How to Fix a Failed Recipe

It happens to the best of us - that recipe so carefully researched, drafted, edited, and planned fails spectacularly upon execution.  I'm talking deflated souffles, undercooked chicken, and the dreaded burnt toast.  If you are on your own and just cooking for yourself, or you have unconditionally forgiving friends or family to feed, the occassional kitchen disaster passes without too much notice.  But if you are cooking for say, your boss, or a date, or a judgmental aunt (not that I have any of those (I really don't!)) failure can lead to panic, shame, and in extreme cases, loss of bodily function.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do other than put the offending dish outside for the birds and squirrels.  But it doesn't hurt to start thinking out of the box on the road to redemption.  Undercooked chicken? Skin it, slice it up, and stir fry with some fresh vegetables.  Wet potato gratin?  Throw it into a high power blender with some vegetable stock and cream to make  creamy soup.  

Case in point:  I had plans for a boss three-layer black forest cake as the crowning jewel of a grand Oktoberfest dinner I made for my family.  Well, of course my time line for prepping was pushed back due to some kind of kid emergency, and I don't have the world's best handwriting, so I misread my recipe and did all sorts of wrong - didn't sift the flour, mixed everything together in the wrong sequence, etc,  So instead of a light fluffy cake I got a flat, brownie-like cake.  I had already whipped up the cream topping and prepared the cherry filing, so I thought of just piling everything in dessert bowls.  I threw one together and it looked dumb and pedestrian.

I don't remember what made me think of a parfait.  But I think I just kind of stared in my utensil drawer and the biscuit cutter winked at me or something like that. I grabbed our Ikea water tumblers and lined up my bowls of cherries and whipped cream and got to work. Not only was the result pretty to look at, but it was delicious and fun to eat.  And everyone in the family knew it was a fail but loved it anyway!  So here it is, painstaking recreated in the same manner I executed.  (If you are an experienced baker, you will recognize the fail right away!)

For the Chocolate "Cake"

1 cup cake flour

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa power

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

pinch fine kosher sea salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, really soft

1 cup organic cane sugar

2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs at room temperature

1 cup whole buttermilk or plain kefir


1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2.  Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans, or one 9" x 13" rectangular cake pan.

3. In a medium bowl whisk together the flours, sugars, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda.  

4.  In a large bowl whisk the eggs with the butter, then whisk in the buttermilk and vanilla.  It will be lumpy.  

5.  Using s study wooden spoon or an electric mixer, beat the flour mixture into the west ingredients about one cup at a time.  Do this until all of the flour has been mixed in with the wet ingredients and beat to combine.  Do not overbeat.

6. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan/pans and smooth to even out the top with a spatula.  Bake cakes until then spring back when touched, about 20 - 25 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

To Assemble the Parfait:

2 cups black cherry filing

4 cups fresh whipped cream

Chocolate cake

Shaved dark chocolate and whole stemmed cherries, for garnish


1.  Grab 6 of your best Ikea water glasses and a small round biscuit cutter.  

2.  With the biscuit cutter, cut the cake into 12 rounds. Place one cake round in the bottom of each glass.  Drop in 2 tablespoons of cherry filling.  Then, either spoon or pipe in about 2 tablespoons of whipped cream.  Top with another cake round, then another tablespoon of cherries, and finally another two tablespoons of whipped cream.  Sprinkle with shaved chocolate and top with a whole cherry.

Failure complete!