The Best Laid Schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang Aft Agley

Robert Burns could/should have added “women” to his line from the 1785 poem To a Mouse…”the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men an’ women gang aft agley” And surely anyone who cooks – or just lives – would agree with his remark. Our schemes and plans and work often go awry. Andy wrote about things that go awry on an earlier blog – and he’s back on the topic again today in Andy’s Corner. But this time he’s blaming Fortuna.

You could follow Burns’ message up with another oldie but goodie: “Pick yourself up; dust yourself off, and start all over again.”

Why am I thinking about all of this? Well here are two teeny hints: consider this number: 15. Then consider this photo:


My baking plans definitely went awry the other day. Case in point: the German Apfel Marzipan Kuchen I made for a New Year’s Day dinner party at a friend’s home. I was hesitant to use that particular recipe since I’d never made it before, but after hours of studying recipes and picking what seemed a fool-proof one (thanks to my confidence in the recipes from David Lebovitz and Luisa Weiss’s Classic German Baking), I made it. The result was gorgeous in appearance. Yes, I pondered a bit when the center seemed slightly soft when it was ready to remove from the oven, but it had pulled away from the sides, the edges were golden brown (in fact, one edge was approaching burned), and I even got out our new, pricey Thermapen to check the internal temperature – and the temperature seemed a tad on the low side, but I attributed that to the fact that it had been out of the oven for a few minutes before I tested it.

My German Apfel Marzipan Kuchen with an apricot glaze

Normally, after it had cooled, I would have cut into the cake to be sure it was fully baked, but it was so lovely I decided to have faith and bring it to the dinner party whole and beautiful and perfect-looking.

What followed is a food blogger’s possibly-worst nightmare. After we’d consumed our delicious German-themed dinner of pork and sauerkraut and a vegetable mixed salad and yeast rolls, I was asked to serve the Apfel Kuchen – my contribution. And – you guessed it – the center was a doughy mess.

My failed cake

I put on my best fake smile, cheerfully cut pieces from the outside of the cake, and served it up, pretending I hadn’t totally screwed up. Did the dinner guests guess? Who knows.

Ginger Rogers has the perfect song for such an occasion; be sure to watch the whole thing. Did she convince Fred Astaire that he could dance after his failure?

“No one could teach you to dance in a million years.”

It’s kind of amazing how many poems and songs deal with this subject. We all know “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Did you know if came from a Teacher’s Manual, published in 1840?

Will I be trying that recipe again, determined to make a perfect Apfel Kuchen? Nope. But I’ll keep on baking apple cakes; I’m returning to my old stand-by recipe, originally published in the NY Times in 1973 – Teddie’s Apple Cake. It may not be as lovely to look at, but I’ve never had it fail.

And what is the lesson about failure to be learned here? Take it from Kevin McCarthy’s approach (whether you dislike him or admire him):

 ‘Taint no use to sit an’ whine,

  When the fish ain’t on yer line;

  Bait yer hook an’ keep a-tryin’—

  Keep a-goin’!

(even if it’s 1 a.m. in the morning)

Teddie’s Apple Cake recipe first appeared in 1973 – in the NY Times
Teddie’s Apple Cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Adapted from the recipe published in 1973 in the NYTimes. Sadly, no one seems to know who Teddie was.

  • 3 c flour, plus more for dusting pan
  • 1 1/2 c vegetable oil
  • 2 c sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 c peeled, cored and thickly sliced tart apples, like Honeycrisp or Granny Smith (the original recipe calls for Golden Delicious, but we definitely don’t recommend them); about 1/4″ thick slices work.
  • 1 c chopped walnuts
  • 1 c raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan (a bundt pan will work too but may require slightly longer baking). Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer until they’re very well blended, which may take several minutes. Add the eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy.

Whisk together 3 cups of flour, the salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir into the batter. Add the vanilla, apples, walnuts and raisins (if you’re using them) and stir until combined (note: this is a VERY thick batter and will take muscle to stir it – or a stand mixer).

Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the cake registers about 210 degrees F). Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.



  1. Nancy says:

    I’ve been making Teddie’s Apple Cake since I found it years ago on the Food52 website. They describe the recipe as “virtually indestructible” and it’s never failed me!


  2. tricia53 says:

    As the dessert-maker in our family, I feel your pain about the apple cake! It is GORGEOUS, though, and I wouldn’t have cut it before taking it to the party, either. I often try new desserts for “company,” and if they don’t serve nicely, I pull out the trifle bowls and pretend that was the plan all along.


  3. Susan Strong says:

    I know you’ve been at this for a while and I’m late to the party, but oh how fun!! Loved your commentary, loved the pictures, the poem and the movie clip. And they come at a time when it’s good to be reminded that quitting isn’t an option. Thanks!


    • theRaggedys says:

      So glad you enjoyed it, Susan. I think the video of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire is hysterical. And I think we all have to keep reminding ourselves to “keep on the sunny side of life” (another upbeat song I love – from the Carter Family).


  4. Robert Briggs Carleton says:

    I’ll bet that center-part you discarded would have tasted wonderful! My favorite angel food cake of all time was one my mother baked when I was a kid… and I came bounding down the stairs at the wrong time and the cake fell. Mother was not happy. The cake was simply heavenly! I’m going to try making a Pavlova soon, and they have a tendency to fall as well.


    • theRaggedys says:

      Andy here: Let us know how your Pavlova turns out – whether it falls or not. And you are correct about the yummy uncooked part. One of the advantages of being the clean-up guy around here is to monitor what gets “thrown out.”


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