On Crying in the Kitchen: When a Recipe (and Confidence) Goes Awry

Two weeks ago I attempted to make a loaf of multigrain bread, and it was an epic failure. Where there should have been springy dough made pliant and sticky by yeast's digestive workings, there was a hard brown lump, the exact size and shape I'd left it in the the night before. I tried to coax it into submission by warming it in the oven, but it refused to alter its state.

I had the nagging feeling that the yeast I used was past its prime (and speaking of priming, I'd actually neglected to do that, too). I finally put a pinch of the yeast with a little sugar in a bowl of warm water, and—lo and behold—the granules just floated there, like bugs on the surface of a pond. I should have brushed it off and moved on, but in a moment of self-pity, I cried instead.

There may not be any crying over spilled milk, but there is definitely crying over thwarted bread-baking. It wasn't just the wasted ingredients that bummed me out — all those nuts and seeds! — but how I interpreted the scenario in the moment: "You, Cambria Bold, are a crummy cook." Hence the tears.

In retrospect it was all a bit dramatic. We all forget (or are still learning) basic rules. Recipes fail. Lofty culinary aspirations get dragged back down to earth. But it's easy to forget not to take it personally, isn't it?

If you're someone who tends to be hard on him or herself, then yes, learning to cook can be a little brutal. But as Julia Child once said, "The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude."

So, to that I say, what the hell, you blob of unrisen dough! And what the hell, you expired yeast! I'll live to bake again. And next time (and forever and ever, amen) I'll check the yeast first.