Cooking with Kids: Dealing with Failure


When I saw the recipe for Glazed Peanut Butter Fudge Cupcakes, I knew it would be our next Cooking with Kids creation. I showed it to Paige, Will and then Shawn. We couldn’t wait to try it. They looked mouthwatering. The recipe comes from Food For Thought From Parents to Children, a cookbook put out by the Wheat Foods Council a few years back. Although Gale Gand has several recipes in this book, this one comes from an Erie, Pennsylvania woman. No matter, these recipes have to be good, right?

So, the kids and I hit up the grocery store after school on Friday. The recipe calls for whole wheat pastry flour … something that apparently is only available in a gigantic bag at my usual store. And don’t we all need big bags of whole wheat pastry flour? Huh? Okay, maybe not, but I didn’t want to stray from the original recipe on this one.

Later, the kids and I settled around the table for baking. Paige and Will took turns adding ingredients and stirring, with me guiding them. The recipe was coming together fine … it seemed. And while I found it curious that there was no sifting of dry ingredients, I just went with it. I scooped the thick batter (I thought cake batter was supposed to be thinner …) into the cupcake holders, careful to evenly divide it between the cups.

The cupcakes baked and then cooled. I told the kids we’d eat them Saturday, after they were glazed and ready. We waited.

The next day, when they were all ready, I wanted to love them. I wanted to bite in and find a rich, chocolatey, peanut buttery center. They looked absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, this is a case of looks being deceiving. They just weren’t good.

Sometimes, that happens to everyone … no matter whether they are a four-year-old cooking with their mom or a 40-year-old making dinner for a special guy. Sometimes things just don’t work.

As I wiped the sandy crumbs from the white cushion of a chair later that evening (no stain left from the spillage!), I knew that I should have followed my instincts on the recipe. Twice I wondered if something was wrong and twice I told myself to just follow the recipe. The dry ingredients should probably be sifted before being stir in. Using a stand mixer is probably better than hand mixing (which is what the recipe advises you to do). There needs to be more liquid.

Ultimately though, even in failure there is a lesson for everyone. For my kids, the lesson was that sometimes things don’t work … but you keep trying anyway. For me, it was that failure doesn’t mean that you can’t be proud of your work. Will and Paige were — despite the dryness of these cupcakes (um, hello, sawdust!) and the lack of sweetness. Maybe these didn’t make anyone ooh or aah (okay, forget maybe … they just didn’t at all), but they are still something that we made together. They were still happy to have been in the kitchen.

On the positive, the glaze and combination of crushed dry roasted peanuts and mini chips sprinkled onto these was magical. Now, we just need to find a good chocolate cupcake recipe. Oh, and a use for the remainder of our pounds and pounds of whole wheat pastry flour.

Any suggestions?


  1. Stephanie says

    Hey, I’m a long time reader but have never commented before. If you’re interested I have a fantastic dark chocolate cupcake recipe. They are super chocolate-y without being overly sweet, yum! It might not be the most kid-friendly recipe though, it includes hot brewed coffee.

  2. says

    Hi Sarah,

    It may have more to do with the quality of your pastry flour than with the recipe itself. As Zoe mentioned (thanks for the shout-out, Zoe!), I do use a lot of WW pastry flour in my baking, for everything from pastry, to scones, muffins and cakes, breads and pasta. I get mine from Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners, NY, but I have noticed that there is a huge variability in commercial WW pastry flour; some are quite nice, ground very finely (like talcum powder) and some are coarse, made from hard red spring wheat (rather than the softer white wheat) and aren’t much different from bread flour in texture. Also, if your market only carries huge bags, they’ve probably been sitting there for a LONG time and even flour has a shelf life.

    I recommend trying my recipe for WW pasta:

    The recipe is quite simple, can be enjoyably made with kids, and it is easy to control the amount of liquid and adapt it to your flour. If that doesn’t work for you, it may be that the flour has been sitting on the shelf for years, and is simply too old. I’ve had this happen in the past, and I usually end up throwing it on the compost pile.

    Good luck,

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