For a creative foodie, inspiration sites like Pinterest, StumbleUpon, and I Wanna Nom! crowd-source plenty of fodder: Cheap ideas for tonight’s dinner.
Creative DIY food projects like bacon bowls and homemade chai ice cream.
Fancy homemade cakes and cupcakes with the wow-factor of a professional baker’s endeavors, for a fraction of the price.
OK, but that’s if the recipe works out… and it might not.
There are articles upon articles dedicated to rather spectacular failings for recipes cultivated online.
(Just Google “hedgehog cake fail” or “piñata cookie fail” to see a few of the cringe-worthy results.)
Whether the mistake is yours or the recipe’s, you could end up wasting time and money.
Here’s how to up your odds of success:
Gauge your skill level.
Just because a recipe promises easy doesn’t mean it is.
“I know that taking on a fondant layer cake is just not going to happen,” says Jessica Merritt of KatyBabies.com.
“I’ll gladly let someone else do it for me! But I can try new cake pops, stovetop dinners, or simple baking ideas,” she adds.
Start easy and work your way up.
“Usually you can find multiple variations,” says Nathan Engels, founder of WannaBite.com.
He says, “Look at the ingredient list, process, and instructions. Trust, but verify the recipe you found is good and similar to others.”
That’s a good sign that it’s likely to succeed.
Take the pressure off.
If the recipe is meant to be served at a birthday or other big party, give it a test run, recommends health coach Anne Lawton.
“I’ve tried a few recipes that looked absolutely delicious, only to find that the picture looked much better than the dish tasted,” she says.
Making a small batch ahead of time gives you the opportunity to tweak as needed.
Pay attention to details.
You’ll notice that some fails have noticeable deviations—buttercream icing where the original poster used fondant, for example, or didn’t use the recommended cake pan shapes.
Carefully consider substitutions and changes that might have an effect on the end result.
Follow the recipe.
“Don’t take short cuts with food,” says Engels. “If it needs to sit overnight, let it. Fails happen when you don’t follow instructions!”
Check the reviews.
Merritt said she looks on Pintester.com to see if a recipe has succeeded or failed.
PinterestFail.com also sometimes posts stories of partial or total successes.
Of course, a quick search will also turn up plenty of wins, fails, and how-to tricks for those determined to try say, “Jell-o shot strawberries.”
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.