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Top 3 Baking Fails And How To Fix Them

blueberry muffins

There's nothing quite like following a recipe to the letter, only to end up with a product that looks and tastes nothing like the picture. What went wrong?

Do not despair, Baking is actually all about learning from failure, and practice makes perfect. Here are three common baking fails and what you can do to fix (and prevent) them:

1. Your cakes are tough and dense.


Overmixing or using the wrong type of flour

Mixing is a tricky thing when it comes to cakes. Light, fluffy cakes result from creating the right amount of air cells during the mixing process. This can only be done when you have the perfect mixing speed, temperature and duration during the mix. Also, using the wrong type of flour will often produce a heavy, dense cake.

Solutions: First, be sure to add ingredients in the order called for in the recipe. There is a reason why fats and sugar come first, followed by eggs followed by flour and leaveners. The thing to remember here is that as soon as you begin mixing flour with a liquid and a fat, gluten is developed. Gluten is not desirable in cakes, so mix thoroughly but as little as possible. Also make sure you’re using the correct flour. If your recipe calls for a cake or pastry flour, use it. An all-purpose flour or bread flour will be too hard, creating a sturdy cake with a tough crumb.

So, overmixing cake batter can result in a heavy, rubbery texture. Overmixing activates the gluten in flour. Gluten is the enemy of light and fluffy cakes (think of bread here), and will make cakes hard instead of the soft spongy texture we associate with a good cake. Insufficient creaming of sugar and eggs will also result in a dense texture because there isn't enough air trapped in the mix to give it a lift. Additionally, adding too much liquid will make it dense and pudding-like.

2. Your cookies go flat.


Too much sugar, used all butter, oven temperature was too low, dough was too warm

Sugar is considered a liquid in baking (it also serves other purposes), and too much liquid causes cookies to spread out. Without the correct ratio of liquid to fat to dry ingredients, your cookies will lose their structure and fall flat. A too-low temperature in the oven does not allow your cookies to rise fast enough to set. And, room temperature dough contains unsolidified fat. In a liquid or soft state, fat will will quickly melt in the oven and cause spread.

Solutions: Decrease sugar and increase flour in equal proportion. Start out conservative--In some recipes, just a small adjustment will drastically improve results. Replace the butter with solid shortening, or use half butter and half shortening. Shortening contains a higher fat content and less liquid. Try baking your cookies at a slightly higher temperature for a slightly shorter time. Experiment until you get the correct ration of time to temp for that recipe. Lastly, chill your dough before baking. This solidifies the fat so that it takes longer to melt. The longer the fat remains solid, the less cookies spread

3. Your muffin tops are flat or sunken.


Inactive or insufficient leavening, oven temperature was too low

Leavening (in muffins, baking soda and baking powder) gives your baked goods their rise. Using inactive leavener or too little in proportion to your dry ingredients results in less rise. Oven temperature works in conjunction with the leavener to make your muffins rise at the proper rate. A too-low temperature doesn't allow the batter to rise fast enough in the first few minutes so that it can set.

Solutions: First, make sure your soda and /or powder is active. For soda, pour a few tablespoons of white distilled vinegar into a small bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda — if it's fresh, the mixture should fizz and bubble. For powder, add hot water. Keep both soda and powder tightly covered and don't use beyond the expiration date. In your batter, the correct proportion of leavener to flour is about 1 tsp. to 1 cup. Both should be measured by spooning into the measuring vessel then leveling off. To get a higher dome, start baking at 425 degrees for 5-6 minutes, then reduce the temp to 350 degrees for the remainder of the bake time. Use an oven thermometer for accuracy.

In baking there are no guarantees and yes, failure is always an option. But, knowing what caused the problem is the first step to fixing it. Use these tips and soon you, too, will be the fabulous baker you always dreamed you could be. Happy baking!

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