5 Reasons Why That 5-Star Recipe May Have Flopped When You Made It
Have you ever gathered ingredients and hyped yourself up to make a super popular recipe only to have it flop or fail to impress?
If so, you aren’t alone. It happens to the best of us. 🙂
As much as I wish that every recipe on my blog was failproof and foolproof and resulted in perfect success for everyone, unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.
Even the most highly rated recipes on my blog and across the web-o-sphere end up disappointing at least a few people.
Let me show you a few real world examples of this.
Take this uber-popular Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe. It’s easily one of the most popular recipes on my site with over 400 5-star reviews. And it’s a huge family favorite.
But you can see below that Ted, who took the time to comment, said: “So so…I followed instructions as specified, but resulting taste was not really comparable to how a Chinese restaurant makes it. Will not try again.”
Right below him, however, (and throughout the rest of the comment and rating thread) are tons of 4- and 5-star reviews. This doesn’t delegitimatize Ted’s review. It simply makes me wonder why he didn’t love it when so many others do.
Here’s a snippet from the reviews on my favorite French Bread recipe. This particular recipe has over 1,500 5-star reviews. And yet, it still doesn’t work out for everyone.
Naomi said it was “Horrible. Dry and Crumbly. Worst recipe ever.”
Last one. (I could go on and on, but we have more important things to discuss.) The Best Blackberry Crisp. This recipe has over 300 5-star reviews.
Below in the screenshot, you can see that Deborah reports it is the best crisp she’s ever made. But right below that, Sharon reports that she made it twice, it didn’t work out either time, AND it didn’t look like the pictures in my post.
It’s clear Sharon wanted to love it, but it just didn’t work out.
How does this happen? Why would a tried-and-tested recipe fail? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE??
After 12 years of blogging, over 200,000 comments, 100,000 recipe ratings, and a VERY scientific analysis plus a peek into the cooking successes and failures of humanity as a whole, I have a few ideas about why this sometimes happens.
A quick note before we dive in: As you read the suggestions below, please understand, I am not suggesting that if a recipe doesn’t work out, it’s all because of you. Sometimes, it’s 100% the recipe’s fault. It isn’t written well. It hasn’t been tested. It’s missing an ingredient. My recipes are not immune to problems, either, although I try very hard to make sure they are as foolproof as possible.
This post isn’t about placing blame, it’s about trying to give tips and troubleshoot to help us all feel like rock stars in the kitchen.
I am hereby proposing FIVE reasons why that 5-star may have flopped when you made it.
THE ISSUE: Location can be a significant factor in cooking…but especially in baking successes and failures.
Humidity, elevation, temperature (inside and outside) can impact a recipe for good or for bad. For instance, when making bread, if you live in a really humid climate, often times you need less water in the recipe. Whereas in a really dry climate, more water may be needed for proper bread hydration.
Rainy/humid weather can be problematic to recipes like macarons and other baked goods.
Elevation can also wreak havoc on cakes and cookies. A cake tested and made near sea level might turn out just fine, but if the same recipe is made at 5,000 feet, it could very well fall or even overflow over the sides of the pan while baking.
There are many more location factors that can play into this. So how do you combat this?
THE SOLUTION: make sure if you live at high elevation that a recipe has been tested at high elevation OR that there are trustworthy reviews of others who have made it at high elevation. I’m not an expert on high elevation baking, but there are a lot of great resources online if you google “high elevation baking.”
Also, know your recipe source. If the blogger you follow lives at sea level and you live at 6,500 feet, it may not be a match made in heaven for the two of you without investing in couples therapy and making many recipe adjustments.
The other solution is a bit painful, but it’s practical and it works. Trial and error. After a few attempts at making certain things (like cookies or bread) in a highly humid or desert climate (or in a freezing cold or super hot house), you’ll start learning what adaptations you need to make to have success. Pro tip: save your sanity and avoid super particular and finicky recipes if you know they tend not to fare well in your climate/area.
#2: Method of Measuring + Mixing
THE ISSUE: There’s a good chance if you ask 10 people to measure out a cup of flour, you’re going to observe 10 different methods for measuring that flour.
Spoon and sweep. Fluff and scoop. Dip and shake. We all have slightly different methods.
The same could be said for measuring brown sugar (how much muscle do you use to pack that stuff into the measuring cup anyway??) or chocolate chips (not gonna lie, I almost always eyeball these instead of measuring).
Even just several tablespoons too much (or too little) flour can seriously mess up a baking recipe. Here’s a post specific to measuring flour that might be helpful.
Mixing certain batters or doughs can also be a bit problematic. Over mixing muffin batter usually means death to fluffy, tender muffins. Same goes for a lot of cakes. And how much does bread dough really need to be kneaded?
Additionally, using a wooden spoon and bowl in stead of an electric mixer can affect a recipe. And speaking of electric stand mixers, there are a lot of variances between different brands and models! (Like Bosch vs KitchenAid)
My goodness, what’s a home baker to do??
THE SOLUTION: Assuming the recipe you are using has been tested (and it should be!), follow the guidelines of that particular recipe. If the recipe author says to spoon and level the flour, don’t use your own personal method of dipping and shaking or else you are going to pack too much flour into the cup.
Over the years, I’ve started using a kitchen scale to test my recipes and to make other recipes; it’s life changing. I have had this scale for years and love it (aff. link).
Using a scale takes the guesswork out of how much flour or brown sugar or whatever should actually be in the measuring cup (and subsequently end up in the recipe).
But what do you do if a recipe doesn’t give weight measures? Or you don’t have a kitchen scale?
Look for clues in the recipe/post/reviews that indicate how it was tested. Does the recipe author generally talk about how they measure ingredients? If not, do your best using the methods you are familiar with. If the recipe doesn’t work out, and you want to make it again, troubleshoot with adjustments.
Here are a few ideas:
- If cookies are flattening grotesquely when baking, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour OR increase the baking temperature by 25 degrees
- Conversely, if cookies are staying in mounds and not flattening at all, reduce the flour amount by 1/4 to 1/2 cup
- If freeform bread or rolls are flattening or falling while rising, add 1/2 cup or so more flour next time to the dough (speaking of yeast doughs, try not to adhere so specifically to the flour amount in the recipe – instead judge the dough by the look and feel, because yeast doughs are particularly susceptible to environmental factors like humidity and elevation)
- If muffins are tough and dry, don’t over mix – in fact, it’s ok if there are a few dry streaks remaining or the batter is a bit lumpy (also, if you tend to pack flour into the measuring cup, measure with a lighter hand and that will help, too)
#3: Taste Buds
THE ISSUE: You find a super popular recipe, you make said super popular recipe, and tragically, it is just meh. Or even worse, it tastes awful, and you can’t even finish it (pan over to family gagging at the dinner table).
It looks pretty and you’re 100% certain you made it correctly, but it just doesn’t taste good.
How could this happen when there are so many rave reviews on the recipe?
The truth is, sometimes we just have different taste preferences when it comes to food.
I have had several experiences where someone has given me a recipe swearing up and down on their grandma’s favorite gingham apron that it is the best thing they’ve ever eaten…only to make it myself and wonder what I did wrong (and then try and avoid face-to-face interaction with that person for years because I don’t want to have an awkward conversation about how I made their family favorite heirloom recipe that their sweet granny invented and named after them, and it was kind of not so good).
On my blog, there are comments from people who say they despised the flavors or taste of a certain recipe – or that it turned out *just ok* but doesn’t deserve a remake – even though there are hundreds of people above and below them stating it was the best thing they have ever eaten.
THE SOLUTION: Honor your taste buds. It’s tempting to want to make every 5-star recipe that you see, especially if you have a fear of missing out on the next greatest recipe to hit the planet.
But it’s also ok (and really important) to think long and hard about whether a recipe fits your taste preferences. If you are a fan of more complex flavor profiles, maybe avoid recipes that use a lot of semi-homemade substitutions and stick with recipes that use flavorful spices and marinades.
If you don’t like cinnamon in savory dishes or you aren’t a fan of curry, avoid recipes that call for it! If you’ve hated it the last 15 times you’ve tried it, chances are, you will still detest it on the 16th go round.
Of course you aren’t going to know at the onset if every recipe is going to be a home run or not. Sometimes you have to take risks (and sometimes those risks pay off!), but it’s also ok to see a viral recipe come across your feed and say “yeah, nope, don’t think that one is for me.”
THE ISSUE: Listen, I’m the very first one in the kitchen to start messing with a recipe. In fact, I think there is something in my DNA that won’t allow me to make a recipe as-is. (Also, I hate grocery shopping, so more often than not, I’m making substitutions out of sheer necessity rather than creativity.)
But with that, I’ve had many a “pride goeth before the fall” experience.
As I am looking at the lump of greasy goo that should have been 12 cookie, the little angel (or maybe it’s the devil) on my shoulder is very often whispering : Yeah, Mel, maybe the recipe author DID know better than you, and that’s why they didn’t sub molasses for mashed banana or quinoa for quick oats or natural peanut butter for nutella.
Even small substitutions like skim milk for 2% milk or milk chocolate for unsweetened chocolate or gluten-free flour for all-purpose flour can significantly alter a recipe.
Adapting any tried-and-tested recipe is going to affect the outcome, for better or for worse.
THE SOLUTION: I am definitely not against adapting a recipe. In fact, I’m 100% for it! As long as you and I are willing to take responsibility for the resulting success or failure.
My recommendation (do as I say, not as I do) is to make a recipe as written the first time you make it and then decide what adaptations you want to employ after you taste and assess.
If you have to make substitutions based on food allergies or available ingredients, just keep in mind that the recipe may not mimic the rave reviews that prompted you to try it in the first place.
THE ISSUE: It should be obvious, but I think we’ve all been guilty of this at one point or another.
Expired ingredients in any form need to be expunged from the depths of refrigerators and spice cabinets immediately. Make it your weekend project.
Particularly, ingredients like baking powder and yeast can cause major issues in baked goods if they are expired.
When is the last time you went through your spices and checked expiration dates? This is always a slightly horrifying process for me. The last time I did it, I had six (six!) small containers of dried oregano hiding in my spice cupboard, and three of them had expired two years earlier. #yikes #nojudging #pleasetellmeyoudothistoo
Expired spices can leave an otherwise flavorful dish completely lackluster and boring. Expired milk or cream (see the picture caption above, so gross) can leave an otherwise creamy dish completely sour and curdled.
On a slightly different note, if a recipe calls for a specific type of ingredient or asks that the ingredient be at room temperature or cold from the fridge, swallow your pride, and obey the blogger. 🙂
Chances are that this recipe has been tested specifically for these types of variables. Using cold eggs when a recipe calls for room temperature eggs, for instance, or using melted butter instead of softened butter can make a big difference in the outcome.
THE SOLUTION: Check expiration dates before using ingredients!
And also, for all that is good and virtuous in the world, follow the recipe guidelines for ingredient details (temperature of ingredients, etc).
BONUS PRO TIP: Read the reviews.
I can’t understate the importance of this bonus tip.
I wish I didn’t have to bring it up, but reality is reality. And unfortunately in the online space of recipe sharing, there is a huge competition between website owners.
Everyone wants get into that coveted #1 spot on google (or at the very least, on the first page of search results).
This is a valid goal! Trust me. I get excited when my recipes make it in those spots, too!
One of the many ways (it’s not the only way) to do this is to ensure the recipe has reviews. A lot of them. And a lot of high reviews (4- and 5-stars). Sadly, many recipe ratings and reviews you see online aren’t from real people who actually made the recipe. The ratings can be inflated a number of different ways.
If you come across a recipe that shows lots of high star ratings, scroll down to the comments and see what’s going on there. If comments are nonexistent, or there are very few with actual feedback (comments that say things like: “looks amazing!” shouldn’t be giving the recipe a 5-star rating), exercise caution in deciding whether this recipe is worth your time.
I’m not saying it’s automatically a bad recipe or you shouldn’t make it. I’m just saying the star ratings and reviews may not be entirely accurate.
I’d much rather make a recipe that had zero ratings and zero reviews than risk making a recipe that had 48 5-star ratings with no actual written reviews to back it up.
As someone who works very hard to test every single recipe multiple times, I am so, so grateful for all of you who take the time to leave a rating – but more importantly – leave a review with helpful and valid feedback.
It lends authenticity and trustworthiness to the recipes on my website, and I appreciate it so much. I know others who come here looking for a tested recipes appreciate it, too.
I don’t scrub or delete any reviews or comments, even if they are less than favorable (I even leave many of the mean and hateful reviews up – mostly for entertainment), because I think it’s tremendously valuable for you to get a whole picture of whether a recipe might be worth making or not.
So consider this your friendly girl-next-door bloggerly advice to examine recipes and recipe reviews with a gently critical eye.
Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
Phew! This post took on a life of its own, and you deserve a lifetime supply of mail order dark chocolate if you made it to the end.
I get comments and questions from people now and again about why a recipe they tried didn’t work out, and I hope this post has some helpful information to troubleshoot the why, the how, and the where to go from here.
There’s no way to ever guarantee a recipe will turn out perfectly the first or second or third time, but there are a lot of ways to maximize the success of a tried-and-tested recipe! You’ve got this.
I just want you to know that I think you are a rock star. Thank you for being here! For making the recipes on this blog. For your patience. And for just being completely and utterly awesome. Love your guts.
231 Comments on “5 Reasons Why That 5-Star Recipe May Have Flopped When You Made It”
GREAT POST! Here’s something I found changes results. I have purchased different brands of ingredients and sometimes they too change the end product. What are their ingredients? Consider the additives in things like applesauce, ketchup etc. does it have added sugar, or other ingredients that may change the flavor or sweetness? Some name brand spices are much more robust than spices you buy at the Dollar Store. Just some things I’ve notice when cooking.
I love all the tips you gave!! I’ve had some of your recipes flop a bit (user error) and others be ahhhmazing!! Despite the flops, I love visiting your site and trying new things!!!
I’ve been waiting for Someone to do a post like this! Thank you! For the record, I just found your site this week when I suddenly had 5 cups of wild blackberries and was gonna make a cobbler. But after two days of dithering, I saw your Blackberry Crisp and went with that. Read many of the reviews first-the Absolutely delicious! And the Too much butter ones both. Well. It was delicious and the crust was crisp. Lovely. But I’ve been down the other path too…did a Chris Loves Julia Moroccan Chicken. Couldn’t resist Julia’s comment to Chris, “That is my absolute favorite thing you make.”
My hubs liked it but said it was pretty intense. I didn’t care for it and I like most spices/most foods. So. Did I make it wrong? Nope. I bought the few spices I didn’t own and a couple of other items as well. No Adaptations. No Location issues. I totally believe it was purely my Taste Buds. Just too highly seasoned for me.
On the other hand, I’ve made the Damn Delicious Buttermilk Cornbread 3 times. Came out good the first 2 times (where I added vinegar to milk as a substitute for the buttermilk) and yesterday, it was incredibly good when I followed the recipe perfectly using real buttermilk! (Well—I did use just a bit less sugar since we don’t care for overly sweet cornbread) and using a real cast iron skillet is critical in my opinion (I have 3–my parents were both from the South) for the crispy sides encasing the fluffy buttery hot cornbread.
A little humility goes a long way in trying a recipe. I’ve cooked for a restaurant and also messed up many dishes at home. But if I read as many reviews as possible, weed out the unkind ones, consider my own food prejudices, and only make substitutions where I have no real choice, I find I mostly have good success.
One more point. You made it already but it bears repeating…If you are making several substitutions because You hate nuts or don’t have real butter or want to use egg substitute or gluten free flour, maybe just DONT REVIEW the recipe if it flops. After all, you Really didn’t make that recipe did you?
I loved this post, almost as much as the post you did about homegrown eggs where you measured the volume of all the egg sizes 🙂 I have learned a ton about cooking from you and now my 13 year old daughter goes straight to your site when she wants to learn a new baking recipe. She started making wacky cake when she was 9 and now her (and everyone else’s!) favorite is your fallen chocolate cake, pumpkin pie from scratch, the best frosting, and I could go on. Reading the comments is so helpful for me because I am dairy intolerant and usually someone will comment on their substitution experience. Mostly I love your hilarious stories and down to earth attitude about life, and your strong faith.
This was a great informative article. Thank you writing it – especially found the flour measurements helpful. I hope you are doing okay. My husband is currently being treated for metastatic melanoma after a recent diagnosis. It’s been a bunch of ups and downs so far like I’m sure you experienced with your good friend. Love your recipes and I’m a dedicated fan!
My problem lately isn’t with new-to-me recipes that fail. I have recipes that I’ve made perfectly hundreds of times, but now they are suddenly not turning out. One of those is your giant chocolate chip cookie. I have no idea why it and other chocolate chip cookie recipes are ending up spreading like crazy and flatter than pancakes. I bought new baking soda. I tried refrigerating and freezing the dough. I tried decreasing the oven temperature. I tried a name brand of butter instead of generic. I don’t know what else to try. Any suggestions?
I love and adore everything I have ever made from your blog. I have been following it for over a decade, and my life is so much better because of you! Thank you for sharing your time and talents with us! And I love your sweet and sour chicken. I don’t think you ever compared it to a Chinese food restaurant, so I’m not sure why that commenter was so disappointed! Its just good, old-fashion soul-food chicken, and my family loves it! You are amazing. Thanks again!!
I adore you Mel, ad your recipes! People love to hide behind their computers and become critics… it’s a shame. Nothing wrong with constructive criticism, but some people love to take it next level.
In all of your recipes I’ve tried through the years, I’ve only had one huge flop. It’s what our family likes to call “The $100 Sweet and Sour Chicken”. I was so excited to make this dish, but something went wrong with the sauce… way wrong. My guess is that I was rushing and didn’t measure something correctly, because there was no sweet; only sour. The sauce tasted so strongly of vinegar, and also burned our noses when we smelled it.
We laughed it off, and also knew that it had to be user error, as your recipes never fail. As we were laughing about the vinegar bomb, my son who was 11 at the time said “I’ll drink all of the extra sauce if you pay me $100”. I quickly told him “You’re on!” Thinking there was NO way he’d actually drink the pungent sauce. Well, before I could blink, he grabbed the bowl and downed the whole thing. Mouth burning and eyes watering profusely, he looked at me without missing a beat and said “Mom, you owe me $100.” We all looked at him in shock and then started laughing hysterically. My husband said, “We’ll, a bet is a bet. But let this be a lesson to you that you shouldn’t just do anything on a dare, and a lesson to your mom that she should never second guess you!”
He went to bed that night feeling just fine, and the next day had $100 that I begrudgingly handed over. He broke out into a huge smile that stayed on his face for at least a week. Six years later we still love that story, and I think it’s finally time to try that recipe again!
This actually did make me laugh out loud!
Speaking of expired ingredients- we were at our family cabin and I found a jar of baking powder in the cupboard that expired May 1987! I almost wanted to try using it to see what would happen.
It really grinds my gears when I see snarky comments on recipes. Seriously, a lot of what you mentioned should be common sense. I’ve made recipes that have failed. I know sometimes it has probably been my fault or my taste buds or just preference. Quick funny story..My boyfriend wanted sugar cookies but I’ve never really cared for them and never made them so I told him I really didn’t want to make them. He decided to make them himself so I told him use your easy sugar cookie recipe because I figured they’d turn out good. Even though I never made them, , I’ve made enough of your recipes to know they always work. He didn’t leave enough time for the butter to soften properly and he mixed up tsp and TBS of baking soda. At first he said I sabotaged him by sending him a bad recipe lol but after some questioning we figured out where it went wrong. I’m like, no way this is Mel’s recipe’s fault lol !
Mel, you are the sweetest. You are a trooper for cranking out delicious, creative, healthy, indulgent, and family-friendly recipes, year after year. Your blog is just so fun. I had to go read some of the “entertaining” comments you mentioned on the mug cookie recipe. (I have to say, ours was a house divided on that one, too. Haha!) But my favorite comment was the rave review from a young person “under 18 not allowed to use the oven”. That just made me laugh and piqued my curiosity, how old is this micro-chef? I’ve wondered the right age for oven use. I think my kids will be allowed to use the oven once they can deadlift and squat the enameled Dutch oven. And “clean” and press while they’re at it.
Anyway, your points were right on the money. When a recipe doesn’t work out for me it’s always because I subbed and ingredient, altered the proportions, used my own technique, or some other variation in form or setting. I generally don’t leave bad reviews for that reason. But I am grateful for people who leave helpful reviews and when they own the reason theirs probably turned out differently from the original.
Anyway, keep at Mel. You are the rock star!
Mel, you are the sweetest. You are a trooper for cranking out delicious, creative, healthy, indulgent, and family-friendly recipes, year after year. Your blog is just so fun. I had to go read some of the “entertaining” comments you mentioned on the mug cookie recipe. (I have to say, ours was a house divided on that one, too. Haha!) But my favorite comment was the rave review from a young person “under 18 not allowed to use the oven”. That just made me laugh and piqued my curiosity, how old is this micro-chef? I’ve wondered the right age for oven use. I think my kids will be allowed to use the oven once they can deadlift and squat the enameled Dutch oven. And “clean” and press while they’re at it.
Anyway, your points were right on the money. When a recipe doesn’t work out for me it’s always because I subbed and ingredient, altered the proportions, used my own technique, or some other variation in form or setting. I generally don’t leave bad reviews for that reason. But I am grateful for people who leave helpful reviews stating things like “this doesn’t work with Walmart brand gf flour in high humidity” or something else that owns the reason yours probably turned out differently from the original.
Anyway, keep at Mel. You are the rock star!
I really appreciate feedback left by people who have made the recipe. I find it very convenient when the comments are sorted and you can opt to only view comments from those who have made it. Perhaps this could be considered for future websites modifications. I have made plenty from your site and always enjoyed. Thank you.
Great post! I think following a particular food blogger starts with finding one who shares your tastes. Your recipes are family-friendly and there are alot of choices to satisfy the kiddos (except for salad with mine!). I also appreciate a blogger who is more concerned with quality than quantity of posts. When I see a site with too many ridiculously pretty desserts posted every day, that’s a red flag for me.
Also, I’m waiting for the blogger who is willing to write a post about all the repetitive questions every single recipe receives – Can I freeze this? How do I make this dairy free? nut free? egg free? vegan? I know your not going to say anything negative regarding this. Maybe you have a bloggers’ club that talks about this off-line. I do find those questions funny. If someone had success for a substitution, I think it’s great that they share, but not your responsibility to figure that all out.
This looks amazing!
(I crack myself up. At least I think I’m
Ha! I find that funny too. The most unhelpful comment.
Haha, this made me laugh out loud. You ARE funny.
Kirstin, you win the internet! Hilarious comment. Five stars! Would read again.
Mel, I read your blog for entertainment. I have 5 large kids at home, ages 22 – 14, and I’m a lazy cook on a tight budget, so I don’t actually make your recipes (sorry! but they’re still fun to read). The big advantage to my situation is that my kids will eat anything I make, no matter how much of a flop it is. It’s very reassuring to know that even when I undercook, overcook, forget the salt, or use expired ingredients, they’ll still eat it.
Thank you for all the time and effort you put into your blog!
You have raised some good kids, that’s for sure!
I always try to make a recipe EXACTLY following the recipe the first time I make it, to see what the author had in mind. (Then I feel free to start playing around with substitutions, lowering the sugar, etc.)
I’ve always been amazed that the Great British Baking Show participants get anything to turn out, working as they do in a TENT in ENGLAND….
Mel, your recipes are some of the most reliable (and least changed/defaced by me in subsequent makings) and family favorite out there – thanks for all you do!
Oh my gosh, I totally agree about the British baking show – I’ve though the SAME thing.
I agree with this! I have tried a recipe or two that just didn’t work out. One I tried twice (a delicious muffin recipe) but to no avail. I read the comments and searched for suggestions. It happens! Thanks for these reminders of why sometimes things just go wrong. I wasn’t mad at that muffin recipe. More just frustrated that I couldn’t enjoy the muffins, as so many in the comments raved about them. Ha ha! I adore your blog and recipes – they are my Go To all the time. Thanks for posting!
Thanks for the honestly, Kelli! I have to admit, it stresses me out when I know you amazing readers spend your valuable time and ingredients to make recipes that just don’t turn out. I wish I could ensure success every single time. Thanks for your patience!
Such great advice! You converted me to a food scale years ago. Now, whenever I bake, I use 5 0z of flour per cup and it always turns out marvelously. Thank you!
I love hearing that – thanks, Patti!
I read this article mainly because I was wondering how it could be that your recipes don’t turn out! Virtually everything I’ve ever made from this site has been a crowd pleaser around here (and we have 7 kids/2 inlaws, so that’s saying something!) I often get asked “Is this from Mel’s?” and most of the time I must say yes! If I have had a rare less-than-stellar outcome, it’s usually because of something I realized I did wrong after the fact.
I’m also a major adapter and they still usually turn out, but maybe it’s just cuz I’ve been using your recipes for so long that I know what will work for us. Thank you for making me an amazing cook! 🙂
Thanks, Molly! I love that you are so confident in the kitchen!
Mel, This is probably the best cooking/baking email EVER! You have given honest solutions to figuring out why things might not always work out. I found myself reading and having that “slap the forehead moment”. I’ll be printing this out and keeping it with my recipe binder!
Thank you so much for taking time to help us figure out why recipes don’t always come out “picture perfect”
Thank you, Denise! I have to remind myself of all of these things continually, too!
My family has several favorite recipes from your blog! My daughter came home from college, saying that one of her professors had talked about his wife’s fabulous cooking. We were not surprised when he said she always cooks from your recipes! Thank you for taking the time to keep your blog up and going. We love to have company, and they may be served your Mom’s famous chili, the Jalapeno Turkey burgers (made with beef, a great substitution) or your superb Amazing Romaine Salad with Light Poppyseed Viniagarette (a family favorite, have to have that dressing in the fridge all.the.time). My family says thank you!
Thanks so much, Denise!
As a former home economics (now called FACS) teacher, I have been following your blog for years and recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their meal variety and cooking skills.
I completely agree with you on all the reasons why some recipes fail. I taught students how to measure and nearly all of them said, “that’s not how my mom does it.” I stressed the scientific principles of baking and showed them examples like how much flour you can pack in a measuring cup when you bang it on the counter as some people do. It is also so true that everyone has different taste preferences. I taught students to use their cookbook as a workbook and make a recipe once exactly as indicated and then note any changes they want to make in the margins. It helps to keep a record of what you liked or disliked about the recipe.
You are talented and funny and I especially appreciate how many times you test a recipe and all the variations you give.
Thank you for all the great recipes and for being a great resource for beginning and advanced cooks.
You are an incredible teacher, Kathy! Something that stood out to me from your comment was the “scientific principles” of baking. Such an important thing to remember (and to teach). Thank you!
This is one of the most helpful posts I have read. Thank you so much for sharing your information with us. Some things I knew, some things I didn’t fully understand -like reviews and the importance of temperature of ingredients. I grew up in an area of high altitude (7,000 ft). Our cabin is about that, but our home is about 3500 ft. I have noticed the difference in baking here and there.
Thanks, Peggy! I admire all of you cooking and baking at such a high elevation! It can be challenging for sure.
I always check your blog first when looking for something new to make. We have quite a few go-to’s from your site. Also wanted to say that I look for any new posts a few times a week. Even if I don’t try the new recipe, I still enjoy reading the posts!
Great post Mel! Very enjoyable read. I always get a laugh when reading the substitutions in the comment section of recipes–once I saw one where a pizza dough was calling for flat beer (for flavour!) and the reviewer instead used flat cream soda!! Haha can you imagine.
It can be interesting though when multiple people have the same issue: last week I made your LEMON BLUEBERRY CAKE WITH WHIPPED LEMON CREAM FROSTING which I love but I did find the frosting to be too runny. A lot of other people had the same issue and I wonder if the issue maybe was to do with kitchen temperature or moisture in the air or something. It could also be that none of us followed your recipe carefully enough and my butter was too warm or something like that–next time I try it I will be even more careful to follow your instructions!
By the way, I completely relate with the tiny 1/8 full bags of oregano in the back of the shelf! It’s always oregano for me! What a mystery.
Hi James, oh my goodness, the flat cream soda vs flat beer! I’m sure the result was disastrous for that poor person who tried it. Also, you make a good point…many people have said the frosting is runny on that cake recipe (and there are other recipes, like a chocolate peanut butter mousse cake I have on my site, where there are a lot of comments reporting a trend in something that hasn’t worked well – in the case of PB mousse cake, it’s that the mousse is grainy or didn’t set up). For the lemon blueberry cake, I have made it countless times and haven’t had the runny issue. It has puzzled me! The frosting is pretty soft but not runny. I, like you, have wondered why that would happen…I think it might be due to the heavy cream (the brand/fat content)? Actually, that’s the same issue with the PB chocolate mousse cake (I use Costco Darigold heavy cream which has a higher fat content than some other brands of heavy cream). I think the heavy cream in the lemon frosting may “water it down” if the cream isn’t thick enough. But again, I’ve been stumped by that one! I suppose I need to go out and buy several different brands/types of cream and make side by side batches of the frosting to see. Anyway, I appreciate your two cents, and always appreciate when people take the time to comment their experience with a recipe. It’s so helpful.
Great tips! Thanks Mel!
When can I expect that chocolate? 😉
Haha, any day! Wink, wink
Well now I’ve got to go make the chocolate chip mug cookie that I’m almost positive I’ve made before and loved but so many had so much entertaining hate for…
Thank you for your blog and recipes-I do always feel like a rock star in the kitchen all thanks to your tried & true recipes Mel!!!
Thank you Mel for this honest and very helpful post.
Thank YOU, Terri!
Can we still be friends if I prefer a lifetime supply of semi-sweet chocolate chips? I hope so! Thanks for this Mel! I recently got a kitchen scale because I started making fancy=ish cakes (think cakebycourtney style) and it makes a difference. I agree with you. As a lifelong baker with 4 kids who makes a recipe or two of yours almost daily, I didn’t think I needed it, but now I agree I do. Makes a difference! Also, loved your podcase of Idea gym!!! So awesome! You are a rock star!!!! Also, can you share your nanaimo bar recipe?? Thanks!
Yes, we can definitely still be friends! I don’t discriminate all that much between semisweet and bittersweet (dark) chocolate chips. Love ’em both! That’s so awesome you are delving into fancy cakes. Courtney’s cakes are amazing! The oreo one on her website is ridiculous. I’ve made it four times in the last month for various occasions. And I’ll try to get that nanaimo bar posted asap!
Thanks for the laugh with all those mug cookie comments! Love your blog!
Haha, thanks, Ashley!
Mel- I love YOUR guts!!! Your blog is my #1 place to get recipes. Even though we have never met, my kids all know you by name. 99% of my family’s favorite recipes come from you. If I make a new recipe, all I have to say is “This is from Mel,” and any reservations melt away. They trust you as much as I do. This post is very timely. I have a favorite cookie recipe that I have made a million times. I made it the other day but scooped the flour right out of the bag and so it way more packed than usual. The cookies did not flatten and we were all so perplexed. I must have put in too much flour. You live and learn. Thank you so much for turning me into a cook. I hope you know that people out in the universe love you dearly. You have made a huge difference in my life.
Thank you so much, Sarah! Seriously. Appreciate all of you loyal readers who stick with me even through my weird sense of humor and sporadic posting schedule.
I’ve never made anything from your site I didn’t love. You are my go to and I love everything you post. Thank you for all your hard work in a space where I’m sure there is an abundance of criticism and mean comments. You’re the best!!
Thank you, Ally!!
Love your recipes and your site. This was a great post and all the comments are even better!
p.s. You are the reason I bought a kitchen scale years ago. Besides the accuracy, using a scale results in less clean-up because you can just weigh most of the ingredients right into the mixing bowl. Win-Win!
Yes, I totally agree! Using a scale is life changing. I’m glad you converted to the nerdy way of living life in the kitchen. 🙂
Your my family that I have never met in person. I try a new recipe at least once a week and 9 out of 10 times it is from your site! My children know you by name and around our dinner table the question is always, Is this from Mel? Thank you for always being real!
Thank you for your love of learning and always looking for new things that you share with your cyber family. Thank you for your website and for continuing to make us all look like rock stars in the kitchen! Thank you for the smiles and the satisfied eye rolls into back of head and the utters of yum when we all love a recipe of yours! Love Ya!
Thank you, sweet Beth! Truly, I appreciate you trusting me with recipes for your family so much.
Thank you so much Mel! I love your blog for so many reasons other than recipes! I hope everyone reads this!!
Living at 9,097 ft UP IN THE mountains…Whew, while I catch my breathe………I do indeed know that every recipe doesn’t come out as it is pictured or described….the joys of baking up here in the clouds, while that’s a huge book of another time and place…but eventually it does come out, breads, cookies, casseroles and BBQ. Mel, you ARE amazing and yes, most of your recipes come out tremendous up here…..baking, ummmmm….well, I welcome you up here to give it a try…it’s really not so bad! But I do know how to adapt the flour/liquid ratio, and your cookies are amazing at 9,097!!!
Love your recipes, love your honesty, and love you, Mel! You are a source of goodness, optimism, and amazing food! Thanks for sharing your time and talents with the world!
Thank you, Melanie!
Thanks for the post- I have a complex about making pie crust, printed out and studied all your instructions and watched the videos . Got so excited to finally succeed! (I’m 60 so there is a looong pie crust fail history here.) Long story short- pie crust was frying in the oven it was so greasy. Epic pie crust bomb! Sigh- You will be happy to know I do well with pretty much everything else. (My husband is still here and shows up for dinner daily. ) I finally found one simple easy crust recipe that doesn’t seem to mind me, and doesn’t shrink, fry or have lumps. Sometimes it simply takes a lifetime to get it!
Oh man, sorry that pie crust was such a failure!! But I love your optimism and your keep-trying attitude!
This is my problem too, I consider myself pretty handy in the kitchen but I can’t for the life of me make a good pie crust.
Trader Joe’s for the win (they have a really good rolled pie crust that tastes like homemade). I’ll keep trying but I’m almost 40 and I just can’t get it right. Glad to know I am not the only one!!
Mel’s site has made me most successful in the kitchen and I appreciate her for it on so many levels.
Love you, Deb.
You need to try this pie crust from Carla Hall! This is the only one I’ve been able to have consistent success with.
We love you too Mel! I find it interesting reading many other blogs that people get excited and say “This recipe looks awesome”. What I love about your blog is people comment that they immediately made it and include their comments on the actual results. I don’t find that as much with other sites. And I appreciate how you test and test before you present a recipe. I also love how genuine you are. It’s so great that we are friends!! We all know how much you care!
I couldn’t agree more! I am so, so grateful for all of the helpful reviews (even the ones that suggest the recipe DIDN’T turn out – those are just as valuable).
The very first recipe I tried from your site was a total flop—homemade baked donuts. I didn’t realize it but it was aaaallll me! I didn’t really have the feel and eye for yeast dough yet. I came back to that recipe a few years ago and it was as delicious as all the reviews promised it would be! I may have started with a miss, but it got me to your site and in the meantime I’ve made 100s of your recipes and they’re all home runs!
Well, I’m glad it at least got you here! Thanks for sticking around!
Also, if you find a keeper….make sure you have a hard copy, and a digital copy so you don’t have to try searching the internet for that recipe you wish you had saved. I usually put recipes into a template I’ve made and then a PDF version, so I can view it on my iPhone or iPad. Then if they don’t work out, or aren’t up to your expectations, just delete it. I usually try recipes twice to see if I made a mistake the first time, or if it just wasn’t good. Case in point, I botched the banana chocolate scone recipe of yours….but will try it again, cause the recipe was not followed 100% ( I have a tendency to NOT measure bananas when making banana bread and just through in what I have….not ideal for scones that must have a balanced ratio. The scones came out tasting okay, but gummy and not at all light and fluffy like Mel’s pictures.) It was probably the extra bananas, so I’ll have to give it a try again. But I have my go to banana bread recipe…sooo….lol. Was hoping for another recipe suggestion, but this post about trail and error in the baking kitchen was also nice to read. Thank you from Japan. (Maybe it was my little baby Japanese oven that messed things up too…lol) I want a big oven like when I studied in California. So easy to bake a dozen cookies, instead of 4-6 at a time. Sad.
Your method for saving recipes sounds amazing, Tyler! And you’ll have to let me know what happens when/if you make the banana scones again. Does your oven bake similarly to ovens here in the US? Is it just tinier? Or does it bake differently?
Thanks for all you do Mel. I love your recipes and your writing style. I love that your recipes have been tested. I just use your recipes I echo the other’s, you are the best friend I’ve never met. I relate to you in many levels.
Thank you for helping to make cooking for my family easier. Thank you for sharing your heart, for teaching and inspiring us. You are a blessing!
God bless you. Have a great summer.
Appreciate you so much, Sheila. Thank you!
Your recipes are amazing and I use your site All the time. It’s a great source of inspiration when I don’t know what to cook. We deal with with allergies in my family so I have learned how to adapt a lot of your recipes and I have learned that for my family’s taste buds, we always cut the sugar and up the salt in pretty much every recipe we try. (I try to make it somewhat as written first before fiddling too much, but I have a hard time following recipes…) “Mel has a sweet tooth!” My husband says. That is one thing that makes you so endearing and I feel like we know you and even though we’ve never met I consider you a friend. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate all that you do. Thank you, Mel!
Thanks for your comment, Shannon! I consider it high praise that your husband admires (ahem, or maybe criticizes) my sweet tooth. Haha. Love that you’ve found ways to make the recipes work for you!!
Hi Mel. I’ve been reading/saving recipes of yours for years and never commented..
BUT. For this post I must say YES, YES, and AMEN. It has bugged me for years when commenters don’t make the recipe FIRST TIME as written and give a negative review or changed it substantially.
Taste buds. Measuring. Altitudes
You nailed it. Keep up the excellent work
You are the best. I come back again and again because I love your recipes and your humor and you. Amen to all of what you said. My husband always laughs because I’m a pretty big stickler about not making any changes the first time I try a recipe.
That’s a good trait, I’d say! 🙂
Thank you, Mel!! This was a great post! I appreciate the part about reading reviews. I love reading reviews. I might need to make a sub or have a question and go looking in the reviews to see if someone else has already talked about it. I get super annoyed with a million comments that just say how good a recipe looks and they can’t wait to make it. That is not helpful to me!!! Anyway, thanks for being real and amazing!
I’m a review reader, too! They are invaluable (well, the helpful ones are!), and I find I have been able to rescue a recipe or make a needed adaptation at the beginning based on the reviews I’ve read.
I love this post. I turn to your site so often when I want to try something new. Sometimes it doesn’t work out (for reasons you listed). There are plenty of recipes that do and I keep coming back to them. You don’t know how many times I link to this site from my blog and say, “Thanks, Mel.”
Thank you so much, Kristin! And mostly, thanks for being here.
It’s lovely being a long time user of your recipes because there’s a few things that I’ve learned just work for me with I use your recipes. I’ve learned to add 2T of flour to your cookies recipes, this helps the cookies not flatten too much where I live at sea level. I also know to cut down the sugar in your muffin and sweet bread recipes. That’s just my preference, and seems to work everytime. Thanks for all your wonderful recipes!
That’s awesome, Cindy! Super happy you’ve found small tweaks that help the recipes turn out perfectly for where you live (and for your taste preferences!)
This was a good review. I find I make something again (that I loved a year ago) and think ” why did I like this so much?” sometimes I think my cooking has evolved, I like more complex spice now or the ingredients maybe were not as much in season, or I improvised too much. Thank for the reminders. Best recipes to me give weights and helpful hints. Enjoy your recipes. Thank you.
Thanks for your insights, Frances!
Useful ideas — thank you. WRT #5, I must admit that probably 75% of our herbs and spices are out of date. I’m not willing to toss them all, however, so I will have to accept the consequences. Do you have any suggestions for maintaining a reasonably complete set of herbs and spices (I’d guess that we have 40-50 little jars sitting in that cabinet) and keeping them all up to date? Like most people, I suspect, we use oregano and parsley and basil and so on fairly often, but it takes a while to use up a jar of mace or cloves.
Ha, I hear you on the spices. I’m not always willing to toss the good ones, either – so I just use a bit more like you said. Honestly, I think it’s just inevitable that some of those less-used spices are going to sit around and expire. The good news is that because they are used in such small quantities (usually – I don’t know of any recipe I have that uses more than 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon of cloves, for instance), using them expired *may* not be such a travesty?
This post was amazing and humorous too! It’s got to be hard to not take things personal but you have had years build a thick skin. Thank you for your recipes and your time
I make your recipes so frequently — both the tried and true and the new ones — that my kids and sons-in-law ask if it’s one of yours. That speaks so highly of the consistent goodness and usually the relative ease of making your dishes. Please keep sharing! At age 61, I feel like I’m becoming a better cook every single day and in part, I owe you credit. Thanks for your hard work and creativity!
Thank you so much! I think you are amazing – those kids and in-laws are lucky to have you cook and bake for them!
All great advice. My husband is an awesome cook, (really awesome and very creative) but a horrible baker. He tries to add all kinds of crap to everything then wonders why the cookies are horrible. (haha) I do love that your recipes have been tested and tested again. I don’t think I’ve every had a recipe fail from you. And you are also responsible for my bread making skills, which are now awesome! 🙂
It’s definitely easier to be creative on the fly with cooking than it is with baking! Love that your husband is in the kitchen creating. That’s awesome.
I love this! I have seen some of those mean posts that they are so mad about a recipe etc and they say all the changes they made to it, makes you want to say “well duh it didn’t work” ha! But I very much agree that taste buds are different, I love almost everything I have made from your site, but sorry I’m never going to try your shrimp or fish recipes no matter how much you love them haha! And taste buds I feel like can reflect our upbringing, the things we ate or brands we used as a kid can make a world of difference. Luckily for me my husband and I were both raised on the cheap store brand foods so we are usually happy with any ole cheap ingredients, where we have friends that are very brand specific on everything. Some brands definitely make differences though and we don’t all live in the same areas with the same brands, so that’s another possible factor in how the recipes turn out too. Thanks for your recipes (we must have similar taste buds) and for this great insight into trouble shooting recipes!
Great point about our taste buds being influenced by how we grew up. I completely agree! I feel like you are missing out because those crispy shrimp tacos are life changing – but I will NOT pressure you to make them. Promise. 🙂
YOU are the rockstar! Thanks for being my second mom in the kitchen! You helped me go from a newlywed who had maybe 10 meals in my arsenal, to a mom of 3 who is MUCH more comfortable in the kitchen now and even branches out every now and again to try something new because YOU love it so I know it’s worth trying! I send everyone your way!
You’re amazing, Sarah! Thank you!
Loved this post. I will do a better job of going back and rating recipes that we’ve tried and loved. Over the years I feel like I’m better able to judge based on ingredients which recipes I’ll love and which ones won’t be for me based on my personal preference and I love that you included that as one of your reasons why things don’t “turn out.”
Thank you for when you add weights to your recipes. I am heavy handed when it comes to flour, so I appreciate being able to use my scale to get the right amount.
Thanks for ALL that you post, personal and recipe wise. You’re my favorite! Five stars!
I’m hopeful to have weight measures added to all my recipes soon! I agree that a scale is a life changer.
Honor your taste buds is a good one. (they’re all good tips). But that one is the hardest sometimes to admit, even more so than goofing the recipe. I don’t know why. It was the Soft and Chewy 7 layer cookies for me. I did not like them but the husband LOVED them. I even remade them a few weeks later to make sure I didn’t goof the recipe. Nope. Turns out I just don’t like them. I still don’t know why. I’m not really a picky eater with any aversions to ingredients. It was the most bizarre discovery ever. lol Definitely not the recipe. Now I want to make them again to see if my taste buds were transitioning or something. LOL I laugh. but I’ve learned once you start to reduce sweets, it changes how things taste on a larger scale, as well as to how sweet you can tolerate. I still LOVE your recipes and would never rate one based on that kind of reaction. Plus I just love to cook and bake and your website was pivotal in my improving those skills. <3 <3 <3
I’d say DON’T MAKE THEM AGAIN. Haha. And I agree, about the “sweetness” level. I get comments on the same recipe that it is too sweet…right next to the comment that it wasn’t sweet enough. We each have our own sweet tolerance scale, that’s for sure!
I’m glad you mentioned personal preference. I think it’s a huge factor in the perceived success of recipes.
I would say that no recipe is “perfect” or “best” for everyone. Take brownies: Do you like brownies that are fudgy, cakey or chewy? Brownies that taste like a boxed mix? Crinkly top or smooth? Cocoa flavored (Dutch process or natural?) or melted chocolate? Do you think chocolate chips and nuts belong in brownies, or nowhere near them? The answers will influence your opinion of a brownie recipe.
Mel, you do a great job in describing the characteristics of what you’re cooking, and what the final product will be like. This helps me decide which recipes to prioritize and which ones to skip (sadly, my DH thinks every cookie should be crispy, so I pass on the “wonderfully soft cookie” recipes lol).
Such good thoughts, Ellen! Thanks for sharing them! I’m a little sad you are stuck with crispy cookies only (because I think soft cookies are where it’s at), but I can see how there is a camp for people who love the crispy ones. 🙂
Great post Mel! As a home economist I truly appreciate the weigh and measure advice! This is what separates baking from cooking. Baking is a science and requires exact measurements. Cooking on the other hand allows for creative expression. I love your blog and make many of your recipes for my family and cannot remember the last time I was disappointed. As always you are practical yet witty! Keep up the awesome work!
Thank you, Eileen! Love the baking vs cooking thoughts!
I do typically attribute people saying recipe don’t turn out to user error – but then again there’s the case of me and your Yukon gold cinnamon rolls which I tried making 3 times – to varying degrees of failure! I will say I use quite a few expired spices. If it’s a quality spice (ie. Savory Spice), they are often still good a couple years after expiration (sometimes longer). I just might add a little more.
Oh no, Anna! I’m sorry those Yukon gold cinnamon rolls have given you grief!
Your recipes always turn out amazing! Thanks for all you do.
Thank YOU, Amber!
Great post! Your bonus tip is the one I use the most. I have found many five star recipes where the majority of comments talk about all the changes they made to the recipe to make it five stars. So funny! I love your blog! Thanks for sharing all of your fantastic recipes!
Dear Mel, you are the bestest friend I’ve never met. I relate to you as a busy mother of 5, a lover of farm animals(although I’m stuck living in saburbia), and last but not least as a foodie. Your blog is my go-to for breakfast, dinner, and dessert-in no particular order.
I actually have a dear friend named Mel and I talk about you so much my family often asks which “Mel” I’m referring too. I just think you’re a super awesome lady!!
I loved this post! Such awesome advice to help navigate the ether world of recipes. I loved what you said about being true to your taste buds. I have often fallen for a beautifully pictured recipe that in the end was disappointing, if not a colossal failure. I certainly never blamed the recipe or the blogger but you made some good points that I will definitely keep in mind for the next time I venture out.
Thank you for helping to make cooking for my family something I look forward to and not just a chore that has to be done every couple of hours. Thank you for sharing your heart and your light with me and soo many others. And thank you for taking time in your blog to teach, encourage and uplift. You are so wonderful!
Ah, thank you, Devri! What a heartfelt, kind message. I appreciate you!
I agree with this one hundred percent. I follow a lot of cooking blogs. We have had many family favorites come from them. Sometimes the recipe isn’t our thing and that’s okay. I can’t stand it when people tear a recipe apart because they substituted ingredients. I’ve also given a recipe a few comments like there was too much cilantro for my taste etc.
Thanks for your insights, Paula!
Excellent write up, Mel.
Your point about reading the reviews is a good one but it’s so time consuming to get through the comments of how amazing or delicious it LOOKS! Maybe hold off and comment after you tried the recipe and knew what worked or didn’t work for you?
I’m always “surprised” at people who made major substitutions in a recipe and then didn’t like it.
I really like your points about altitude and weather
Thanks, Peggy! I agree that slogging through comments can be a huge time sucker!
This is a great post! Thanks Mel! I’ve come to appreciate that you and I often have the same taste in food, which is why I use so many of your recipes! And about cleaning out the spice cupboard–that’s right up there with organizing the bathroom closet (which I’ve been procrastinating for over a year now!)
Oh man, I hear you! I have jobs I procrastinate for YEARS!
I love your blog because I can almost guarantee we’ll love it if it’s one of your recipes. I know there’s been one or two duds, but I couldn’t name them (and I’m likely responsible – I tend to substitute rather than going to the store). I would guess 80% of our favorite meals/desserts come from your blog. So thank you!
Thanks, Laura! I do the exact same thing – I’m too lazy to go to the store, so I substitute. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t!
What a thoughtful, useful and validating post! I am the queen of trying new recipes and get VERY down on myself if they don’t turn out/look/taste like the recipe. I need to remember to give myself a break and that the blogger has probably tested the recipe many times compared to my one time. I will not stop trying new recipes that sound delicious, are fairly simple (although I enjoy going out of my comfort zone) and require no trips to the grocery store. I know your recipes are tried, true, and tested and 99% turn out as expected -or even better! I am so grateful to have found your site and that you have created a way to share your love of baking, family, games, animals, and chocolate with so many of us 🙂
I appreciate you so much, Patricia. You’re awesome!
I so appreciate this post! I wholeheartedly agree with your reasons/tips. I learned long ago to scan the ingredients to make sure they were things my family usually enjoys (or would be willing to try) Thankfully your palate generally matches up with mine and I know 99% of recipes on your site will be a hit with my family. Thank you for being awesome!
You have missed the most obvious reason why my new recipe attempts fail.
#6 : The recipe didn’t come from melskichencafe.
Hahahaha, Gwen. You’re the best. XOXO
What a great article! Just wanted to say that you are in my top 3 recipe sites—and you all switch around based on what I’m cooking,. But, I do know that if I try your recipes I will at the very least like them and usually love them.
Thank you so much, Shaleen! That honestly means a lot to me.
These are hilarious! I was hoping my chocolate swig cookie fail would make the wall of shame! Remember I make the chocolate cookies for a church refreshment. They were terrible. So I took them anyway. I figured no one would know which were mine and I could sneak them in. Then one of my friends asked me which ones I brought and I lied and pointed out a chocolate chip cookie on the table and those turned out to be hers! Liar Liar MY PANTS are on fire! LOL
That is literally the only recipe of yours that wasn’t my ultimate favorite. I am normally pretty good at picking out which ones I’m going to like the most. I did eat a cilantro (chimichurri) sauce on fish that my friend made from one of your recipes and it was to die for. I need to find it.
That’s such a funny story!
Oh no on the scalloped potatoes! I emailed you that recipe a few years ago begging you to try it. I hope you’ve since made it again with fresh cream because it really is “the best recipe ever” 🙂 Loved this post.
It’s not your fault, Leslie!! Totally my error. 🙂
This information was so helpful!
Oh I get what you’re saying. I have been making bread for a few years, and for the life of me I always get the mushroom shape. I so want straight sides on my loaves. They rise nice but in the oven they go, and, mushrooms.!
Hi Karen, have you tried letting them rise for less time before baking?
I gotta know- did you redo the two-tone scalloped potatoes with fresher cream? They look good!
I didn’t but I plan to this fall! They have great potential!
Great article! Thanks for sharing your honesty and insight as an insider. One of my pet peeves is rave reviews based on a photo rather than actually making/tasting the recipe.
It’s been years since I made it, but my family still brings up the “Thai Peanut Chicken Crock Pot” catastrophe. I’ll never live it down.
My family has similar catastrophes they bring up. You aren’t alone. 🙂
Excellent post and very solid advice Mel. Thank you so much for the effort to test and retest all the recipes you post – its a timesaver and lifesaver for me, who hates to experiment 🙂
Thank you, Lisa!
Along with reading reviews, I’d add read the BAD reviews. You’ll often find tips about what not to do. I find this useful on Amazon, too.
Yes, totally agree!
Amen to all of this! Trial and error. One of the BEST things about Mel’s Kitchen Cafe is the amazing comment and review section on every post. I can’t tell you how often I use the “find in page” function to search the comments for key words that will help me figure out possible substitutions or trouble shoot. There not many other recipe blogs that have such a helpful comment section, and that is invaluable in my opinion. I think the one raved about recipe on your site that I tried and hated was the spaghetti pie. I fully chalk that up to different tastes and acknowledge that not everyone loves that same things!
What a great tip to use the “find in page” function. Love that idea! I am SO grateful for the comment sections on most of my recipes – mostly, so grateful for everyone who takes the time to comment!
I agree!! The commenters on this site albeit the mean ones are the most helpful!
The Reviews and Adaptations seem to be tops here. I now diligently review the reviews and curse at anyone posting a “looks good! 5 stars!” review. Or the “5 stars! (after I made these 20 changes)” review. So frustrating.
I think we can all agree that the best reviews are the ones that actually give some kind of feedback! 🙂
You’re the best Mel! I honestly think the very few recipes from you that haven’t made it to my “keep” binder(s) (I’m like you, I print them, put them in plastic pages and have them all organized in several binders) are totally taste preference. I’ve realized I don’t love curry or very strong lime, and so I just skip recipes that are heavy on things like that. But I’m pretty positive I’ve never made one of your desserts that I didn’t LOVE!
And also, when I do see a negative comment on your blog, it’s usually, no definitely, a major eye roller! I think my 2 favorites are the complaint of someone burning their mouth on your mug cookie (hello! It’s hot straight from the microwave!) and some dude complaining about the cost of vanilla. And that was WAY before the cost of vanilla was actually insane. The other thing I learned many years ago, after Pinterest became a thing is that I don’t need a million recipes from dozens of different bloggers. I love your style and methods and you quickly became my #1 go to. And the very few others I still follow are OBB (love that you and Sara are real life friends! I want to come!) Jamie (cause desserts) and one that I just love to see her beautiful photos of her insanely beautiful desserts that I have never tried to make. (Sprinkle Bakes, do you know her blog? She’s an artist, not a mom feeding kids. But gorgeous creations if you don’t know her!)
I hope you are doing well, surviving without Brian and enjoying summer with those piggies and donkeys. Oh and your kids too!
Thanks, Josie! Love your spirit and loyalty. I also love that you just know which recipes you are going to avoid because of taste preferences. That’s half the battle sometimes!! I agree that Sprinkle Bakes has the most beautiful food photos. Amazing!
I realize I should rate and comment on your site way more often than I do. Your recipes rarely ever fail me, and make up usually 1/2 of my weekly meal plan meals! That said, I hate chipotle, so I don’t ever make recipes that call for it knowing I would not enjoy, but throw me a Greek inspired recipe snd it’ll grace my table within a week. Sometimes people just need to use common sense. . Cant wait to see what delicious recipes you have up your sleeve! My family would nearly starve without you and your website! Keep up the great work!
Common sense is key! AND, I love you for loving Greek-inspired recipes. They are hands down some of my favorites, too.
Thanks for the reminder of the many reasons why a recipe might not turn out the way we’d hoped it would. I’ve been disappointed before with how a recipe turned out and haven’t always taken location into account. I’ve lived in high altitude locations before and sometimes have had recipes come out dismally. Or adaptations didn’t turn out quite like I thought I would (but I recognize that’s all on me). It’s always good to have a reminder.
Thanks, Kara! I also validate that it is just straight up frustrating not to have a recipe turn out. I wish there weren’t so many factors that go into it!
Mel, you have some of the best recipes online. I have been cooking/baking for 65 years and have had some flops alongside the good ones. I learned by doing–that is continuing to cook and learning to adjust the recipe as I went along. Humidity is a big factor and when I moved to Virginia from northeastern Ohio many years ago I found that my peanut butter fudge, for example, had to be adjusted. If the AC was on it influenced the amount of time needed in boiling the fudge (less time).
But if it was raining outside I had to boil it longer. I’m an old-fashioned cook and I still use water for testing when the fudge is done. Thank you so much for your recipes, tips and letting us get a glimpse of your wonderful family. God Bless.
You could teach us a lot, Tricia!!
Thanks for all your tips, and thanks for linking the mug cookie reviews. That post brought out some of the most ridiculous drama queens on the internet.
It might be the most hilarious comment thread on the interwebs.
Thank you for this! It reminded me of 2 things – Do better at rating and commenting because so many of your recipes are favorites of my family AND check the comments on that mug cookie when I’m feeling a little down…LOL!! I appreciate you and can’t get enough of your faux farm too!! 🙂
Hahaha, seriously, the comments on that recipe are amazing.
I loved this post. Two things — First, it would be really helpful if bloggers would list somewhere in the recipe’s notes at what altitude the recipe was tested at. Sometimes I try to figure out what state the blogger lives in so I can change the amount of yeast (for example) in a bread recipe. Second, I too get tired of looking at 20 comments (and high ratings) where only one commenter actually made the recipe. I understand that bloggers and families are trying to help each other out by boosting ratings BUT it’s really not helpful to the “average Joe” trying to find a good recipe. And, btw, I love it when bloggers have videos. Thanks again for this post.
Thanks for your feedback, Glenna! Thats a good point about stating the altitude more clearly (and I’m working on getting more videos!)
What a great and courageous post! #4 really spoke to me. You are so right. I make a recipe as is, then make notes of what I would adapt. I’ve made several of your recipes and all of them were wonderful. I’m an amateurish food blogger, and I’m sometimes taken aback at how harsh people can be, with criticism. Especially when they adapted my recipe so much, I don’t even recognize it! Please know that I love your blog!
Thank you so much! And keep up the good/hard work of blogging. It really is rewarding.
[ also give it 5 stars. It really made me realize how often i use what i have on hand rather than what a recipe calls for. So I don*t have the right to down grade a recipe unless I make it exactly like the recipe states and think about my ingredients and my likes and dislikes before judging. Thank you!
Thanks for reading the post, Maxine!
I had to alter your best white sandwich bread to reduce the water a bit and increase the flour. (I just figure Seattle is probably more humid than your location). I’m so happy I stuck with the trial & error, because I love that recipe. I’ve also shared it (and my modifications) with a few local friends who wanted to learn to bake bread last year. 😀
I’m also glad you talk about your fav sweet curry from Penzey’s—it gave me courage to try your instant pot coconut chicken curry, and that menu is now part of our regular rotation (with the addition on potato & cauliflower).
I’m so happy you figured out how to make that bread recipe work! Yes, I think Seattle is more humid than where I live (and much closer to sea level). Anytime I can convert someone to that incredible sweet curry powder, I consider my work here done. 🙂
Having lived at moderately high altitude for a while, then sea level for many years, and recently back to the moderately high altitude, I’m learning even more about baking!
It dawned on me that I had no issues baking with my dark pans at high altitude. But when we moved down to sea level, I discovered that I needed to decrease my oven temperature by 25 degrees to create the same outcome.
My favorite cake recipe, which always worked BEAUTIFULLY at sea level, even when that sea level was in a foreign country, hasn’t worked so well since we’ve been back at high altitude. I’m thinking my neighbors will enjoy my experimentations.
I wanted to add one thing to your post that I learned while living abroad—ingredients around the world are not standardized. Wheat flours are made from different species, grind size, and textures. Sugars are different crystal sizes and compositions. ”Normal” strength vinegar is more or less acidic based on where you live. Butter has different “normal” fat content depending on the country. Dried spices also taste different because of the different varieties grown in various places. So, if you are following a recipe that was made in a different country, even if you’re just using basic flour, sugar, butter, spices, etc., you’re still using different ingredients and the recipe is not guaranteed to turn out the same way.
Hi Amanda, thanks for chiming in! Such a great point about ingredients throughout other countries. Thanks for pointing that out. You sound like an incredibly intuitive baker…I love how you are troubleshooting your favorite cake recipe.
Thank you for all the specific suggestions, Mel! I love how much you want us all to succeed in the kitchen!
I’m glad that comes across, because it’s such a huge motivator for me! Thanks, Sharee!
You know I have followed and loved your site for years – at least a decade now! And while I haven’t had success with every recipe on MKC,, I take full responsibility for that and also enjoy very much the recipes that turn out great 90% of the time or more. Great post! Very informative for those who may be unsure why their recipes aren’t working. You’re the best! And so is your food!
Thanks, Holly! I’m sure some of the ones that don’t turn out aren’t all your fault! So much boils down to the taste preference thing, don’t you think? Thanks for always being here and being so kind!
Great tips! Hubby and I still laugh at a new chicken recipe that said the sauce is wonderful. It was the driest chicken I ever made! Thank you for all you do! And yes send dark chocolate chips!!
Oh gosh, I’ve had a lot of experiences like that, Helen! 🙂
Wonderful article with lots of great tips. Thank you!
This post had so much great info to it and I kept going to all the links and catching up on posts and looking at scales that I forgot I wasn’t done reading the original post! Good one, though! Those of us that taught ourselves need all the help we can get and it’s reassuring to know others actually have the same issues and how to troubleshoot and fix.
Thanks, Scotty! I agree that a lot of us have the same issues and it’s nice not to feel like we are the only ones. 🙂
My biggest pet peeve is finding a recipe that sounds promising and then reading the comments that say “it was perfect but I added an extra tsp of this and 1/2 cup of that and I baked it 14 minutes longer in an outdoor oven instead of how it was written” or whatever (AllRecipes commenters, I’m looking at you!) I think the key for me is 1. Read the recipe carefully through a few times and then 2. Make sure I have the ingredients/equipment needed. I’m a rule follower generally which helps a lot with baking but it also helps a lot to ensure recipes turn out the way the author intended. However, once I’ve made the recipe as written and if I like it enough to try again, then I might embellish a little. I tried this really basic and easy skillet lasagna recipe that was fine but it was a lot better the second time (to me, anyway) adding a little onion in with the meat, adding a little more sauce and then bumping up the spices to account for the extra sauce. That’s the best thing about cooking – you can literally do whatever you want. Will it mean things work out?? Haha maybe not…but it’s also fun to learn along the way (and it’s why we always have corn dogs in the freezer as a backup.)
Great thoughts, Jeanelle!!
You’re the best, Mel! I love your recipes and love sharing the my friend even more! There have been a few that haven’t worked out for me and I agree with everything you said in this post! There are so many tried and trues that they outweigh anything that doesn’t work for me.
I appreciate the way you write your recipes and although I often “jump to recipe’ I find myself reading the entire post and it helps me with the recipe!
Thanks for all your fabulous recipes I am preparing a book of recipes for my daughter in college so she can make them too..,well, the easiest ones! Could she possibly make your chocolate cake every weekend? Well maybe she will make it for her friend’s birthdays and everyone will be amazed!
Thanks, Sara! I’m glad my awesome readers can be honest with me about recipes sometimes not turning out. That’s real life! And I say YES, that chocolate cake should be made every weekend in college. 🙂 Haha.
Very informative post! I don’t know what I’d do without my kitchen scale. I’m so used to it that I struggle with recipes that don’t include ingredient weights. All your points were spot on, but I thought #3 and #4 are especially so when it comes to commenting on a recipe. I can never figure out why people make a recipe that includes something they don’t like. Cilantro tastes like soap to me and I usually skip recipes that contain it. I still find plenty of new recipes to try. And then the subs…..I do it and usually not an issue, but it’s not the recipe’s fault if it is. Thanks for the post – I gave it 5 stars.
Thanks for your comment, Mary Ann! I agree about the kitchen scale. I’m pretty excited because my goal is to get all my recipes converted to include weight measures by the end of summer.
The rock star is all you Mel! Thanks for sharing your recipes over the years with us. You are my go to site anytime I want to make something, your recipes never disappoint! Keep doing you, we love it!
Thank you so much, Sue!
I love your writing — this was a wonderful post. You are the best. Your artichoke dip is on the menu for this weekend, Plus your divine chocolate cupcakes. I am not a fan of cream cheese in most recipes, so I just don’t make those from your site, But I pretty much make everything else. Well, except a mug cookie. It appears I’m not brave enough for that. 🙂
See? This is why I love you guys. You already know you aren’t a fan of cream cheese, so the best option is probably to avoid those. Smart lady! 🙂 And the comments on that mug cookie have basically ruined it for so many people, haha.
Thanks Mel! You’re amazing. Thanks for all your time and effort that went into this post!
I appreciate you – thanks, Kristen!
A very helpful post! Thanks for helping me to be more self aware!
The ratings one is so true! I hate it when a recipe has 30 five-star ratings that all say, “looks amazing! Can’t wait to try it!” Seriously! I also came across a blogger that would rate the recipe 5 stars every time she replied to a comment. More then half the ratings were just from her!
All your points were spot on. Thanks for the informative write up, and for working so hard to put out great recipes!
Mel, I made your Chicken Tortilla Bake years ago when I was pregnant and suffering from heartburn. I was not a very experienced cook at the time and it took me forever to make. The recipe called for – 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce-well, this was the first time I had ever used this ingredient and I put two whole CANS into this casserole! Holy cow, my husband’s head about exploded from the heat! I cried for an hour because we couldn’t eat it. I blamed you, Mel, for not knowing I was an idiot cook and not explaining it better ; ) My husband took it to work to share with a warning that it was super spicy and he had a couple guys tell him it was the best thing they’ve ever eaten. Your blog helped me to become “the best cooker” as my kids would say, thank you!
Lisa, this is alternately the best AND worst story. I’m so sorry!! Although it sounds like there were those that appreciated the extra heat. Honestly, reading things like this so helpful for me because it makes me want to make sure I am explicitly clear with ingredients and directions (I apologize if I haven’t been!).
Wonderful post, Mel! This is the classiest, kindest, most genuinely helpful response to recipe-haters I’ve ever seen. Your pro tip should be highlighted in sparkly lights. One of the reasons I adore your blog is that you have the very best readers, who take the time to detail their experience with a recipe for the rest of us. I always skim the reviews, and sometimes comb them, especially if I’m hoping to make a specific substitution, or vary from the tested method in some way. Incredibly, more often than not, some generous reader has experimented, and reported back, thumbs up or down. It’s so helpful.
What a difference from the “It was gross” style of review that sometimes pops up. Failure helps us learn, but only if we reflect on why. I had such a giggle at the mug cookie reviews- thanks for that.
I am so proud of you for this response to the recent wave of internet negativity. You are an amazing role model, an inspired cook and a beacon of kindness in the digital world. You have transformed the way I cook (can I hear it for the almighty menu plan?) and made our lives more delicious. Thank you, Mel! We appreciate you!!!
Thank you, Rebecca! Your comment was delightful and meant a lot to me. I agree with you completely – the readers here are the best on the internet. Helpful, kind (most of them, haha), and I always consult the feedback in the comment section before I make my own recipes! 🙂
I love this post. I am a lazy cook at best and sometimes things just don’t turn out. Last winter I made your loaded broccoli cheese and bacon soup and it had the best flavor. The best! Only it was so hard to eat because of the cheese. I didn’t realize I was out of regular cheese and I didn’t even think about the melting properties of other cheese and graded cheese curds to put in it. Don’t do that. 🙂 There were lumps of cheese all over. LOL I will definitely make it again next winter and make sure I actually have the correct ingredients. I love your recipes and your fun humor on this site.
Misti, I laughed out loud at this (and maybe kind of just gagged just a tiny little bit). I’m not a fan of cheese curds so thinking of them in this soup was a stretch! Haha. You’re the best.
I made it to the end of the post and loved every word of it! I must say that I knew many of the tips you shared BECAUSE of your blog. From your guidance in various posts, I’ve picked up on these tips over the years and I’ve learned to be a better cook & baker because of you and this site! I share your recipes and site all the time as my “go-to” for recipes.
That actually is the best thing you could say, Rebecca! I try to mention a lot of these things in my posts, but sometimes I know I sound redundant so I back off. I’m glad it’s made a difference!
My favorite part of this post is that your first comment mentioned was from Ted, and you finished with. “Thank you for coming to my TED talk.”
In all seriousness though, the climate tip is often why my cinnamon rolls turn out better than my spouse’s. I modify the amount of flour from his grandmother’s recipe based on how the dough is coming together. He uses it all. ♀️ I know what to look for because of you, Mel, so thank you!
Haha, I wondered if anyone would catch that, Rosalyn. 🙂 And way to go on figuring out an alteration to make those cinnamon rolls perfection!
I’m often in a rush and didn’t used to let the oven preheat all the way. Other times I’ve added pasta to the water before it’s truly boiling. Those two mistakes can impact the outcome a lot. I also substitute a lot for ingredients I don’t have, which can actually work out well sometimes. Thanks for great recipes and tips.
Thanks for your insights, Susan!
You’re the Rockstar!
Have been using your recipes for years. Thanks for all you do!
Excellent blog/advice! Two things:
1) What about size of eggs? And whether they should be beaten a little (to break up yolk) before adding to baked goods recipe?
2) How do I get my lifetime supply of chocolate? More importantly, difference between Dutch processed and non-Dutch processed cocoa?
Haha, great questions. I’ll get back to you on the lifetime supply of chocolate. As for eggs, that’s a great point and one I should add to the section up above. The size of eggs is important! I have an old post about the differences in cocoa powder:
Thank you for consistently publishing accurate (and delicious) recipes. I appreciate the hard work it takes to do that!
Thank you so much, Lori!
I nodded throughout, this is a wise & useful post
Heed Mel’s words everybody 🙂
Love you, love your blog, and love your blog readers! You make VERY valid points! I am notorious for scrutinizing the comments on recipes – that’s where the REAL truth comes in! Too many blog writers put up garbage recipes just to keep the views churning — that’s why I LOVE and TRUST your blog! You post when you have a great recipe – not on some routine, amped up schedule. That way we know when you post, you really LIKE what you posted.
Also— I LOVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE my kitchen scale!! Oh my gosh, takes sooo much guess work out of baking! If you update all your recipes with weights, holy cow, that would be **amazing**
That’s my goal over the summer, Jennifer!
I know that I have made changes to some of your tried and true recipes and those changes made the recipe gross. Example: I wanted to make your instant pot ziti but didn’t have cream so I used evaporated milk. That was a huge mistake.
Also, I bought a scale to insure that my baked goods came out as promised. However, my 19 year old oven needs to be checked because I do not think it comes to the correct temperature and that definitely affects the food which isn’t your fault.
I do not always leave reviews but feel as if I should do more. Your food recipes and life posts make me and my family happy (and sometimes emotional).
okay, that’s so strange b/c my GO TO replacement for cream is evaporated milk and I’m always happy with how it turns out, no matter the recipe! so odd! lol
Loved this post and will gladly accept all the mail-order dark chocolate you could send my way! xoxo
Can I give your post a 5star rating? I think so!
Haha, thanks, Ellen!