With another season of the Great British Bake Off lurking around the corner, we’re getting near that time of year where the entire country decides that they fancy a crack at baking. Without fail, this sort of baking fever produces results across a wide spectrum - from the “that tastes surprisingly ok”, to the “I wouldn’t wish that on a neo-Nazi”.
Clearly, not everyone is going to end up working the pastry station at Le Gavroche any time soon. However, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you avoid the sort of baked disasters that make for hilarious viewing on the internet. Gathered from some expert opinions, here are just a few common baking mistakes that may be ruining your favourite treats.
1. Confusing baking powder and baking soda
For anyone attempting to bake for the first time, the difference between baking powder and baking soda may not be immediately obvious. The consequences of mixing them up, however, can be bad news for any batch. Though baking powder contains baking soda, it also comes complete with several other ingredients which can create a different effect. It always pays to check which one your recipe calls for and which one you may be using.
2. Ingredient substitutes
Unlike cooking, where a more open interpretation of the rules is often encouraged, baking is a science. Change one component and the outcome can be drastically different. If a recipe calls for butter and you use vegetable, the end result might well be a far cry from what you were expecting. Often, sensible substitutions won’t be a disaster, but they will make a difference.
3. Dietary requirements
On a similar note, trying to bake for someone with specific dietary requirements can be a real nightmare. Particularly when working towards a recipe for gluten free or vegan alternatives, it’s never a matter of taking one sort of replacement and making a like for like switch. The different properties of these ingredients can play havoc with your recipe and can in some cases cause the entire enterprise to fail. It’s always better to look up a requirement specific recipe than it is to make thoughtless substitutions.
4. Measuring wrong
As discussed previously, baking is a science. In science you can’t just approximate and throw things in a test tube. You need to be exact. Unfortunately, this means that you need to bring out the scales and the measuring jug and watch both like a hawk. Equally, paying close attention to written instructions such as “heaped tablespoon” is an absolute must.
5. Messing up the order
Before you embark on your baking journey, it’s always a good idea to pay close attention to the order of things. In most conventional recipes, ingredients will be written in the order in which they should be used, but even then you should be extra careful. It’s always a good idea to be prepared before you start throwing things together.
6. Opening the oven
The nervous wait to see whether your baking has worked is one of the most traumatic experiences you can go through in the kitchen. Whilst you wait, it can be tempting to take a peek to check all is well. This is the worst thing you can do. Letting the heat out can cause cakes to collapse and dough to cook unevenly, ruining all your hard work. Unfortunately, you’re just going to have to be patient.
7. Resting the finished product
If everything has come out of the oven looking as it should, it can be easy to think that you’re out of the woods. Unfortunately, there’s one more trap waiting to ensnare you. If you fail to let your bakes cool before you decorate/tuck in, you may end up with a result that tastes good, but looks rubbish. Icing cannot stick to cake if it’s still warm, so needs to applied after a pause. It’s frustrating but worth it.
Baking is a minefield for even the most experienced chefs. With so many potential pitfalls and missteps, it’s no wonder that everyone makes mistakes. By following these guidelines, you can at least give yourself the best chance possible of getting it right.