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What to do if your recipe goes wrong

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

When's the last time you had a meltdown in the kitchen? Back in the day, dough used to be the thing that would break me. It never seemed to go right no matter what I did. It probably didn't help that I'd think it was going wrong, then I'd tweak the recipe or my technique to see if that helped, and then of course it would go really wrong!

It's no trouble now, having worked with dough for decades, but learning to deal with mistakes and failures in the kitchen is what helped me overcome those same problems. Even the most experienced cook can have mishaps mid recipe - but there are often easy ways to improve things before you give up and order pizza! I've put together some top tips for what to do if your recipe goes wrong.

  1. Always taste as you go. You can adjust a dish throughout but at the end it is a lot more difficult.

  2. If you over-salt a soup or stew, separate whole ingredients like veg or meat out into a separate bowl and add a peeled whole potato to the broth and simmer for 30 minutes. The salt will absorb into the potato. It’s important to separate the whole ingredients from the broth to prevent them from over-cooking

  3. Have you got sad crumbly cookie dough? If your cookie dough is too crumbly, it might just need to come up to room temperature. If it’s still falling apart, mix in extra butter or milk until it holds together

  4. Lumpy sauce or gravy is just nasty! Pop it into a food processor or smoothie maker.

  5. A layer of fat on your sauce, casserole or stew - especially if it’s a beef recipe. If you’re short on time, you can just spoon off the liquid fat - it might just get a little messy. If you’ve got longer, pop your recipe in the fridge or freezer for around an hour. The cooler temperature will solidify the fats, making them easier to remove.

  6. Soft roast potatoes? We all know what the perfect roast potato looks and tastes like, but what if yours just won’t crisp up? You might have overcrowded the pan, meaning you’re steaming instead of roasting your tatties. Try separating your potatoes out into two tins to help the air circulate better around them. I also add a little flour and shake them up in a colander before I cook them to create fluffy edges that crisp beautifully

  7. Curdled cake batter - this is when you’ve mixed your batter and it starts to look grainy, bitty or separated. This is why it’s important to bring ingredients to room temperature before making your batter. Depending on how curdled your batter is, you might be able to get away with it as it is - but if it’s looking too far gone, a tablespoon of flour or so might do the trick.

  8. Fix burnt cake edges by carefully scraping or cutting them off with a sharp knife. Then smother your cake in icing to hide the evidence! Cake edges can burn but the inside of your cake is often absolutely fine, so don’t panic right away.

  9. Your cake is stuck in the tin! Usually, just letting the cake cool a little is the key here, before using a palette knife to gently ease around the edge of the cake, loosening it. As the cake cools, it holds together better too. There’s nothing worse than fighting with a hot cake only for it to fall apart in your hands.

  10. Overcooked, dry, crumbly cake. Perfect for cake pops. Crumble your cake up into a bowl and mix it through with buttercream. Squeeze into golf ball sized shapes and dip or roll into melted chocolate before refrigerating. You can also push cake pop sticks into them if you have some to hand. They’re still a delicious and quirky desert, or a decadent treat.

  11. Grainy and lumpy chocolate ganache. If your ganache is looking funky, you might have over-heated the chocolate. One to two tablespoons of cold cream and VIGOROUS beating with an electric whisk should bring it back together.

  12. Your chilli or curry has too much spice. It’s easy to accidentally pop too much spice into a dish, and then wonder how on earth you’d get through an entire portion with your mouth on fire! If it’s a chilli, add yogurt or grated cheese on top. You can even try honey to counterbalance the heat with sweetness. If it’s a curry, stir through coconut milk, or add chutney, cucumber or pineapple on the side

  13. Your stew, curry or soup is looking watery and you don’t have time to reduce it down. Try adding in a little cornflour - a teaspoon at a time with careful mixing in between. If your stew has other ingredients and you have time to put them aside in another bowl, this will make mixing the cornflour into the sauce much easier. If you mix it in with the veg and/or meat, you might just find it gets a little clumpy.

  14. Over-salted meat. It’s easy to do but can ruin a meal. Depending on what you plan to do with your meat - try adding sweet and hot flavours alongside it to counteract the salt. That could be a squeeze of lemon, a tomato, pepper and chilli salsa, a sauce or a fruity side dish.

  15. Overcooked meat. Instead of serving a hunk of dry, chewy meat, try shredding it and adding to a stew, chilli, curry or chipotle sauce. Shredding the meat will help it soak up some of the liquid from the sauce, rehydrating it.

  16. Be honest with yourself. Sometimes there is no saving a dish. Don't be afraid to restart that part of a dish, turn it into something else, or even just start all over again.

What are some of your recipe saving hints and tricks? We'd love to hear in the comments or over on our Instagram!

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