While you wait for my next baking treat (check the baking countdown on the bottom right!), I thought I’d share some of the most common baking mishaps that can turn your beautiful desserts into sweet messes. I know some of the items on this list sound incredibly basic and a bit ridiculous, but I’ll have you know, they’ve happened to me in the kitchen AND, I would venture to guess, they happen to others more often than they care to admit. So, from my baking notes to yours, here are a few things to keep an eye on when making one of your beautiful creations (or mine =)!
1. NEVER substitute regular sugar for confectioner’s/powdered sugar. If a recipe calls for powdered sugar (a.k.a. confectioner’s sugar), then use powdered sugar or you’ll end up with a grainy mess.
2. Use EXACT measurements. Baking is a science. That means that every ingredient has a specific role in your recipe. They all need to react with the chemicals in one another to form your beautiful dessert. The baking powder needs to release CO2 (that’s Carbon Dioxide in case you’ve forgotten!) to form bubbles, which gives cakes most of its supporting structure (and rise). Beaten egg whites, like fat, helps to retain gas bubbles, while eggs alone act as a binder. Every ingredient has its purpose and so does every amount of it. Put too much or too little of anything in your baking dish, and you’re in for a surprise. Too dense, too thin, no structure or caved in. Always remember – when baking, precision is key!
3. Keep your ingredients at ROOM TEMPERATURE. Make sure that your butter, creams and eggs are at room temperature before you begin mixing to ensure they react with one another the way they are supposed to. If your butter is warm and your milk is cold when you mix them, the milk will immediately harden the butter into small fat curds that look like floating glaciers. Result = no good.
4. TIMING is everything. While all recipes will give you a guideline for how long your desserts need to bake, always, always make sure you check a few minutes before to ensure you don’t over bake. Cupcakes and cake batters will dry when over baked, pies will end up with burnt crusts, and bread puddings will toast or end up tasting like dry mush. Check a few minutes before the recommended baking time to make sure all is on track. Test with a toothpick or if you’re making pie, give it a jiggle before you continue to bake for the remaining time. You should also make sure everything is baking evenly. If the back of the row of cookies or the cake is looking more browned than the front, give it a turn and continue to bake.
5. When you pour sugar on berries, they will MACERATE! That means they will soften, break down and release more juices than you ever thought they had. If you’re not looking to have juicy berries over your cheesecake or pie, skip the sugar. I ended up with berry juices in every single crevice of my fridge after topping a cheesecake with macerated berries. That thing leaked for days without mercy – it flowed right off the cheesecake and on to everything it could find along the way. Great for a berry syrup or jam, not so great for clean up duty.
6. DO NOT REPLACE baking powder with baking soda. Baking powder is baking soda with acid added. This neutralises the base and produces more CO2. Baking soda needs to be mixed with moisture and an acidic ingredient (e.g. yogurt, honey, buttermilk, chocolate) to produce the chemical reaction that creates CO2 bubbles. The two are NOT the same and where you use which will depend on the ingredients in your recipe.
7. When a recipe calls for butter and doesn’t specify ‘salted’ or ‘unsalted’, go for unsalted.
8. Try not to STRESS and enjoy the baking journey. Your mood will come through in your sweets. Cranky? Your key lime pie might taste bitter. Frustrated? Your cupcakes may end up a bit dry. Baking is a work of art and you should appreciate and enjoy every step of your beautiful creation. Believe it or not, your end product is a reflection of you. Keep that in mind when you’re whisking your next batter – it may be what makes all the difference between a good dessert and one that is out of this world!