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Some Thoughts On A Bad Pie

I used to think I was a terrible cook. Any time I tried making something, it always came out awful. I had a failure rate of about 95% with new recipes.

Then I realized that it wasn’t that I was a terrible cook. It’s that this is what “cooking” means.

As bloggers, we tend to choose anecdotes from the far ends of the bell curve. We proudly display our successes and bemoan our disastrous failures. It’s only natural – that’s the stuff of high drama, the stuff that makes the best stories. But real life lies in that big middle part of the curve.

In cooking blogs, you only see the successes. Prepped and gleaming, looking too perfect to eat. And you read about the occasional failure. But you don’t hear much about the “meh” results, the stuff that just didn’t quite turn out for one reason or another.

It gives someone like me the wrong idea! And I think a lot of knitting blogs do the same, which gives entry-level knitters the wrong idea. Both knitting and cooking are basically the process of creating mediocre semi-failures, analyzing what you did wrong, and doing it over again only better.

Last weekend I made cheesecake for the first time. I have learned to make “first time” recipes for myself at least a week in advance, because they usually fail. Such was the case this time.

In hindsight, half the problem was the recipe. I would have thought Paula Deen would know her way around a cheesecake. Looking back now I can see that the recipe is to blame for the cooking problems (it scorched at the edges from baking too long at too high a temperature), the blandness, and the could-be-better graham cracker crust. (Most other recipes have you bake the crust first, before putting in the filling.)

And on the “one-off problems” category we have the issue of cloves. Turns out I didn’t have any ground cloves, so I hand-ground some whole cloves in a mortar and pestle. Not super successful with that. Every once in a while you encounter a big chunk of clove.

But the biggest, most objectionable problem is squarely my fault.

pumpkin cheesecake

At a certain point as I was mixing it I just gave up. “These little cream cheese blobs will surely melt into the rest of the batter as it bakes,” I thought.

But they didn’t, and now it looks like scrambled eggs, or maybe cheesecake filled with boogers. And also it is a dead ringer for the stuff my cats throw up on my carpet.

But next time? Next time I’m gonna crush it! And when people ask about it, will I admit that I made a few bad ones before I finally got it right? Oh my, no. And the cycle of “editing out the failures so I look better” continues.

16 comments to Some Thoughts On A Bad Pie

  • Slager

    That is… interesting-looking. Actually, I made this face… D:

    But I look forward to seeing an improved product! I can’t even make regular cake, so making cheesecake sounds crazy.

  • Want my cheesecake recipe? Most excellent, although I cannot make myself right now because of the sickly oven.

    I seem to remember reading that the secret to keeping the finished, baked cheesecake from cracking is leaving it in the oven after it is done, presumably turning off said oven at the appropriate time. Maybe you prop the oven open, too. Teh google will tel you.

    Appearances aside, how did your cheesecake taste? I am willing to forgive weird, lumpy appearance if the food is redeemed by tasting yummy.

  • Erika

    I would love your recipe, thanks!

    It didn’t taste very good. It was way too bland and insipid. I ate it over the course of the week anyway, though, because I can’t stand to waste food. It was like $12 worth of cream cheese alone!

  • Okay, when I fire up the food blog again (soon(tm), or even someday(r)), I shall have to remember this. Because you’re totally, completely right, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone. It’s either “here’s this perfect thing that I made!” Or “let me tell you about the time I put cloves in soup instead of garlic powder!”

    (Oh, and I also tried to use handground cloves in applesauce, and had *exactly* the same result. Take two, with ground cloves? Perfect. Apparently, yes, it does make a difference.)

  • Krista

    I think I attempted the same recipe…pumpkin cheesecake? I had a similar clotting issue. I thought I underseasoned it after reading all the “rave” reviews. Now I know…btw anyone know how to prevent cheesecake coagulation?

  • Ady

    I made this same cheesecake for Thanksgiving and it was such a hit at Thanksgiving that I made one for everyone as an extra Christmas present this year.
    The big trick was in softening the cream cheese first. Once it is soft, blend just the cream cheese up until it is smooth and THEN add the other ingredients one at a time and blend them in. This took me a couple of pies to figure it out. I am glad my kids ate my “practice cheesecake” before the holidays. They are actually pretty good sports about eating my “practice” foods in November so that I can have a great Thanksgiving dinner.
    I am also glad to hear that I am not the only one who needs to work a recipe out before it is lovely. I was worried that I was a terrible cook!! (PS… I was also worried I was a terrible knitter…)

  • tari

    You are braver than I. I always make “no bake” cheesecakes; I have not been brave enough to attempt a real cheesecake yet.

  • Erika

    Don’t sell no-bake cheesecakes short, those things are da bomb!

  • Sam

    I used the same recipe for my pumpkin cheesecake. There’s some in my fridge, in fact. Turned out fine. If you have an electric mixer, that’ll mix it much better, but it’ll make your cheesecake crack. It’s a purely aesthetic problem, which can be covered up pretty easily. Really, the biggest problem in a cheesecake is not mixing everything well enough. Scorching also isn’t a big deal, and, in my opinion, just makes the pie better.

    You’ll do awesome next time!

  • gabes

    It took five years for me to perfect my “invention” ie:mashup of other things, the chocolate chip pumpkin scone. Now it comes out awesome 90 percent of the time! Persistance really does pay off.
    Also, when I first got married I tried over and over to make lasagna and could not. I got salt brick and tub o’ lard results! hahahaha my poor family
    ps. don’t ever try to use feta cheese in a lasagna cuz its the only cheese you have hahahahaha

  • Sara

    I have a recipe for seed cookies that we use almost every Christmas since ~1987. Some years the dough was gluey and globby, too stiff for drop cookies and too sticky to roll out. Other times it was _perfect_ and rolled easily for cookie-cutters. It’s delicious enough to keep trying, but the inconsistency puzzled us for a LONG time.

    A year or five ago I determined that if you cream the butter into the dry ingredients, THEN add the egg yolks, the dough is smooth and rollable. If you throw the butter and yolks in together, it’s unmanageable. (We managed by rolling it into individual balls, then rolling those in sesame seeds and pressing them with a cookie-stamp. It’s a little labor-intensive, but YUM.)

    I guess my point is … yeah. We don’t always discuss the non-successes. The cookies always came out delicious, just more frustrating some years than others.

  • Lisa Eaton

    Is there such a thing as a bad pie? I don’t think so!

  • Joanne

    The best cheesecake recipe I’ve ever used (and my go-to recipe from now on) is on the Simply Recipes blog, the Perfect Cheesecake recipe. It’s amazing, and as long as you follow the directions exactly it turns out perfectly. My husband, who claims that he’ll ruin boiled water, has made this cheesecake several times, and prides himself on it now. If he can do it, you can!

  • Another Erika

    I made a pumpkin cheesecake a few years ago that had a ginger snap crust. It was divine.

    I’m surprised by that Paula Deen recipe, not just the crust thing, but that she seems to imply you can just dump all the ingredients in there once you’ve beaten the cream cheese. I’ve never had a problem with her recipes before, well except that they will eventually kill me.

  • moiraeknittoo

    This gives me hope as I ponder starting off the new year with, well, trying to learn how to cook. Right now there’s a pile of veggies in the kitchen, waiting to be roasted. I’ve been following lots and lots of blogs for a long time, including some cooking ones, and it never really occurred to me that yes, we only see the far ends of the bell curve and not the middle of the road type things.

    Thank you for the lovely post here! And I’m positive you’ll nail that cheesecake the next time.

    …and now I’m really hungry for something cheesy. Better go eat breakfast.

  • Erika

    I went through that a few years ago when I started working at home! My advice is to start small, just learning 1 new recipe a week. And cook it early enough that if it gets botched, you’re not starving and can fix something else for dinner instead.

    Specific to veggies, this is my go-to resource:

    It helps answer that question, “What am I supposed to do with THIS?”