Why I canceled my America’s Test Kitchen trial membership

Here’s the letter I just sent to America’s Test Kitchen, informing them of why I canceled my trial membership and my complete lack of faith in their offerings.

I am writing to inform you why I am canceling my trial membership, and why I will never purchase any products offered by your company.

I signed up for the free trial because multiple friends have recommended your recipes, and the America’s Test Kitchen data-driven ethos spoke directly to me. I needed a recipe for a chocolate mocha cake, and a search turned up a recipe for Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake <http://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/2905-old-fashioned-chocolate-layer-cake?incode=MASAZ00L0> as well as a separate recipe for Mocha Frosting <http://www.cookscountry.com/recipes/5899-mocha-frosting?extcode=MASKZ00L0>.

I should have known something was off right at the very beginning, when your website refused to disclose the price of a membership before starting the trial. I hesitated multiple times before giving in and signing up. I know this gambit is rampant in the publishing industry, and while I was upset that you could not elevate yourselves above it, I figured it a small price to pay.

But I had no idea that signing up for a membership to America’s Test Kitchen did not include access to two thirds of your content, arbitrarily allocated to your other brands’ sites, even though those recipes appeared in my search results! Now I felt the victim of a bait-and-switch. A bit of digging through the rather opaque account settings area of your website revealed that I would have to pay additional money to access the Mocha Frosting recipe to complement my chocolate cake.

At least I’d had the luck of picking the right website to sign up for, since I needed assistance with the cake much more than with the mocha frosting. So I proceeded to follow the recipe’s instructions.

The first step is to make a pudding out of unsweetened chocolate, cocoa powder, and water. The instructions say to do so in a “medium heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan containing 1 inch of simmering water”. In other words, a double boiler. I did as the instructions suggested, and the chocolate seized immediately.

Surely a recipe as well-tested as your company’s reputation implied shouldn’t do that! I put it down to user error, went out to the store to replace my lost chocolate—and buy an actual double boiler in case my saucepan’s built-in spouts were somehow at fault—and tried again.

Same result: chocolate seized immediately. Now I was furious. I replaced my lost chocolate yet again and tried for the third time the next day. On the advice of my girlfriend I kept the heat much lower than I had previously. Thankfully, this was the key to preventing the chocolate from seizing.

Surely if you feel your audience needs elaboration on the construction of a double boiler, you should also feel compelled to specify the temperature at which to heat it. And indeed you did—in the included instructions for the chocolate frosting, you specifically caution against turning the heat too high under the double boiler.

Speaking of the frosting recipe, the final nail in the coffin of my trial membership was the discrepancy between the TV episode and the written instructions. The instructions say to melt the butter by itself, then increase the heat and add sugar, corn starch, vanilla, and salt. In the video, the chef adds all the ingredients at once and heats them together.

In that moment, you violated everything I’d been led to believe about your brand. Candy is difficult, and I expected an organization with such a reputation for exacting detail to have at least bothered to ensure they copied their instructions properly. Instead, I felt cheated. But at least I still have the time to deny paying you for the privilege.