I really enjoy trying new recipes, and spend a lot of my time online swapping recipes with friends, reading food blogs and cookbook reviews, and finding cooking inspiration wherever I can. I have a pretty good sense my my own limits, both in terms of space/equipment (my tiny apartment kitchen is well-apportioned, but doesn’t have everything) and in terms of skill or motivation (I’ll cut my watery-eyed way through pounds of onion only because I adore onion soup, but I’ll avoid cutting spicy peppers if I can, for example). I think the reason I stay close to my comfort zone is the fear of failure. Fear of wasting my time and energy and still not having anything for dinner; fear of wasting food and the money I spent on the ingredients; fear of choking down terrible leftovers out of guilt and cheapness.

I’ve had some pretty memorable failures. One Christmas I attempted orange marmalade as a gift for my father, which I stayed up half the night working on and never got beyond the consistency of sweet orange soup. One year a friend and I failed at honeycomb brittle (almost broke her knife trying to cut it) and at homemade marshmallow (I won’t even describe for you what congealed marshmallow ingredients look like). Tomato sauce that’s way too watery, bread still raw in the middle, and wildly undercooked baby artichokes in a sauce are other examples.

I had two failures in 24 hours this week. The first was a souffle (my second failed souffle) that was in the wrong size pan (I’m bad at estimating volume!) and collapsed. Delicious but unlovely, my generous dinner companions complimented it anyway.

Fallen dish of Grand Marnier Souffle
Fallen dish of Grand Marnier Souffle

After the souffle, I had some pastry cream left over, so I took a friend’s advice and made some cream puffs for dessert last night. Again, they were tasty, but the batter was a challenge, and they didn’t come out as they should have, looking like baked pancakes instead of puffs:

Flat, chewy pastry puffs
Flat, chewy pastry puffs

In both these cases, I got pretty lucky. The “failures” were still edible, so nothing really went to waste, and I have a good sense of where it all went wrong, so I can try again and expect better results. For the souffle, I need to do a better job of reading ahead and making sure the dish is the right size. For the cream puffs, I think the batter needed to sit and thicken for longer – later batches of the puffs came out taller and more dense. Eventually, I’ll probably get back on the horse.

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