How would you handle The Honey Cake Fiasco?

By Nina Kaufman, Esq.

Last week, my rabbi, Frank Tamburello, shared his recipe for honey cake: Put a bunch of ingredients into a bowl. Mix. Pour into a greased pan. Bake. How difficult can it be? I thought. I, who have probably used my oven a grand total of 7 times in the past 20 years.

Eager to play, I awake at 8 AM. I measure. 2 cups of flour. 1 cup of soft honey. One cup of coffee. A teaspoon of vanilla. I mix–thanks to a hand blender I got for my bridal shower nine years ago (also barely used). I pour into an 8 x 4 loaf pan, as directed. I wait.

35 minutes later, my nose twitches. Something doesn’t smell right. “Honey, do you smell something?” I ask my husband, Joe. “I dunno,” he said. “We rarely cook. Smells good to me.”

I go to the stove anyway. Open the door. Smoke billows out into the kitchen. I hear the sizzle of uncooked batter splatting against the heated oven. It looks like a fifth-grade science experiment gone terribly wrong. Like a mock volcano vomited out of the pan and onto the bottom of the oven. (I should’ve taken a picture, but was too busy opening windows so the smoke alarm wouldn’t go off).

I see my rabbi a couple of hours later. “I tried to make the honey cake, but really botched it,” I confess. Rabbi Frank laughs. “Oh, don’t worry–” he says soothingly. “The first few times I made it, it was a total disaster.” “And besides,” he continues, “I forgot–there’s a typo in the recipe.”

A typo?

“Yes–it’s too much batter for one pan. You have to put it into two.” he explains.

“Ah,” I reply, trying to sound wise, and not like a total idiot. “The recipe says the mixture would be loose, and mine was thick. Like brownie batter ….”

“That happens,” Rabbi Frank says. “But the coffee you use doesn’t matter. You don’t have to go to Starbucks. I used my Keurig and it worked just fine. ”

Suddenly, a light begins to dawn. My eyes widen.

“You’re supposed to … brew … the coffee?” I ask.

(I had taken one full cup of coffee grinds and poured it into the mixture.)

Rabbi Frank laughs so hard, tears come to his eyes.

Taking cooking as business metaphor, here’s what I got from The Honey Cake Fiasco:

  • When you embark on something you (or your team) have never done before, be prepared for mistakes. That’s the only way you learn. But it can take hours of extra time to clean up the mess.
  • If you’re going improvise, you might want to check in with someone who’s done it beforehand. As I learned after the fact from Singing Chef Jackie Gordon, you can’t just swap gluten-free flour for regular flour (as I did).
  • Your reaction sets the tone for your team. I remembered to laugh. Not easy if the mistake costs you thousands of dollars (instead of a few wasted ingredients). But the learning process is key. As Mike Dooley says: “You know what’s better than reaching the top of the mountain? Reaching the top of the mountain after you’ve been lost.”
  • Some things, you may want to leave to the experts. My mother says, “That’s why God invented bakeries.”

How would you have handled The Honey Cake Fiasco?

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