Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of things go wrong in the kitchen. And even though, on occasion, a failed dessert can help to make you famous….like Massimo Bottura’s famed “Oops…I Dropped the Lemon Tart”, for the most part, failed desserts aren’t salvageable. In cooking, there’s a lot that can be done to correct mistakes. Adding a little sugar to reduce acidity, lemon juice to brighten the flavor, reducing a not thick enough sauce are examples. But in baking, it may be edible but may not be a creative enough disaster to serve. I have trained a lot of people to bake so have a clear view of what can go wrong, but rather than dwelling on that I’ve put together a list of 10 practices (or habits) that will be the ounce of prevention you need to avoid mistakes. This list may seem a little obvious, but since I have had the experience of throwing out $50 worth of chocolate maybe I can spare you that pain! Here it goes….
#1 Read your recipe! This habit is where you make sure you have all of your ingredients and know what you’re in for. It will also help you make sure you actually have time to get done. Things, like dropping cakes, and forgetting to set timers, happen with rushing, so remember that most desserts can be made at least a day before serving.
#2 Measure your ingredient precisely, check them off as you go, and never substituting liquid measure for dry or visa versa. Liquid measure and dry measures are not the same, and it can change your outcome. I have started converting my baking recipes to weight - it’s so much more exact! Remember what the commas mean after an ingredient. If the recipe reads “1 cup flour, sifted” that means to sift the flour after you measure it.
#3 Preheat your oven and if you forget to preheat it - turn it on and WAIT! You may be able to get by with not preheating when you’re roasting vegetables but you won’t when you’re baking a cake. And while we’re on the subject of oven temperature….
#4 Don’t keep opening the oven door. Be patient! If you keep opening the door, the temperature will drop, and the baking temperature is important! Whoever wrote your recipe was specific about the temperature. If you aren’t sure if your oven is accurate buy an oven thermometer. Ovens can be recalibrated. You may have to bring in a repair person to do that, but it’s worth it.
#5 Don’t soften your butter in the microwave. Microwaves don’t know when to stop on their own and melting happens really quickly. Softened butter needs to be even, and if you even have some melted butter in a cookie, it will be greasy.
#6 Remember that baking soda and baking powder aren’t interchangeable. Baking soda needs acid to react like lemon juice, buttermilk, vinegar, etc. Baking powder already has acid in it so it can work alone.
#7 Mix batters, unless it says otherwise until they are combined and uniform but not longer. Over-mixing can lead to a dense and chewy baked good.
#8 Never reuse a hot baking sheet because you don’t want your cookies burned on the bottom.
#9 If the directions say “grease and flour” our pan - do it! This is important for some cakes because, without the flour barrier, you won’t be able to get them out of the pan! I recommend using what’s recommended in the recipe for greasing and shortening if nothing is specified.
#10 Let your cakes, cupcakes, and cookies cool COMPLETELY unless you want to watch your frosting disappear. Your frosting will melt into an even slightly warm cake - so wait until it’s cool!
Take these to heart and your baking life will be better!