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Is there anything you just can't make, no matter how hard you try? [Moved from General Topics board]

Mine is meatloaf. I love meatloaf, but no matter what I do, no matter what recipe I use, anyone who eats my meatloaf will have a miserable case of indigestion within two hours, and it will last at least a day. I think I've tried at least forty meatloaf recipes. I've even tried wearing rubber gloves when making it in case it's some sort of bizarre chemical interaction with my skin. Nothing helps. <sigh> I make a great beef Wellington. But sometimes the budget just screams "Meatloaf!"

What about you?

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  1. Homemade chocolate cake. I could sift cake flour forever, but I still won't get a light, airy cake like a boxed cake mix. They're tasty and all, but just have the consistency of dry brownies.

    17 Replies
    1. re: charlesbois

      For me it's brownies. Mine are always overcooked on the outside and undercooked inside and taste like they are from a box even if they aren't.

      1. re: Janet from Richmond

        This might be your recipe a, but it possible that you pan is too deep, or the oven is too hot.

        I never make brownies over 3/4 of a inch thick, and the pan should be heavy aluminum or glass. I like 350F for 25-30 minutes.

        1. re: Janet from Richmond

          I've had good results with the recipe on the back of the Fry's Cocoa container. The only time I had it fail was when I tried to make Cheesecake Brownies in my 9x13 insulated pan... and the failure was the same situation you described - overdone on the outside and undercooked in the middle. I've had odd results with the pan before so I'm going to try making the cheesecake brownies one more time in a regular 9x13 and see what happens.... something tells me (in my case anyway) that it's the pan.

          1. re: Janet from Richmond

            I'm glad I'm not alone with the brownies thing. I can't make brownies to save my life...even when they are from a box. Maybe it's the pan, maybe it's the 45 year-old oven, maybe I can't make browines to save my life.

            1. re: MrsT

              a hint that might help: when they're done on the edges but not in the middle, try turning off the oven and leave the brownies in there for another ~15 minutes. I do it with sour cream chocolate cake and it works.

              1. re: MrsT

                Being a scientist, this question comes to mind: have you checked oven temp. with a REALLY ACCURATE thermometer?

                1. re: Joebob

                  It's happened to me with every oven I've had. And other baked items do just fine (cakes, cookies, etc.)..it's just brownies I have trouble with.

                  1. re: Janet from Richmond

                    According to some TV commercials I've seen, you can now buy ready-made brownies in a disposable pan all ready to pop in the oven and take bows that they're "home made." I plan to give them a try, and if they turn out nice anc chewy, hey, I don't mind not having to wash the Kitchen Aid...!

                    Also, there's less temptation to bake a double batch! '-)

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      I dunno....I'm scared they will be as nasty as the "biscuits"....*blech*

                2. re: MrsT

                  Good Lord, I think their might be a whole slew of us out there. We could start a support group!

                  "Hi, my name's _____, and I'm incapable of making brownies... even out of a box."

                3. re: Janet from Richmond

                  This is a brownie recipe that is no fail (I hope) that my great grandmother made:

                  2 squares non sweetened chocolate
                  1 cup sugar
                  1 stick butter
                  1 egg
                  1 teaspoon vanilla
                  1/2 cup flour

                  Heat oven to 325

                  Grease small (9 inch or less) cake or square pan

                  Melt chocolate, butter
                  Mix in sugar, vanilla
                  Beat in Egg
                  Add flour

                  Cook 30 mins and check... it is done when the fork comes out clean.

                  1. re: katalina

                    This is pretty close to the recipe I have used, except I use 2 eggs and add a cup of walnuts. Add the eggs one at a time, and I cook at 350. And if I'm doing for a crowd (this is my standard offering at potlucks), I double and do in a 9x13 pan. Yum.

                  2. re: Janet from Richmond

                    I'm with you, Janet. I saw this thread and that was immediately what came to mind for me. It doesn't matter whether they are homemade or from a box - same result. crunchy in the corners gooey in the middle. UGH! A baker I am not... just as jfood admitted in his recent thread!

                    You're not alone.

                    1. re: lynnlato

                      Isn't that how they're supposed to be?

                      1. re: coll

                        In order to get a good crunchy/gooey ratio per brownie, I make them in muffin tins.

                  3. re: charlesbois

                    Charlesbois,
                    This might be a too simple answer. Have you tried cake flour?

                    1. re: charlesbois

                      Funny, the thing I like about homemade chocolate cake is its denseness and dryness. But if you want a lighter cake, maybe try using oil instead of butter? Or use a sponge cake recipe. Or, not to be flip, but seriously, why not stick with a box cake if you prefer it?

                    2. Buttercream frosting like you get from the bakeries. It tastes perfect in the bowl but when I frost it always hardens and becomes more like a glaze than a real frosting.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: L_W

                        I make frosting using a sinful method that is hard to screw up:

                        With electric mixer
                        Cream 2 sticks butter
                        Add powder sugar
                        A little milk (to help mix in the sugar)
                        A drop of vanilla (optional)

                        And just keep mixing and tasting until you get your desired sweetness. If you want chocolate, add cocoa power, for coffee add a little coffee.

                        Hope this works!

                        1. re: katalina

                          Ok, now that this is in Home Cooking, I feel better about asking a follow-up:
                          How MUCH sugar and about how MUCH milk?

                          This is pretty much what I do but it just doesn't ever stay as "thick" and fluffy as it is in cake shops. Does it have to be butter? Crisco?

                          1. re: L_W

                            I start by adding a tablespoon of milk to the mixture, and keep adding until I get the desired consistency. The milk helps to make it more fluffy and mix in the sugar. But the tricky to fluffiness is beating it with an electric mixer very well.
                            I usually end up using about a box of powdered sugar. But add slowly (1/2 cup at a time) and make sure it all mixes in.
                            Crisco would not work because it doesn't taste like butter.

                            1. re: katalina

                              Actually, a lot of "buttercreams" are made with vegetable shortening instead of butter. In traditional wedding cakes (frosted in buttercream with extruded flowers, string work, all that jazz instead of smoothed fondant) vegetable shortening is the ONLY way to get a true white frosting. Then you add butter flavoring to the icing.

                              Here are a couple of recipes from Wilton. I can't say how good they are since they don't have the original Wilton recipe I've used for years because of the trans-fat restrictions. That original recipe used canned milk instead of what is used in these:

                              http://www.wilton.com/recipes/recipes...

                              http://www.wilton.com/recipes/recipes...

                              If you're using a hand mixer, you will have to beat at least twice as long (maybe even 15 to 20 minutes) to come close to the result you would get with a stand mixer, and you may never get the same result. You really do need a stand mixer for "professional" icings and frosting. If you want a thicker icing, add a bit more SIFTED powdered sugar. For thinner icing, dilute with milk or cream, but conservatively! Better to have to thin several times than to have to rethicken with more confectioners sugar. And last of all, always sift your powdered sugar. It will give you lump free icing, and if you're doing any piping at all, such as "Happy Birthday" or whatever, it won't clog your icing tubes.

                              Good luck!

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                Thanks! I have never sifted my sugar so that could also be one of my issues....

                              2. re: katalina

                                I am sure that there is a rule about frosting made with butter and powdered sugar. That rule is: You will NEVER get the proportions right and will always be adding a little more butter or a little more sugar or a little more liquid (cream, milk, orange juice, etc.). Actually, you WILL get it right, but only after you have made a gigantic bowlful of frosting.

                                Nothing to do but eat the leftovers.

                                1. re: oakjoan

                                  That is so true! My dad used to put graham cracker and leftover frosting sandwiches in my bag lunches. Often the frosting was partly blue, partly pink, partly white... That and the egg salad sandwiches made me really popular.

                        2. I can't temper chocolate for the life of me. It always has a tantrum and blooms.

                          1. Indian food. Not looking for something authentic, I just want a decent chana masala or chicken curry recipe that tastes like a boring Indian restaurant made it. I've tried, and after all that work, I've never been satisfied.

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: smittys

                              I cannot make Indian or Thai food. My Chinese is improving, but it still has plenty of room for improvement.

                              1. re: smittys

                                If you live near a Trader Joe's, try their simmering sauces and their frozen naan. I also make a raita salad similar to what my Indian co-workers would bring to work (plain yogurt, minced cucumber, sliced radishes, chopped green onions, etc) to go with my curry or masala dish.

                                1. re: meem

                                  the tj's korma simmer sauce is outstanding.

                                2. re: smittys

                                  Smittys, I have a great recipe for you. I have always failed horribly at making Indian food, however I found a recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala on RecipeZaar and followed it to the letter with stellar results.

                                  http://www.recipezaar.com/70084

                                  I took care to marinate the chicken for 24 hours (in a zip lock bag) making the chicken tender and incredibly flavorful. Also, preparing the recipe over two days made it less labor intensive; I did the prep one day and cooked it the next. I grilled the chicken on my George Foreman san skewers (not traditional I'm sure, but FAST). I have gotten raves every time I have made this. I've also used half and half instead of cream to cut some calories and it was still nothing less than fantastic.

                                  1. re: MysticYoYo

                                    Thank you Mystic YoYo: CTM is one of my absolute favorite dishes -- not only in Indian cuisine, but all cuisine. I am encouraged to try this right away!

                                  2. re: smittys

                                    My dad grew up in India as the child of missionaries, and makes what he calls "Mission Curry." It's tasty, but I think it relies on having an Indian grocery store nearby for the spices. Do you have one of those? I will send you the recipe either way, as I'm sure you can get good spices on the internet if they aren't close by. I like his version because it can be very spicy or very mild. Also, he always serves it with cashew-raisin rice made yellow with turmeric. It's also good because it's cheap and it lasts for two meals if you can stand not to eat it all the first day.

                                    1. re: alysonlaurel

                                      Hi Alyson--Yes, I have access to spices and have all the standards in my kitchen already. I would love the recipe! Thank you.

                                      I am going to try that Chicken Tikka Masala recipe this week--thank you, MysticYoYo. I usually try making stuff that doesn't involve cream and I'm definitely still on that quest...but hey, CTM is delicious and I should make some! Thanks!

                                      1. re: smittys

                                        This is my dad's recipe (in his words):
                                        1. From an Indian grocery, get a can of Bolst's curry powder - it's a blue can with orange & white text, a jar of Garam Masala, any brand, and a package of turmeric powder (if you want yellow rice.) Don't use saffron, it's way too expensive & turmeric will do the same thing. DO NOT get any of these ingredients from a regular American grocery store - nothing will taste right.

                                        2. Ingredients -
                                        -1-2 rounded tblspns curry powder
                                        -1 rounded tblspn garam masala
                                        -1 large onion
                                        -1-2 cloves fresh garlic
                                        -1 package frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts
                                        -salt & pepper
                                        -vegetable oil
                                        -1 large potato, cut into cubes

                                        -2 cups uncooked long grain rice
                                        -handful of cashews
                                        -handful of raisins
                                        -1 tblspn turmeric powder

                                        3. Preparation -
                                        -thaw chicken, cut away any fat or gristle, then cut chicken into cubes
                                        -pour enough vegetable oil in a large pot, such as a stew pot, to LIBERALLY coat the bottom of the pot
                                        -slice up onion & garlic
                                        -put onion, garlic, & chicken into pot, heat over medium heat
                                        -add salt & pepper liberally
                                        -add curry powder & garam masala, stir so that all pieces of chicken are well coated in oil & spices
                                        -cover pot, lower heat, let cook about 30 min, stirring occasionally
                                        -after chicken is pretty much cooked, add enough water to just cover ingredients
                                        -add cubed potato, ensuring that all ingredients are covered by the water
                                        -let simmer as much of an hour as you can stand to wait
                                        -continue to stir occasionally while it simmers
                                        -add more water as needed to keep ingredients covered

                                        -To prepare the rice, prepare it as you normally would, but add the turmeric, cashews & raisins. After cooking for 20 min., you'll have lovely fluffy yellow rice with cashews & raisins.

                                        -If the curry is too watery, just before serving, mix in a little corn starch to thicken the juice.
                                        -If you want to spice it up a bit, add a dried red chili at the time you first throw in the onion & garlic.

                                        LASTLY, & MOST IMPORTANTLY, all of the above ingredient amounts can be played with until you find the combination that tastes best to you. This should let you make it the first time, then after that you'll want to try a little more of this, a little less of that. Also, I always find that my curry tastes better the 2nd day.

                                        1. re: alysonlaurel

                                          Thanks very much! I'll try it next week (tonight is Chicken Tikka Masala!)

                                          1. re: alysonlaurel

                                            with all due respect, turmeric will not "do the same thing" as saffron.

                                            1. re: alkapal

                                              I don't think it will do the same thing in every dish, certainly, but rice to throw under some homemade missonary curry doesn't require a lot of finesse, refinement, or expense. I just meant that the turmeric will give it some good color and flavor, which is what we rely on saffron to do. Granted, the color and flavor won't be exactly the same, but it will be close enough for this particular application.

                                      2. re: smittys

                                        Have you made your own spice mixture? Garam Masala or Curry Powder or whatever?

                                        Have you toasted your spices before grinding? That always helps.

                                        Are your spices pretty fresh and are not those that have been lurking around the spice shelf for years?

                                        ALSO, Nigella has a great chicken tikka and salad recipe that's on line. Probably on her website. It's fantastic. It's not chicken tikka masala though, but the non-saucy type...just tikka.

                                      3. Much to my chagrin....it's pie crust. :/

                                        18 Replies
                                        1. re: shaebones

                                          Pie crust for me too. My grandma and mom both have it down pat, but it seems to have skipped a generation. By hand, in the processor, with butter, with shortening, with both -- nothing ever works!

                                          Although I did try the fool-proof recipe in the new Cooks Illustrated and it was better, but still not great....

                                          1. re: jenhen2

                                            pie (or any pastry) dough here to. Mom and I are the family embarrassment. Her sister, a pastry chef, has given up on us.

                                            Mom can at least make a decent "pat in the pan" pie dough, but even that version comes out with the consistency of shoe leather when I try.

                                              1. re: WCchopper

                                                After cutting in the butter/lard/shortening, touch it as little as possible!! (At the expense of prettiness, if need be - don't want to melt the fat & lose the flakiness!)

                                                Can't do bread, though, for the life of me...

                                                1. re: urbnmns

                                                  I can't get it hold together unless I handle it too much! It just crumbles up on me!

                                                  1. re: WCchopper

                                                    The recipies tend to be a bit "fluid" on how much water you can add (and it should be COLD - I stick mine in the freezer before I start mixing everything) Have you tried sprinkling a little extra (not too much, that seems to toughen it too.) As othervoice mentioned below, cold hands are another good hint (worth the discomfort) - I find it also helps if you work quickly (admittedly hard if your hands are freezing) - again, the key is to make sure the little balls of fat don't melt into the rest of it!

                                                    1. re: urbnmns

                                                      I found that although my crusts were always flaky, they tended to fall apart. I always pieced them together in the plate.

                                                      I took a risk and used more water than I thought I needed to. Lo and behold! I had a crust that held together, was still flaky, and I could actually roll it out.

                                                      I really have to trust myself on the water thing is all.

                                                  2. re: urbnmns

                                                    Even BittLay bread? Using bread flour from King Arthur?

                                                    1. re: oakjoan

                                                      Thanks for the info on King Arthur - just checked out their site (I'm in Canada and had never heard of them, but I see they do international orders by phone.) I can manage the "biscuity-types" of breads but as soon as there's kneading involved, I'm toast. (I think pastry v. bread makers are like cooks v. bakers - the "magic" that it takes to be suited to one naturally makes you undisposed to genius at the other...) Saw one of your other posts on Bittlay and will try it. Do you use a heavy cast iron baking dish?

                                              2. re: jenhen2

                                                One trick on pie crust that I learned many years ago, and then recently Martha Stewart reinforced it, was to have everything cold...mixer, bowls, ice water, even the flour. I don't know why, but it works like a charm and the crust are light and flaky. My Mom even ran her hands under cold water before she would mix and roll.

                                                1. re: othervoice

                                                  Yep. I do this - cold everything.

                                                  My cousin and I performed an experiment last year side-by-side in my kitchen. We each measured out everything by weight, started with chilled everything, and timed the "working" of the dough - both the same. Her pie crust turned out flaky. Mine was the usual shoe leather. I gave up. There will be no homemade pie in our house :(

                                                  1. re: odkaty

                                                    I used to make a real leathery crust too, and then I started cutting the chilled fats into pea size amounts before I incorporated them into the flour mixture. Everything got a lot better after that.

                                                    My other question is, have you tried using pastry flour? My dough comes out much more tender when I make the switch.

                                                    1. re: adventuresinbaking

                                                      I do the pea-sized bits of fat, but haven't tried pastry flour .. maybe I'll torture my husband some more!

                                              3. re: shaebones

                                                Ive been amazing lucky with pie crust. I learned at my Grandmothers and mothers side, and I seem to have a great recipe to work with. I used to have a problem rolling it out, until I realized I was rolling it too thin.

                                                I have to use a lot of bench flour, and placing it on a sheet of parchment helps to prevent sticking.

                                                1. re: Kelli2006

                                                  I too was fortunate and had a Grandma and Mom to learn from. However, I found that rolling between sheets of plastic wrap really helded (especailly when I had tile counter tops), also, it you live someplace where its dry (like Phoenix), you need to use the maximum amount of water... or a bit more.

                                                2. re: shaebones

                                                  I love making pie crust, and can do it well. As others have said, keep everything cold, don't touch it too much, and then do my secret. When I was a kid and learning to make pie crust from my mom and grandmother, they always told me to brush melted butter on it before baking. I brush it on the whole thing, whether I'm prebaking the crust or not. It helps the flakiness, and the richness covers all kinds of sins. Good luck.

                                                  Oh, if you can find someone who can make crust, ask for lessons. There is nothing like feeling the dough to learn how it should be done. I can't imagine how anyone could make it from a recipe.

                                                  1. re: alysonlaurel

                                                    My mother's advice on piecrust is just keep making it. When she was younger, she made excellent pie crust, because she could feel when it was ready. She says its a skill you have to use or lose.

                                                  2. re: shaebones

                                                    Pie crust is easy. It fails because it knows you're afraid of it. :) Really, though, the trick, as has been stated, is to make sure everything is cold, even your kitchen, if possible. (I use a standard pate brisee recipe, and it never fails, though it is oft fussy in summer times.)

                                                    OR if you're just looking for a reasonable facsimile of pie crust that happens to also be delicious, try looking up a pate sucree recipe. (Just, if you're doing a savoury pie, pate sucree tends to be too sweet for that treatment.) It's ridiculously simple. My friends like it better than traditional pie crust, too, so it makes it easier for me to foist off my creations. All around, a win-win.