I am delighted to publish a guest post from Joe at Village Bakery. focusing on key baking mistakes that can happen, particularly for someone who is new to baking.
Of course it almost goes without saying that even if you have been baking for years, mistakes can still happen from time to time…..and as frustrating as that can be, once your annoyance has worn off, you do learn from them. Indeed, it is so important to have another go and not let that bake defeat you: but that mental mindset can be a challenge in itself!
And now, over to Joe:
Joe Hughes, known by most as the Village Baker, is an expert in homestyle cooking techniques, with a primary interest in baking. He runs the very popular website Village Bakery which provides the latest homestyle cooking news, techniques, tricks, and recipes. He can be reached at Joe@Village-Bakery.com
Baking is just as much science as it is art. If you make a stew for dinner, the world won’t come crashing down if you add a little too much of one ingredient or omit another one altogether. Make these same snafus when baking a cake, and you might wind up with a lumpy, soggy, caved-in pile of sort-of-cooked dough.
It takes time, practice, patience and practice (did I mention practice?) to master baking. If you’re still new to baking, these six mistakes (don’t worry – all new bakers make them) may be holding you back from progressing to the next level.
1. Measuring Instead of Weighing
When you baked cookies with grandma as a kid, you probably did what most of us did: plunged the measuring cup into the bag of flour, and used a butter knife to level off the top.
To succeed with baking, your measurements need to be spot on, and scooping and leveling off the top isn’t always accurate.
Any expert baker will tell you to trade in your measuring cups for a good kitchen scale when baking.
When it comes to dry ingredients, there’s too much room for error, and everything depends on how you fill the cup. The bakers at King Arthur’s Flour say there can be as much as a three to four tablespoon difference per cup of flour, depending on how you fill your measuring cup.
That means you may be adding an extra 3/4 cup flour to your bread – or cake.
2. You Use Ingredients Straight Out of the Refrigerator
How often do you grab the eggs, milk, butter and maybe even the flour out of the refrigerator, and get right to work baking cupcakes, cookies or cake?
Using cold ingredients is one of the most common and easiest mistakes to make when baking, especially if you’re still a beginner. Thankfully, it’s also one of the easiest to correct.
What’s the big deal about the temperature of the ingredients? Let’s say you’re making cookie dough. If you use room-temperature butter, the sugar’s hard edges will create little air pockets in the butter. These little air pockets allow the baking soda or powder to expand for a nice light texture. If you’re working with cold butter, the sugar won’t create those little air pockets because the butter is too hard.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. If you’re making pie crust (like in this salted honey tart) or croissants, you want to use cold butter. Generally, though, recipes will call for cold butter if needed. Otherwise, use room-temperature ingredients when baking.
3. Scooping Flour into Your Measuring Cup
If you must measure (not weigh) your ingredients, make sure that you are not scooping your measuring cup into the flour.
Most of us are taught to scoop and level off, but you generally get more accurate results when you use a separate spoon to scoop the flour into the measuring cup.
4. Not Pre-Heating the Oven
Forgetting to pre-heat the oven is a common mistake, but it can have a major impact on your results. If you put your baked goods into a cold oven and let the oven heat up while they’re in there, it will mess up the chemistry of the baking – especially if you’re baking bread.
Wait until your oven is fully preheated to start baking.
Make it a habit to preheat the oven before you even start mixing ingredients.
5. Using Expired Ingredients
How long has your flour been sitting on the shelf? Is that baking powder a few years old? While most baking staples have long shelf lives, they eventually expire. Over time, baking powder will lose its rising effect, which means you’ll wind up with flat discs for cookies.
Check the expiration date on your ingredients if you haven’t used them in a while.
Just like with cooking, fresh ingredients are always the best.
6. Over-mixing Ingredients
Over-mixing happens to the best of us. We stir and whisk until every last clump is gone. But we’re not making a salad – we’re baking. It’s okay to stop mixing when you no longer see any bits of dry flour.
Over-mixing can interfere with the gluten in the flour, which can make your baked goods turn out dry and dense.
This same rule applies to bread dough. Over-mixing can leave you with a dry and crumbly loaf, so you want to stop kneading once the dough is tacky (but not sticky). I’ve found that using a bread machine to mix the ingredients is the best option.
Mistakes you have made
What mistakes did you make when you first started baking? Share in the comments!