It smells great, but it looks awful. You followed the recipe, but your cookies burned anyway. If you experience baking disasters with disturbing frequency, maybe you are committing a common error that’s easily remedied.
Consider these common baking mistakes and how to fix them.
Trusting Your Oven
The dial sets the temperature, right? Not always. Different ovens cook differently, and you should treat the oven’s own temperature indicator as an approximation. If you are serious about baking, an oven thermometer is a must.
Several things affect the oven temperature, including opening the door too often to check the progress of your bread, cake, or cookies. But even the color of the baking pan can make a difference. A darker pan absorbs heat faster than a lighter-colored pan. If your bakeware is dark, lower the temperature of your oven by 25 degrees.
Using the Wrong Eggs, or Using the Eggs Wrong
Eggs come in different sizes. If you never stopped to notice the difference between a medium, large, and extra-large egg, pay attention to it next time. Many recipes specify “large” eggs, and they won’t turn out right without the right amount of egg.
Many bakers have had the chilling experience of discovering they are an egg short of a recipe. Never fear—there are several other common ingredients that serve as egg alternatives if you’re in a bind. If you do have enough eggs of the right size, be sure to allow them to come to room temperature before you use them in your batter. Eggs at room temperature whip more easily than cold eggs. The same is true of butter.
Thinking Baking Soda Lasts Forever
Baking soda has an expiration date, and it just won’t work properly as leavening if it is past its prime. If you can’t find the date or you have doubts, it’s back to middle school science class: put 3 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar into a bowl, and add half a teaspoon (right, not very much). If you get that bubbly reaction (and the rush of school memories related to model volcanoes) your baking soda still has its stuff. If not, you’ll have to make a trip to the grocery store.
Baking soda and baking powder are not the same and not equivalent to each other. Recopies call for one, the other, or both, depending on the amount of acidic ingredients in the mix. Baking soda has baking powder in it, but it also has cream of tartar and sometimes cornstarch. It should bubble when you stir half a teaspoon into three tablespoons of warm water. No bubbles, no baking. Off to the store with you again.
Misreading the Recipe
This really seems like a secret society sort of thing, but the order in which the recipe lists ingredients and how they are to be measured matters. “Sifted flour” means sift, then measure, while “flour, sifted” means measure it and then sift it. The same goes for chopping nuts. “One-half cup of chopped nuts” is different than “one-half cup of nuts, chopped.”
Baking is more a science than an art, and in science, measurements must be precise. Baking mistakes are common, but the more you learn about your oven and your ingredients, the more successful you will be.
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