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Help me decipher my gingerbread disaster!

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I'm a frequent baker and, with one exception involving merengue and a "thin stream of caramelized sugar," I've rarely experienced a true disaster despite my tendency to play around with recipes. But over the weekend I decided to whip up a batch of tried and true gingerbread (I posted a paraphrase of the recipe, from the excellent Sweet Stuff by Karen Barker, on this board last year)since I had some fresh ginger from the farmers' market.

I've made this many times, and I used the same pan as always. Same oven. I don't even mess with this recipe the way I usually do. But this time the failure was spectacular--it rose WAY too much, overflowed the sides of the pan, dripped all over the oven, then collapsed in an unsightly brown heap. I was to bring this as dessert to a friend's dinner party; I had to stop at a Whole Foods on the way over instead as all of the decent bakeries were closed and I was disgracefully low or out of necessary raw materials to do another take. So embarrassing! I won't even get into what happened after my husband decided to run the self-cleaning cycle on the oven without waiting for me to scrape off the coating of gingerbread batter...

The only mistake I think I made was in reversing the additions of the last two ingredients--orange juice and a mixture of warm coffee and 2 t baking soda. I got distracted and added the OJ first, then the fizzy coffee mixture. Could the extra acidity of the batter when I added the baking soda have caused the extreme rising and subsequent collapse? Any insight from food science experts/home eccies would be gratefully received.

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  1. Is it possible you accidentally used self rising flour instead of AP?

    I did that this summer, and although I saved part of the cake with some serious sawing, spliting, filling, and icing - it had a weird texture and a weirder, mettallic taste. Did you taste yours?

    1 Reply
    1. re: danna

      No, I don't have any self-rising flour. But come to think of it, I did run out of AP flour and had to use a smidge of bread flour (about 1/4-1/3 C out of a total of 2 1/2 C. Could this have made a difference, I wonder?

      It actually tasted good despite its unseemly appearance, but it's very spicy so any subtle changes might have been hard to notice.

      It's amazing what a bit of sawing, splitting, filling, etc can do for a cake! I thought about trying to salvage this one but it appeared completely defeated.

    2. Is it possible you added two TBSP of soda instead of two tsp?

      2 Replies
        1. re: Smokey

          Nothing is impossible but I am 99.999 percent certain I did not do this in this instance (because I have done this sort of thing before and was being especially mindful). The coffee-soda mix looked the same as ever, and nothing untoward happened when I blended it all together. Until it was in the oven...

      1. You over mixed it and beat too much air into the batter. Generally you do that just once and then learn. That is why it over flowed the pan. I did that once, just not paying real good attention with my tried and true chocolate pound cake, one of which I just put in the oven.

        1. I have had a similar gingerbread disaster. I think it's possible that sometimes the acidity balance gets screwy and stuff like this happens. OR - and here's where we get into complicated science - it could possibly have been weather-realated. I have found that during some unusual air pressure periods (too low, too high, whatever) baking goes crazy. Was it a nice, normal sunny day or was there something funny going on?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Nyleve

            Very interesting. I think I could have overbeaten, since I was not monitoring the KitchenAid as closely as I might have, and the recipe calls for the whisk attachment rather than the paddle which seems as if it would exacerbate this danger.

            And it WAS a weird weather day--rainy and warm in the morning, while I was baking it became sunny, dry, and cold.