrin, so I got some and mixed up my ingredients in a burst of misplaced confidence. This would be the perfect batch of chewy, delicious, not-too-sweet brownies!

Except

It turns out maltodextrin isn’t particularly soluble. It’ll dissolve in water, but the only moisture in this recipe is provided by eggs. Not the same thing at all.

Unaware of the impending disaster, I beat the butter and eggs, added the sugar and maltodextrin and stared in horror as the mixture curdled into pea-sized lumps.

I cranked up the mixer to its highest setting, but the lumps had the texture of finely-grated leather mixed with half-solidified glue. I could break one apart if I rubbed it between my fingers, but I didn’t feel like doing that for hours. So I got out my blender and set it to Turbo.

No dice. The lumps were impervious.

But I hated to waste half a pound of butter, four eggs, and two cups of sugar. As I was staring at the pox-riddled batter, Hubby passed through the kitchen. After considerable discussion and some hilarity, we decided to strain out the lumps and carry on. I’ll spare you a description of the mess that resulted; but in the end we did get tasty chewy brownies.

The only problem is, I have no idea how much maltodextrin actually got mixed in; and a considerable amount of butter and eggs got subtracted during the straining process. So I had to reduce the flour to compensate and well, let’s just say that I still haven’t perfected that brownie recipe. But if I ever need leather glue, I’m all set! (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.) 😉

Any other creative cooks out there? What’s your most notable culinary ‘oops’?

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 39 and Aydan’s evidence trail has just hit a dead end. But the killers keep coming, so she’d better figure it out soon!

21 thoughts on “Cooking with Diane

  1. Our solution for less sugar – that is if we have the use of an oven somewhere – is to cut the sugar down, which usually does the trick. Or use honey instead of sugar.

    Our most recent disaster would be too long to explain here but let’s just say that it involved making eggplant gnocchi from scratch in our tiny camper for the first time ever and failing miserably, using all our flour, the dough still being too sticky, dividing the mess in half at some point to not waste even more flour, ending up with a sticky mess that we attempted to turn into balls that were too big (forget about rolling out the dough and cutting it).

    We didn’t want to waste everything, so only tossed half of the batter in the sea. But not far enough out, so our dog ate it all (two cups of flour, potato, and eggplant) in a split second when we were not watching. The other half we ate and tasted like dough balls. Oh, and did I mention we were having guests over for dinner?

    We should follow your advice: don’t experiment when having dinner guests!

    Like

    • Oh, no! I’m laughing at your gnocchi disaster, but it’s with sympathy. I had several gnocchi mishaps before I finally figured out a recipe that worked. There’s nothing stickier than gnocchi gone wrong! And one of my earliest batches tasted like the flour-and-water paste we used to make as kids. Blah.

      At least there wasn’t anything in your recipe that would make your dog sick — a barfing dog would have been the crowning touch to your evening with your guests. 😉

      Like

  2. The only experimentation I’ve ever done is to slightly reduce sugar and/or fat to make a recipe a bit less calorific. It’s rare enough that I bake; I don’t want it to go wrong and have to wait another six months to feel like baking again 🙂

    Like

    • Baking is my therapy, especially in the winter. It’s dark and cold; I’m craving carbs; what could possibly go wrong? 😉 My problem is that I bake too much and too often. Then we end up with a freezer full of goodies that take months to get eaten. I’ve seriously considered putting a little stand out at the roadside just to get rid of the excess. But we eat it all in the end (for better or worse)!

      Like

  3. Give me a dinner recipe and I’m a fantastic “chef” . Especially with soup. I’m a whiz with the soups. Even my mistakes with soup generally come out super tasty. The same cannot be said for my baking skills. I really want to be the little ol’ lady that bakes amazing cookies and brings pies to new neighbors, but it is not to be. It should be simple: follow the recipe. I can do that. But it never turns out for me. This one time though was especially awful. I bought my house as a foreclosure and I think it had the original 1946 wall oven still in the kitchen (not 100% sure but they told me it hadn’t been updated so…). It was an electric oven, which I wasn’t use to, and only the top elements worked. So it was basically a broiler. I tried to make a cake. I figured if I cooked it on low enough heat for a really long time it might work. In my head this was logical. Oh my word. The oven was a mess. The mess smelled like cake and so for three days I had to smell cake and had none to eat. I was super broke at the time and I had the winter blues on top of that so it was just so depressing. Once summer hit I was laughing about it and telling everyone what a dunce I was so it’s all good.

    Like

    • Oh, that’s so sad! I agree: It should have worked! (But I guess that whole ‘heat rises’ thing is a bit problematic.) And forcing you to smell cake for days was just cruel.

      But, soup! Oh, beautiful soup! It’s one of my favourite dishes — I could eat it every day (and often do). I love how forgiving it is to make, too. I have quite a few recipes that I (mostly) follow; but if I don’t have the correct ingredients I make Tilt Soup: I tilt the fridge and whatever falls out, goes into the soup. As long as I exercise a bit of discretion with the available ingredients, it usually turns out just fine.

      Like

  4. A notable failure (among many) was the time I replaced the cinnamon in a cinnamon topping for a cake with ground cloves. A tablespoon of ground cloves is inedible. And it quickly leached into the cake. Also inedible – even with the topping scraped off.
    Our Prime Minister (hopefully soon to be replaced) proudly posted photos of the chicken korma he had purportedly made for his family. That chicken was raw. I do hope he was the only one to eat that dish. I hope THIS shows you what I mean. He disputes it (of course) but it looks decidedly undercooked to me.

    Like

    • Ew. That chicken does look suspiciously pink and juicy. But I guess if one’s only criterion for success is “Nobody got sick”, he might have gotten lucky.

      And oh, yikes; cloves instead of cinnamon. I made a similar mistake, thinking that similar quantities of cinnamon and cloves could be interchanged. Like you, I also quickly discovered they can’t! Live and learn. At least we don’t make the same mistake twice! 🙂

      Like

  5. Well, I’ve burned a few things, under baked a few things and one time forgot to put sugar in a pumpkin pie.

    But, I’ve never set the kitchen on fire and no ones has become sick or died from my cooking … that’s the best I can say about my cooking.

    Like

    • I’d say that’s a heck of an achievement! I’m very careful about food safety, especially when I’m cooking for others. But still, when everybody leaves, my last thought is, “I hope they’re all going home with a full stomach, and nobody gets sick.” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The unfortunate part of cakes and brownies (and bread, for that matter) is that the sugar is what helps make the baked product rise in the oven. I tried “alternative” brownies here also. I had to do one batch with gluten-free flour, and attempted using Splenda–it didn’t rise as much and as my better half put it, it sucked the moisture out of your mouth. I thought she was joking until I tried one myself. I made a simultaneous batch with half Splenda, half sugar, and those came out OK aside from overbaking them by just a couple of minutes. I would have preferred them just a little sweeter but they were good enough.

    Given the household moods recently, I’m tempted to visit the “420” store and put some happiness into the next batch. 🤣 Only, I’d probably mess that up, and have skunk-flavored brownies instead. So I’ll stick to regular, plain ‘ol brownies, thank you.

    My youngest cooking disaster? I was probably a young teen at the time. I was in the mood for sweet and sour chicken. But my mother didn’t have any chicken in the house. I made the sauce, and proceeded to dump in a can of white albacore tuna. I figured, hey, it was white meat, so it must be OK. Only…it wasn’t. I had a few bites and stuck the mess into the fridge. Mom found it the next day. Not much was said, but it exited the kitchen not too soon after.

    Having said that, we’d tried many different tuna casseroles over the years that were all fairly nasty tasting, but she eventually found one that used chow mein noodles and cashews that we really liked. Never did find the recipe among her recipe cards. I can think of a few things she used to make, for which I can’t find a recipe.

    Like

    • Sweet and sour… tuna?!? OMG. I’m imagining it; and it’s not pretty. That reminds me of one of my early creative failures: “cereal” cake. You know how Rice Krispie squares and puffed wheat cake are delicious? Uh-huh. So I didn’t have a lot of spare cash at the time, and I’d bought some cheap generic breakfast cereal that tasted so gross I couldn’t eat it. But, waste not, want not! I decided to make “squares” with it. I mixed it all up, and (shockingly) it still tasted gross. So I added some more stuff. Then some more. By the time I achieved a more-or-less edible product, it had doubled in volume and I’d spent more on the additives than it would have cost if I’d just chucked the whole misbegotten box of cereal in the first place.

      I’d like to say “lesson learned”, but evidence suggests otherwise. 😉

      Like

      • P.S. I know what you mean about the Splenda vs. sugar issue. I tried to make shortbread for a diabetic friend. Let me just say that when a recipe has only three main ingredients and one of them is Splenda, the results are, um… how can I put this tactfully? Blech!

        Like

        • Splenda can be tricky to work with–there are times I can make something and it comes out OK. Our gallons of iced tea also come out fine with it. One of the barbecue sauce recipes I make for my pulled pork, I’ve substituted the sugar with Splenda, and there isn’t much difference…other than not feeling loopy when I’d use sugar. Yet there are other times I have tried it and yeah…blech.

          I also found out that it’s better to buy molasses than brown sugar. You know, that bag that turns into a hardened lump after a few weeks–that’s brown sugar. They should just call it rock candy. Anyhoo, two tablespoons of molasses in a cup of sugar (or Splenda) makes light brown sugar; four tablespoons per cup makes dark brown sugar. Now I just get the Splenda or sugar, add the appropriate amount of molasses, and it’s all good.

          That is hilarious about the cereal! And yeah, I think I’ve done something like that in the past. I hate to waste food, yet I try to use something that was, how shall we say it, somewhat below the edible mark, and only make a worse mess and end up wasting all the other ingredients!

          Having said all this, I’m dying for some chocolate layer cake right about now…

          Like

          • Mmmmm! Must… have… chocolate… cake! And I just made a lemon pie for supper, dagnabbit.

            That’s an excellent substitution for brown sugar – thanks for that! I always have molasses on hand, so it’s good to know I can make brown sugar with it in a pinch. I don’t have trouble with my brown sugar solidifying, though — I have a brown sugar mouse. It’s a little blob of unglazed clay about an inch and a quarter in diameter (shaped like a cute fat little mouse; but I don’t think the shape actually matters). I keep the sugar (still in its plastic bag) in a sealed plastic container along with the mouse (outside the plastic bag), and when the sugar starts to harden up, I take the mouse out, soak it in a bowl of clean water for 15 minutes, pat it dry, and put it back in the sealed container beside the sugar bag. By the next day, the sugar is nice and soft again, and it stays that way for weeks. I can’t remember where I got my mouse, but a little unglazed clay pot (or a shard of a larger pot) would probably work just as well.

            Like

            • That’s a good tip for brown sugar! Another I’d heard about was to use an apple, but we rarely have those in the house unless it’s autumn and we get good local apples. We use sugar so seldom now that it didn’t make sense to buy brown sugar anymore. It was my curiosity to search on what brown sugar actually was, that led me to get the molasses myself to make it. In the weirdness that was 2020, I couldn’t find bread flour to make pizza crust, so I found out that adding wheat gluten (one tablespoon, I think?) to all-purpose flour achieved the same purpose. And for cake flour, substituting a small amount of corn starch for part of the flour works…although it’s apparently not needed for chocolate cake when it’s made with cocoa powder, as the powder achieves the same purpose.

              There I am…back on chocolate cake again…

              Like

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.