Sometimes that fun afternoon in the kitchen turns into a stressful battle with baked goods. There are some mistakes that even seasoned bakers continue to make. Here are a few easily avoidable mistakes that can help you correct your process, and return baking to a productive, enjoyable activity.
1. You check your oven too often.
Naturally, you want to see the reward of your hard work, so you open the oven to take a peek. But know that opening the oven, even a tiny crack, released enough hot air to change the temperature in the oven. This can mean an undercooked or unevenly baked cake. If you must check, use the little light switch on your oven — that’s what it’s there for.
2. You don’t really read the recipe.
If you’re guilty of jumping right into a recipe, you’re setting yourself up for some major mistakes later. Read through at least twice, and make sure you thoroughly understand each step. And pay attention to commas. “1-cup chopped walnuts” is very different than “1 cup walnuts, chopped.” The former calls for a lot more walnuts because the pieces can fill up the cup with less air space. The latter, means you fill a cup with whole walnuts and then chop that amount.
3. You mistake baking powder for baking soda.
These two common baking ingredients are not interchangeable. Nor are they the same thing. Yes, they are both leaveners, but they are chemically different. If a recipe calls for one and you only have the other, you’re going to need to take a trip to the store.
4. You use cold ingredients.
Always use room temperature ingredients, unless the recipe says otherwise. Have you ever tried to make frosting by whipping cold butter straight from the fridge? It doesn’t go well. And it creates a texture much different than that desired, smooth creamy base a frosting needs. Pay attention to what temperatures the recipe calls for, especially for butter and eggs. If it doesn’t say, assume it’s room temperature.
5. You don’t accurately measure your flour.
“A cup of flour” doesn’t mean you can just go scoop out a cup from the flour bag and eyeball it. You’re probably using too much flour. Instead, take your time and get the correct amount — this is, after all, the foundation from which the entire rest of your recipe is likely built. Try using a small spoon to scoop flour into the large measuring cup. Then take a straight-edge, like a knife, and level off the top. If you want to get really precise, a cup of all-purpose flour weights 4.25 ounces or 120 grams. King Arthur Flour created this easy video if you’re still unsure.
6. You overmix your batter.
If you want your cakes and cupcakes to be tender and moist, you don’t want to overmix your batter. Too much mixing will cause the final product to come out tougher and less delicate. Mix the batter until no more flour shows, and then stop, and move on.
7. You cut your cookies from room temperature dough.
To get those crisp edges on your sugar cookie cut-out candy canes, bunny rabbits, maple leaves, or what-have-you, you need to keep the dough chilled. Chill the dough before rolling, after rolling, and then after you’ve cut out your shapes, before baking for best results.
8. You use the same cookie sheet for everything.
Dark, non-shiny cookie sheets may absorb too much heat for your cookies, causing them to burn. Cookie sheets with a 1/2 lip on the side can require extra cook time, which is perfect for thin, delicate cookies, but can cause your everyday stuff to come out undercooked. In general, a heavy, shiny aluminum sheet without sides is best. This also allows for easy sliding onto a cooling rack after baking. Martha Stewart offers a break down of each type of cookie sheet, if you’re interested in the nitty gritty.
9. You skip the crumb coat of frosting.
Frosting a cake can either be an amazing way to hide small imperfections, or it can create a crumbly, bespeckled mess. Prevent the latter by starting with a crumb coat of frosting — a light, thin base-layer that will secure all crumbs to the side of the cake and prevent them from getting seen at the surface. Spread on a crumb coat, then cool the cake in the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes before laying on the final decorative top layer of frosting.
10. You don’t wait for the oven to preheat.
It’s usually the first step of a recipe, yet so many of us forget to preheat the oven. We’ll finish filling our muffin tins and then pop them in the oven while the oven preheats. But stop right there! This can mess with the chemistry of baking and can cause a total disaster. If you forgot to preheat the oven, you’re just going to have to wait.
Also see, 10 crazy candy cane flavors you won’t even believe.