Saturday, January 21, 2006

When Recipes Go Terribly Wrong

Or, Why Didn't I KNOW This One Would Be A Dud?
I was given a spoofy, retro cocktail-
snacks cookbook a few years ago. Shocking, lime-green cover, witty and compelling writing, and best of all, a set of novelty cocktail skewers included in the binding of the book.
Alarm bells should have gone off. This was a gimmick!
Ahh, I probably knew that all along. But, see, I was captivated by one recipe in the book. Every time I picked up the book, I'd flip the pages to see if that recipe still turned me on.
And it did. It was a version of the classic canapĂ© known as Cheese Coins or Cheddar Pennies: a sort of shortbread made with grated cheese, flour, butter, salt and cayenne. But this groovy "ironic" version included — whoa — a whole envelope of Lipton's Onion Soup Mix. Imagine the flavor, I thought. Real cheese and butter, and the exotic sting of forbidden processed soup dust.
It wasn't until this weekend's Retro Blog Party that I gave the recipe a try. I mixed the ingredients, but they didn't hold together well. I added a few spoonfuls of water, same as I would do for a pie crust.
After a night in the fridge, the dough was as hard as a chunk of chain-store cheddar, and when I tried to roll it out, it disintegrated into dirt clods.
I added a few more spoonfuls of water, allowed it to soften at room temperature, and then rolled the dough into a cylinder. It was too soft to slice into disks at this point, so it spent another night in the fridge.
Today it was sliceable, but not very cooperative. The center of the log had fissures, and some of the rounds were partially hollow. And when I baked the ugly little crackers, they browned on the bottom and stuck to the baking sheet. I flipped as many as I could (some broke) and finished them upside-down — all together, twice as long in the oven as the recipe called for.
Then we ate them. There was a taste of uncooked flour, and the texture was puny, grainy, crumbly. (The uncooked flour taste dissipated as the crackers cooled; lessons for an infrequent baker, I guess.)
Cranky said I should have known the instant I read "1 envelope Lipton's Onion Soup Mix" in the recipe that it would be a disaster. I disagree, but what it should have tipped me off to is that the recipe would Need Water. That fakey onion soup powder is, first of all, about 50% salt (forgive me if my math is off). Second, it's adulterated by food starch. Third, there are Dehydrated Onions in it. The whole envelope is just dying for a drink!
It's unfortunate that some fly-by-night publishers will put out a cookbook without kitchen-testing the recipes.
I think I could salvage this one by tinkering with it. But I'm not gonna bother.


Sam said...

oh dear. next time you'll have to make some nice old-fashioned cheese straws instead.

Kevin said...


A friend of mine from Texas once brought me sometging like that -- sans onion soup -- a spicy cheddar shortbread. They were so good I had to try making them myself.

So I started with a shortbread cookie recipe and converted it. I just looked and couldn't find the recipe I came up with, but they sure were good. They were more like shortbread than cheese straws are.

cookiecrumb said...

Well... Sam, I think I could probably tackle cheese straws. I may.
But Kevin just now re-whetted my appetite for cheese shortbread.
Which gives me the opportunity to flog a series of awesome mid-century California cookbooks by Helen Evans Brown, a great cook and protege of James Beard. She has a recipe for Cheddar Pennies. I should do an entire post on her amazing visionary approach to intelligent Left Coast cooking so long ago!

cookiecrumb said...

Thanks, Kevin, for looking for your recipe! I'll put Brown's up once I try it.

Barbara said...

Nasty nasty packet soup. It should never be in your pantry Cookiecrumb!

b'gina said...

Well, the thing with flour, if you don't want concrete at the end, you have to have fat. And cheddar cheese is too solid to incorporate with the flour. That's probably why the adapted shortbread recipe came out so well.

Don't you hate it when a recipe that sounds intriguing sucks when you try it out?

cookiecrumb said...

B'gina: Ordinarily I would wait until, oh, maybe tomorrow, to reply to your comment. So it wouldn't look like I'm just sitting here reading my blog, my e-mail, and yes, all the other blogs.
But! This darn recipe had a whole stick of butter in it. Not just the cheese. So promising, and yet...
Yeah, I hate that.

Kevin said...


I'll watch for the recipe.

Mona said...

Another one bites the dust..don't ya just love when that happens? Sorry MadEater :( Happens to me all the time...Did Sam say cheese straws? I'm in I'm in!

Shauna said...

I love that you wrote about a recipe that didn't work. Some websites are just show-offs of everything that's perfect and photographable. Not you. Not me either, since I always seem to be spilling mushroom stock over myself. Yesterday, I tried to make up a gluten-free bread recipe, with teff, and it was nearly inedible. In fact, cut into pieces for crackers later (that's how bad it was), it looked a lot like this one you're showing.
But where would we be without our bad recipes sometimes?

cookiecrumb said...

Thank you, Shauna. Let's be real: Somedays, I eat leftovers. Somedays I Don't Eat! Somedays I eat junk food. And somedays I go terribly, terribly wrong, and I'm not too proud to say so. :D
So you made crackers from your failed bread? Hm. Good idea. Would it have worked for ribollito, or perhaps a panzanella? I'll come by your blog; maybe you 'splained.

Rozanne said...

Someone once made those Cheddar Pennies for an office potluck. All I remember about them was that they were in a bowl lined with a paper towel and the paper towel was just sodden with oil (from the cheese, I guess), making the whole thing horribly unappetizing.

I understand the appeal of trying to make something like that, though. It's like you get to be a Keebler (or is it Nabisco?) elf for a day.