Baking can be a wonderful hobby, or even a successful business venture. Although baking is a relatively easy skill to learn, many wonderful cooks believe that they are terrible bakers. That’s likely because cooking is much more forgiving in terms of ingredient measurements and technique, while baking requires more precision.
“Ratios of the staple ingredients can’t be improvised, but all the flavors certainly can,” says Duff Goldman, Food Network star and expert baker. Baking is a science and ingredients combine to form chemical reactions that ultimately produce the desired results. This is just one area where baking mishaps can occur. Read on to discover other common issues, and how to avoid and address them if you find yourself in a baking emergency.
- Improperly measuring: Bakers need to be precise when they measure ingredients. Always lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup without packing it down; don’t simply dip the cup into the flour container. Level it off with the straight edge of a knife. When measuring out leaveners, such as baking powder or baking soda, do the same by leveling them off.
- Substituting ingredients intentionally or unintentionally: Don’t have all-purpose flour on hand, so that means you can use cake flour, right? Not exactly. Ingredients serve a purpose in recipes, and every attempt should be made to use what the recipe calls for. You cannot use baking soda and baking powder interchangeably.
- Ignoring recipe instructions: Failure to understand a cooking term or what the recipe is relaying could result in costly mistakes. According to Duff, it is a person’s inclination to gloss over directions that are not easily understood. It helps to read a recipe first and then look up any terms you don’t understand before starting.
- Temperature mistakes with ingredients: Read the recipe in its entirety before you start baking. Some call for items like eggs or butter to be at room temperature for light and fluffy “creaming” for cookies or cakes. Other recipes require butter to be cold to ensure flakiness in pie crusts and biscuits and certain cookies.
- Overmixing ingredients: Overmixing batter or overworking dough activates the gluten proteins in flour and will lead to gummy, tough baked goods. The more tender the desired results, the lighter the handling and mixing should be.
- Baking at the wrong temperature: Temperature is often key when baking. You cannot crank up the heat to make something cook faster if that’s not what is specified in the recipe. Some bakers inadvertently bake at the wrong temperature because they don’t realize their ovens’ thermostats are malfunctioning. Invest in an internal oven thermometer to check that the temperature on the display is actually what is being produced inside the oven.
- Not-so-fresh ingredients: Leaveners can lose their potency over time, and egg whites may not whip up correctly if the eggs are not fresh. Pay attention to the use by dates on ingredients and discard items that have passed those dates.
Baking requires careful attention to detail and technique to produce the best results.