Sweet Smell…of Failure
I can literally smell failure from a few feet away. This isn’t a skill I developed in seminary or one I honed in other walks of life. Nope. The humble and soulful art of baking is one of the best teachers in the art of failing well in life. And just a few feet from me now, the great failure of yesterday’s attempt at baking wafts from the rubbish bin, reminding me what was tried and how I failed.
Because of the diets of the persons who live and visit regularly in my household, I attempted something daring—something not altogether impossible—but daring. I attempted to make vegan, gluten-free cinnamon rolls. I can hear someone reading this already: “Good heavens, why bother?” But stay with us. I started my research on recipes. One recipe I read called these the holy grail of vegan, gluten-free baking. Another recipe, from a source I trust perhaps the most, explained that their recipe for this delight has been updated eleven times to try to improve the results of the bake. I got my ingredients and was ready to go.
I was encouraged when I was able to activate my yeast with non-dairy milk. But little by little, scoop by less-than-confident scoop, the mixture I was making seemed not to be coming together right. So I began to improvise. In truth, this is one of my favorite parts of baking. I added some more flour to thicken the dough, and yet I was confident the gooey mixture was not what was intended. But even so, I spread the mixture out and topped it with the filling (the yummy, yummy filling). Then I began to do what every cinnamon roll needs to fulfill its destiny: to roll.
The dough topped with the filling lay before me less like a neat rectangle and more like a scrumptious amoeba. So when I tried to use a spatula to separate the amoeba’s backside from the parchment paper while pulling up one side of the paper, it worked…for a bit. But soon the weight of the dough that could not hold its shape compounded upon itself. The liquid dough began to go wherever it could under its own weight and lengthened longwise past the borders of the parchment paper so that I beheld not so much a cinnamon roll—it was a cinnamon spill.
When I woke this morning, I could smell it: failure. But then I smelled something else: the audacity of the only success in the bake. The tiny yeast that sprung back to life had been at work all night. And the tang of these budding wonders, proving their fortitude from the rubbish bin, mingled with the cinnamon, to greet the morning and me with a confectionary, perfection-ary, air. I know it’s hard to make something that everyone in the house can enjoy. For some it’s the holy grail. But at least for this morning the blessing comes in the trying, and the proving, that we will try again.
And may it ever be so.
Rev. T. J.