Baking Failure: The King Cake

Why focus on baking successes when baking failures offer much better stories!

Update February 10, 2024:

Mardi Gras is right around the corner. I decided to bring our disastrous baking attempt to the forefront. (Thank you Ellen Byron for the inspiration to bring this post to the forefront after following your thread on your quest for a King Cake.)

Today, I surprised our daughter with plans for our very own Mardi Gras festivities. It involves a store-bought King Cake (I’m afraid to tempt the angry weather gods), Jambalaya, and cornbread. All of these treats are to be enjoyed while watching one of our favorite movies set in New Orleans: Undercover Blues starring Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid. Maybe we’ll have a pre-celebration and watch the new Haunted Mansion movie for a third time. We were lucky enough to get to watch that movie when it first came out in a movie theater in New Orleans. It was so cool to see places we had visited that very day!

Find your own way to celebrate Fat Tuesday, wherever you are! Now, I hope you enjoy reading about our drastic baking failure below.

Lately, my daughter has become fascinated with New Orleans. Which means trying our hand at some Cajun cooking. Jambalaya and dirty rice are already favorite recipes in our house, however, this year my daughter wanted to try her hand at baking a King Cake to celebrate Mardi Gras. So, on February 14th, 2021, we started to bake the cake. You can make the dough a day ahead, so our plan was to make the dough Sunday, bake it Monday and enjoy it on Fat Tuesday. Mother Nature had other plans. We had just put it into the fridge to sit overnight when the news broke: rolling blackouts were coming our way. We waited and crossed our fingers. That first batch ended up going into the trash after sitting in a fridge in the garage without power for several days.

At last, after a month of “we’ll try it this weekend,” we finally did it. I took the day off from work so we could make this cake. My daughter took care of the dry ingredients, while I took on the wet.

Attempt #2, Part 1: I spent what felt like hours (in reality, maybe 15 minutes) fussing over warm water and scalded milk when I finally got them to the right temperatures. Add the yeast, leave it to proof, and nothing! My first thought: the freshly opened package of yeast was no good. We decided to buy more yeast in the morning and try again on Saturday. I added some coins to the swear jar.

Attempt #2, Part 2: I had another go at the wet ingredients, and still nothing. Frustrated, I read the recipe for what feels like the hundredth time, and there it is. Sugar. The yeast from the previous batch was just fine: I had forgotten to add the sugar. Oh for crying out loud! I added more coins to the swear jar.

Attempt #2, Part 3: Deep breaths, in and out. At last, the water and milk temperatures are perfect. This time I remember to add the sugar and presto! Everything works! Success! Cue the victory dance of mother and daughter in the kitchen! But then, as we’re about to pour the liquids into the dry ingredients, I stop myself. The colorful words fly. My very confused daughter asks, “What’s wrong?” In my attempts to get the water to 110F, I added an ice cube to cool it. Too cold. Added some water to warm it up. Not quite there. Throw it in the microwave and ta-da, it’s ready! The problem you ask? I forgot to pour out the excess water that had built up from the ice cubes and the added warm water. That batch was ‘buried at sea’! A salute, a flush, and my daughter shaking her head at her crazy mother’s antics. (I added more coins to the swear jar.) By this point, my husband is avoiding the kitchen and hiding somewhere in our house.

Attempt #2, Part 4: At last, success. The right amount of water, add the milk, yeast, AND sugar. The dough rose as it should. Excitement abounds in our kitchen. And then the announcement from our Alexa Echo. “The National Weather Service has announced a Tornado Watch for your area until ten o’clock this evening.” Oh, come on! We’re starting to think that Mother Nature doesn’t want us to make this cake! We put the dough in the fridge for the night and crossed our fingers.

Thankfully, the weather fizzled overnight and we were able to bake the cake the next day. Finally. We follow the remaining directions carefully and, as you can see by the picture above. It looks beautiful!

We cut into it for dessert that evening. My husband takes the first bite. He looks a little nervous as he speaks. “Girls, it’s not finished in the middle.”

My daughter is now on the verge of throwing down a few swear words herself. I’m going to go broke as I throw still more coins in the swear jar. Thankfully, I only have to cough up a penny a swear word, but this recipe has already cost me at least five dollars. The cake (less King Cake Baby) goes into the trash without ceremony but with lots of mumbled curse words.

See what I mean? A recipe that works perfectly the first time without any issues doesn’t result in a story to accompany the final disastrous result. Someday, my daughter will try baking one of these cakes with her kiddo, and – honestly, it’ll probably result in her having to add some money to her own swear jar. But, she’ll have a funny story to tell her child about the first times she tried baking one with her mother.


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